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MP Andrews ‘keen to distance himself’ from conservative conference

Former defence minister Kevin Andrews appears to have distanced himself from the World Congress of Families, the conservative forum for which he is an international ambassador.

Words by Andy Hazel
 

According to Babette Francis, who heads the WCF affiliate Endeavour Forum, Mr Andrews had been “very keen to distance himself” from the group because he was a minister in the Abbott Government at the time speakers for this week’s international conference were being arranged.

“He was appointed by them as their international ambassador and we put it on our program,” Ms Francis told The Citizen. “His staff suggested we take it off.”

WCF coalitions director Don Feder confirmed that the veteran MP would not be attending the global get-together in Salt Lake City, Utah.

WCF describes itself as “an international network of pro-family organisations, scholars, leaders and people of goodwill . . . that seek to restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit and the ‘seedbed’ of civil society”. It is often viewed as championing the views of the Christian right.

Mr Andrews and his wife, Margaret, have regularly presented at the group’s international conferences since 1999 and spoke at the 2013 Sydney gathering alongside Russian oligarch Konstantin Melofeev, who was blacklisted under European Union sanctions a month later for funding pro-Russian fighters in the war in the Ukraine.

Mr Andrews was awarded the group’s Natural Family Man of the Year award in 2014.

A close ally of former Liberal leader Tony Abbott, Mr Andrews was demoted recently in a cabinet reshuffle following Malcolm Turnbull’s ascendancy to the prime ministership.

“[Andrews] was appointed by [the Congress] as their international ambassador and we put it on our program. His staff suggested we take it off.” — Babette Francis, of the Endeavour Forum

There has been speculation that he could be given a diplomatic post to the Holy See. Mr Andrews and fellow conservative Cory Bernardi have also been at the centre of speculation about a new right-wing party. However, he has yet to respond to requests for comment.

The mayor of this year’s host city, Ralph Becker, reaffirmed the views of civil advocacy groups, many of whom have labeled the Congress a ‘hate group’ because of its strong opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, when he declared: “The stated goals of the World Congress of Families do not reflect the values of Salt Lake City.”

Registered speakers at this week’s conference include Rafael Cruz, the father of Republican presidential nominee Ted Cruz, who told a Christian men’s group that the US government was controlled by Satan and that a Democratic government would force churches to ordain homosexual pastors and conduct same-sex marriages.

Australians speaking alongside Mr Cruz include Warwick and Alison Marsh of the Fatherhood Foundation, evangelical speaker Nick Vujicic and Ms Francis.

Ms Francis, who attended last year’s unofficial world conference at the Kremlin with the representatives of other conservative Christian lobbies (Peter Westmore of the National Civic Council of Australia and Theresa Martin of Cherish Life Queensland), said there was much Australia could learn from Russian laws.

“The homosexual movement talk as if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is criminalising homosexuality or putting them in prison or torturing them. This is all nonsense. What they said is they will not allow homosexual propaganda to be displayed in public, to minors. I think that’s a good idea.”

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Ms Francis, who is speaking on the beneficial and harmful influences of feminism at this year’s conference, was an organiser of last year’s regional congress in Melbourne. Protests led to its location being shifted five times and ultimately forced the withdrawal of Mr Andrews along with fellow Liberals Senators Bernardi and Eric Abetz and the then-Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark.

The talk that Mr Andrews was apparently unable to deliver in Melbourne was to have outlined the economic benefits of the traditional family model, and the dangers of non-nuclear family structures.

The long-time member for the north-east Melbourne electorate of Menzies later booked a room in parliament house for WCF-affiliated lobby groups to celebrate the tenth anniversary of John Howard’s recasting of the Marriage Act to define marriage as that “between a man and a woman”.

As an umbrella organisation for a range of affiliated groups, the World Congress of Families cites as key achievements the stymieing of same-sex marriage in Australia, shutting downgay pride marches in Europe and orchestrating Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation. The Russian laws resulted in a sharp spike in attacks on people identifying as LGBT and  an apparent reluctance on the part of Russian authorities to prosecute offenders.

Much of the funding of the World Congress of Families comes from Russia. Several key donors have been the subject of sanctions stemming from UN investigations into war crimes, including Mr Malofeev, pro-family lawmaker and convener of the Russian congress Yelena Mizolina, and the head of Russia’s rail network, Vladimir Yakunin, until recently a close aide to Mr Putin.

Another key WCF figure and the organiser of the unofficial 2014 Kremlin meeting, lawyer and pastor Scott Lively, helped the Ugandan Government craft legislation that enforced the death penalty for a range of offences, including touching someone of the same sex “with romantic intent”.

Unable to move the ruling through parliament, the government settled on life imprisonment as an appropriate sentence, prompting international outcry.

The Congress covers the costs of speakers such as Ms Francis for its international conferences, but  “only because I’m a partner”, she said. “We donate to them more than the cost of my fares.”

► A version of this story was also published on Crikey.

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