One of Tony Abbott’s final “captain’s picks” as Prime Minister was to install Andrew Hastie as the Liberal candidate in the Canning byelection, following the death of former MP Don Randall. But with a new, more moderate leader, Hastie might not find the federal Liberal Party the haven for ultra-conservative Christians like him it was under Tony Abbott.

Whether or not Hastie’s preselection will have similar disastrous results to Abbott’s other “captain’s picks” (defending Bronwyn Bishop as speaker, the knighthood for Prince Philip) is yet to be seen. While Abbott is now out of power — and it looks like the ultra right-wing ministers of the Howard era are also on the chopping block — if Hastie is elected on Saturday, this captain’s pick will mean that another ultra-conservative MP will enter the Liberal Party’s ranks.

Hastie’s career as a Special Air Services officer has become the focus of Liberal byelection campaigning. However, this has obscured a more intriguing part of Hastie’s CV, namely that he is a Christian fundamentalist.

Hastie grew up in Wangaratta in rural Victoria, raised by religious parents. As Crikey has reported before, his father, Reverend Peter Hastie, is currently principal and pastoral dean at Melbourne’s Presbyterian Theological College, where he lectures in “systematic theology and apologetics”. Peter Hastie belongs to Creation Ministries International (CMI), which promotes the scientifically ridiculed concept of creationism. The website promotes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge and the Bible’s assertions are “factually true” and the “supreme authority in everything it teaches”.

Furthermore, CMI supporters believe that “the various original life forms (kinds), including mankind, were made by direct creative acts of God”. Non-believers are subject to “ever-lasting conscious punishment, but believers enjoy eternal life with God”.

Andrew Hastie has steadfastly refused to be drawn on whether he agrees with his father and believes in creationism. On one occasion he was asked eight times if he believed in creationism, but he refused to answer, claiming his views are irrelevant to his candidacy. “There’s no religious test in this country for public office.”

He identifies as an Anglican, and his wife has worked as a receptionist at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Shenton Park.

But his religious views are relevant, especially as the power inside the Liberal Party finds a new balance. There are rumours that Senator Cory Bernardi might finally start his own party, disgusted at the spill that brought the moderate Malcolm Turnbull to power. If that were to come to fruition — and Christian stalwarts like Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz shuffled out — Hastie could find himself in a less influential pocket of the party than he might have under an Abbott government.

Last week the Australian Christians Party announced it would give its first preferences to Hastie because of his rejection of gay marriage. Its own candidate, anti-abortion property valuer Jamie Van Burgel, said Family First had received his party’s preferences at the 2013 federal election but the Liberals would be the beneficiaries on Saturday. Hastie’s preferences also go first to the Australian Christians, followed by Family First and the Australian Defence Veterans Party — his how-to-vote card reads like a list of his interests.

Hastie’s father’s CV is as interesting as his son’s. He previously served on the council of The Scots College, the high-priced private school in Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and Hastie Sr. played a significant role in one of Australia’s most memorable religious controversies when Sydney University theologian Dr Peter Cameron, principal of St Andrew’s College, was convicted of heresy in March 1993 by elders of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

The Scottish-born lawyer, academic and churchman later described the experience thus: “I never came across such unpleasantness and anger and sheer nastiness as I did in the church.”

His “crime” was to preach a 1992 sermon on “The Place of Women in the Church” supporting the ordination of women. He received a positive reception from the 300-strong congregation, most of whom were women. In Bill De Maria’s book Deadly Disclosures, chronicling the Cameron affair, one woman in the congregation said she was in tears because she feared the retribution he would face from the church hierarchy.

Sitting in the front row taking notes was Peter Hastie, then a minister at the Presbyterian Church in Ashfield, who became a prime mover at Cameron’s heresy “trial”. Hastie sent his notes to higher authorities in the church, though they have never been made public.

Cameron fell into deeper odium when he defended his views on women’s ordination at a preliminary hearing attended by 50 members of the Sydney Presbytery and argued that homosexuality and Christianity were compatible.

He was found guilty of making “heretical statements” at a “court” that sat at the Presbyterian Theological Centre, Burwood, in March 1993.

When his appeal was dismissed by 123 votes to 65, his prosecutor, Peter Hastie, said: “I am genuine when I say I am saddened for Dr Cameron. The decision would have wounded him, and I took no delight in seeing him, as it were, under the pressure of the Assembly, as he was.”

Cameron avoided a sentence of suspension, exclusion from the ministry or excommunication by resigning from the ministry and returning to Scotland. There is no evidence that Andrew Hastie supported or condoned his father’s actions.

Peter Fray

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