30 January 2016
by David Wroe
Kevin Andrews angers party whip with 'prayer breakfast' reason for Washington visit
Kevin Andrews will attend a prayer breakfast, but will also address a right-wing think-tank while away from Parliament.
Former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews has infuriated his party's chief whip by requesting an absence from Parliament to attend a Washington "prayer breakfast" only then to use the time to deliver a speech to a major conservative think-tank.
Mr Andrews will miss the first sitting week of Parliament starting Monday to give a national security address to the Heritage Foundation, one of Washington's most influential conservative policy institutes.
But when he asked for clearance in November from Liberal Party Chief Whip Nola Marino – who is responsible for making sure MPs are present to vote when Parliament sits – his stated purpose for travelling to the US was to attend Washington's annual National Prayer Breakfast.
Ms Marino was furious when she found out he was in fact giving the speech, which is likely to heighten tensions between supporters of former prime minister Tony Abbott and backers of the man who replaced him, Malcolm Turnbull.
A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews confirmed he had sought leave for the breakfast - which he will still attend - but said the speech had only come up later.
"Mr Andrews was invited – along with a Labor MP – to the National Prayer Breakfast and, as such, requested leave to attend," she said. "The Heritage Foundation event was arranged only recently."
Ms Marino, a West Australian conservative who is not in the Turnbull camp, declined to comment.
The speech is one of a string of very public displays by the right wing of the Liberal Party to continue pushing its agenda after the September dumping of Mr Abbott for Mr Turnbull.
Mr Abbott himself has been in the US this week, delivering a speech in New York on Friday – Australian time – to the Christian conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom.
In his speech, he said allowing same-sex couples to wed will contribute to "the erosion of family", a stance that drew a swift rebuke from his openly gay sister Christine Forster.
One of the proxy wars being fought within the Liberal Party is over national security, with some supporters of Mr Abbott trying to paint him as a stronger leader against Mr Turnbull's less hawkish stance.
However, Mr Turnbull is widely seen to have burnished his national security credentials during a recent trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Washington. As well as telling European countries to "step up" in the fight against the Islamic State terror group, Mr Turnbull toughened his language on extremism, telling a Washington audience "we should not be so delicate as to say [Islamic State] and its ilk have 'got nothing to do with Islam'".
Mr Andrews, who was dumped by Mr Turnbull as defence minister in September, has lately been calling for Australia to contribute more troops to the fight against the Islamic State – contradicting the position he took when he was minister.
His speech will be titled "Australia's Global Security and Defence Challenges".
It is understood that Mr Turnbull's office is not vetting or demanding to see advance copies of speeches given by MPs, including Mr Andrews.
The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual Washington event hosted by Christian members of Congress and organised by a non-profit group called the Fellowship Foundation.