The question of Israel Folau’s future has seeped into the Australian election.
The question of Israel Folau’s future has seeped into the Australian election.

How Folau’s views become big election issue

WHAT started as a religious post on social media has become a major talking point in the 2019 election.

Wallabies star Israel Folau faces being sacked by Rugby Australia after being found to have committed a high-level code of conduct breach for an Instagram post that said hell awaited "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers" and others.

The sacking of rugby union star Israel Folau will be held up in a unanimous decision from an independent panel.
The sacking of rugby union star Israel Folau will be held up in a unanimous decision from an independent panel.

The line between hate speech and religious expression has divided Rugby Australia and senior commentators in sport and the media - but it's also become a key talking point in the upcoming federal election.

On Monday, PM Scott Morrison refused to be drawn on the issue of whether gay people go to hell before he clarified his stance once attacked by Labor leader Bill Shorten.

"No, I do not believe that," Mr Morrison said.

"It was a desperate, cheap shot from Bill Shorten who is looking to distract attention from his housing tax that will undermine the value of people's homes."

Yesterday Mr Shorten called on the PM - who is an evangelical Christian - to state his personal view on whether gay people go to hell, declaring Australia needed a "prime minister for all people".

Mr Morrison was later asked at a press conference in Launceston "how appropriate" it was for the Opposition Leader to raise the question.

"It is not my view that is the case. God's love is for everybody. That is what I have always believed," he said.

"I found it very disappointing that without even prompting, he sought to try and politicise this, and seek to exploit opportunity for it.

"I don't think that should have a place in this election campaign. People's faith is people's faith. I'm not running for Pope, I'm running for prime minister. So you know, theological questions you can leave at the door."

Later in the day, Mr Morrison accused Mr Shorten of attempting to "cynically exploit" the strong emotions around Folau's controversial post.

"He has sought to cynically exploit an issue that has nothing to do with this election, trying to confect religion and politics together for personal political gain," the PM said.

"I thought it was very disappointing. He is becoming more desperate as this campaign goes on.

Scott Morrison was called on by Bill Shorten to state his personal view on whether gay people will go to hell.
Scott Morrison was called on by Bill Shorten to state his personal view on whether gay people will go to hell.

Asked to explain why he didn't address the issue when asked the first time, Mr Morrison said he "didn't want to see those controversial topics being brought into the political debate".

"I don't see how that helps anybody," he said.

Labor senator Penny Wong defended Mr Shorten, saying: "I think it was a pretty odd fact yesterday (Mr Morrison) couldn't answer a straight question."

The senator, who is openly gay, said she thought Mr Shorten spoke for the majority of Australian people and showed leadership on the issue.

"Scott Morrison made this a story because he couldn't answer a question," she said.

She also urged Mr Morrison to show leadership in his own party as two candidates have made it clear they don't support marriage equality.

"What is the Liberal Party's problem?" she said. "(They've) got a couple candidates who've made it clear they don't support marriage equality, they think gay people should be banned from having children."

It comes as a YouGov Galaxy survey found 59 per cent agreed with "allowing people who do not agree with homosexual activity to speak freely and publicly about their reasons for objecting to it, without penalty or adverse action".

Labor senator Penny Wong defended Bill Shorten, saying she thought he spoke for the majority of Australian people.
Labor senator Penny Wong defended Bill Shorten, saying she thought he spoke for the majority of Australian people.

Folau will be sacked after all three members of an independent panel agreed his controversial use of social media warranted the severe punishment, according to a report.

The Daily Telegraph reports that panel chair John West and fellow members Kate Eastman and John Boultbee all supported Rugby Australia's desire to terminate the Wallabies star's four-year, $4-million contract.

Even if only two members of the panel determined Folau should be sacked and the other did not, that would be enough to trigger termination.

An official announcement is expected today or tomorrow as the panel prepares its final judgments.

The panel last week determined Folau had committed a "high level" breach of his contract after taking to Instagram last month to proclaim hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters" unless they repent and turn to Jesus.

The panel also has the option of suspending or fining the 30-year-old.

Folau can appeal the decision but must weigh up his mounting legal fees and the damage the ugly saga is causing the sport.

His playing options now appear limited in Australia with the NRL also drawing a line through his name.

The panel last week determined Folau had committed a ‘high level’ breach of his contract over his Instagram post.
The panel last week determined Folau had committed a ‘high level’ breach of his contract over his Instagram post.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Folau said "God spoke to me" when asked to explain his inflammatory post.

In a video of him speaking at a church service on Sunday afternoon, Folau said the process was not finished and the "outcome is yet to be known".

"Potentially I could get terminated, which means that there's no more playing contract and therefore no more finances or money coming in," he said from the lectern.

"It's been really challenging but also it's been encouraging to myself to see what my God is actually doing."

Folau was reportedly told he could avoid a high level breach and the prospect of contract termination if he showed remorse and removed the offending post.

He declined.

The Daily Telegraph also reported that Folau rejected a $1 million settlement offer from RA.

The deeply religious dual international scored 37 tries in 73 Tests for the Wallabies and was a key cog in their Rugby World Cup plans this year before lighting the social media firestorm that divided Australia.

In his last game for the Waratahs, Folau scored his 60th Super Rugby try to become the leading tryscorer in the competition's history.


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