The safest Liberal seat in the country could soon be headed by an anti-abortionist and opponent of same-sex marriage who believes homosexuality is a treatable illness.
Queensland doctor David van Gend is a frontrunner for LNP preselection for the division of Groom, near Toowoomba, after incumbent MP John McVeigh stepped down due to his wife’s ill health.
LNP preselection will be announced on October 24, just a week before the state election, and the Groom byelection will take place on November 28.
Who is van Gend?
Van Gend is an advocate for gay conversion therapy, a widely discredited and harmful practice criminalised in Queensland and the ACT. At a Christian conference last year, he spoke out against its criminalisation, saying, “it is deeply troubling when a free citizen seeks help for a condition he finds distressing and is blocked by another citizen, in this case a rigidly ideological politician from receiving such help”.
He has been a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage and president of the associated Australian Marriage Forum, has linked children of same-sex families to the stolen generation and said people could just stop being gay.
He also believes Labor and the Greens are attempting to “control the minds of our kids” and that the left has brought about a “cultural sickness”.
What do his colleagues think?
Senators Eric Abetz and Matt Canavan, former deputy prime minister John Anderson, and Murdoch commentator Miranda Devine have publicly endorsed van Gend.
“He’s the sort of person we say we want representing us, and Australia really does need people of his intellect and, I believe, of his persuasions,” Anderson said.
Coalition MP Angie Bell, the first openly gay woman to represent a major party in the House of Representatives, told Crikey that van Gend would be valued.
“The LNP is a broad church and whoever the people of Groom send to Canberra will be a valued member of the Morrison government,” she said.
But not everyone is thrilled: Liberal MP Dave Sharma said he was “resolutely opposed” to some of van Gend’s ideologies.
“I absolutely have no time or sympathy for gay conversion therapy or anything like that,” he said. “Let’s see who the candidate that LNP members select is and then have an argument about whether those views are appropriate or not.”
Gay federal Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman and Dean Smith declined to comment on internal matters. Other openly gay Liberal MPs Trevor Evans and Tim Wilson did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment.
What does this mean for Queensland?
University of Queensland political historian Dr Chris Salisbury told Crikey that while van Gend’s preselection wouldn’t be surprising, it would cause controversy among LNP members.
“This kind of shift to arch conservatism is troubling some more moderate members of the party, in both the state and federal factions,” he said.
“There’s some displeasure in Brisbane, which is underlining an interesting divide between the city and the regions — a line Labor has had to walk for some time.”
Despite the rift, Salisbury said van Gend’s stance was not atypical for Toowoomba.
“It’s long been a staunchly conservative area with politics steeped in religious backing,” he said, though added there was evidence the LNP was becoming increasingly conservative.
Salisbury said van Gend’s preselection would be unlikely to change the minds of many voters ahead of the state election on October 31.
Other preselection contenders include Australian Lot Feeders’ Association president and Beef Australia director Bryce Camm, former Wellcamp Airport general manager Sara Hales, former TSBE general manager Shane Charles and first-term Toowoomba councillor Rebecca Vonhoff.
Van Gend could not be reached for comment.