A candidate for Bob Katter’s fledgling political party declared his preference for buying ”guaranteed non-halal meat” so his money does not ”go to the Muslim community”.
Jamie Cavanough, who is standing for Katter’s Australian Party in Sydney’s most marginal federal seat, Greenway, is under fire for the apparently divisive comments he made to a community forum in one of the city’s most ethnically diverse areas.
Katter’s Australian Party played down the comments on Friday, describing them as a non-issue.
“Some Australians want crunchy peanut butter, others want smooth peanut butter, some Australians want halal meat and some want non-halal meat – these are the great freedoms we enjoy in this country,” the party’s national director Aidan McLindon told Fairfax Media.
Mr Cavanough’s comments emerged a day after a Katter candidate in Victoria, Tess Corbett, sparked outrage by likening homosexuals to paedophiles, saying they should be kept out of the classroom. She was then backed up by potential Queensland candidate Bernard Gaynor. Ms Corbett has since quit her candidacy and Mr Gaynor has been sidelined.
Mr Gaynor, who was suspended from the party on Thursday following comments about gay teachers and abortion, complained of double standards.
He said on Friday he would fight his suspension as other candidates or nominees had expressed personal opinions and not faced consequences.
”I might add, I support these comments from Jamie Cavanough, as I know many in the party do,” he said in a statement issued on Friday afternoon.
”More importantly, I support the freedom for all Australians to express their opinion.”
Mr Cavanough made his comments on Saturday, less than a fortnight after controversy in the Greenway community over plans for a supposed Muslim enclave, dubbed ”Halal housing”, in Riverstone.
Mr Cavanough posted on the Riverstone Community Group forum, which has 732 members on Facebook: ”Can anyone advise me where I can buy Guaranteed NON halal lamb for Australia day.”
When a forum user suggested he might try a butcher, Mr Cavanough replied: ”have not asked yet, just wondering if anyone new [sic] of any, I would prefer to always buy non halal as proceeds of halal goes to the Muslim community.”
And in a separate post, Mr Cavanough called on people to sign a petition against a supposed plan by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to scrap the name Australia Day in favour of Harmony Day, saying ”the Muslim church is in favour of this”. The Prime Minister’s office confirmed there was no such proposal.
Mr Cavanough told Fairfax Media he was simply looking for a better deal on meat and his comments were not racially motivated.
”In my view, and it’s not the view of any party, I want to be able to purchase a product that has not been faced to a god that I don’t believe in and blessed,” he said.
”Every time something is deemed halal they pay for the right. I have no problem with Muslims; I breed sheep and cattle and sell them to Muslims. I don’t care what they do with them, I was just simply asking where I can purchase [non-halal meat].”
With several controversies over recent days, Katter’s Australian Party confirmed that candidates would be reminded of their responsibility towards the party’s policies, as opposed to their own personal views.
Mr McLindon said that he had spoken to Mr Cavanough on Friday morning.
“Some may chose to interpret [his] comments as naive, others will [interpret them] as poor political judgment,” he said.
“It’s up to the discretion of people where they want to put their money, but sometimes it is best to keep those things to yourself.”
Mr McLindon said that as a small business owner, Mr Cavanough dealt with Muslim people on a daily basis, and got along with them.
On Thursday, party leader Bob Katter appeared on Channel Ten’s The Project for a fiery interview, in which he refused to be drawn on his candidates’ views about homosexuality.
“A leader should concentrate on the important issues,” he said. “I’m not talking about it.””These issues are not relevant to what I am about in politics.”
On Friday morning, Mr Katter again refused to answer questions on Canberra local radio about the controversial comments.
Mr Katter hung up on 2CC’s Pete Davidson during the on-air interview at 8.30am.
During the fiery exchange, Mr Katter said Mr Davidson and the media generally insisted on focusing on “gutter issues” rather than important problems such as water security.
“You are saying that somehow we are racist. There is not the slightest threat of that in our party and there never has been,” Mr Katter said.
“You’re trying to label us with some sort of a label.”
Labor’s Michelle Rowland, the sitting MP for Greenway, which covers parts of Blacktown, Seven Hills and Parklea, said ”my jaw has just dropped” when told of Mr Cavanough’s comments.
”I think those comments are bizarre, I think they are out of line and I think they are totally inappropriate for someone seeking to represent the seat of Greenway, which is a diverse part of Australia,” she said.
Mr Cavanough has been courting the conservative vote in the absence of a Liberal candidate in Greenway. Fairfax Media revealed recently that Liberal Party officials were waiting for Tony Abbott to give his blessing to one of a list of candidates in the must-win seat, with concern growing at the delay in choosing a candidate.