UK Equalities Minister Liz Truss refused to answer a journalist’s question about appointing former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott seven times.
Truss is also the UK government’s Secretary of State for International Trade. And Abbott looks set to land a crucial post-Brexit job as Britain’s trade envoy.
However many have questioned his record on women, LGBT+ rights and climate change.
Now ITV political correspondent Harry Horton has asked Truss about whether she feels comfortable working with him.
He asked: ‘Why is it right that someone is widely viewed as sexist, homophobic and a climate change denier should be representing Britain around the world?’
However, Truss would only reply:
‘Well first of all, we are due to announce the board of trade and no final decisions have been made. But what I would say about Tony Abbott is that he is a former prime minister of Australia.
‘Australia is a key ally of the United Kingdom and he has done a very good job in areas like trade.’
Horton repeated the question seven times in just two minutes during the interview in a field in Yorkshire, northern England, yesterday.
However, each time Truss declined to address the issues he raised.
Instead she claimed it was an ‘irrelevant question’ as they have not yet confirmed Abbott’s appointment. All the same, she made no attempt to deny that Abbott will be taking the role.
Watch the interview here:
Also asked @trussliz about the controversial and imminent appointment of former Australian PM Tony Abbott as Britain’s trade envoy: pic.twitter.com/wNFQ4lWuLm
— Harry Horton (@harry_horton) August 27, 2020
Abbott was Australia’s prime minister for two years from 2013 to 2015.
He was a particularly outspoken critic of same-sex marriage equality. In particular he said ‘let’s be careful about describing every lasting sexual bond as a “marriage”’.
His views helped push Australia towards a postal referendum of marriage equality. Same-sex couples won the day but the debate stirred up significant hatred towards LGBT+ Australians.
Moreover, as Abbott tried to rally Australians to vote against same-sex marriage, he met with a family conflict.
At the same time his own sister Christine Forster was calling for marriage equality and hoping to wed her fiancée Virginia Edwards. It sparked an embarrassing row about whether Abbott would attend his sister’s wedding.
Meanwhile he has also made sexist remarks. In particular he once said ‘men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command’.
And in 2017, he said global warming was ‘probably doing good’, and compared environmental policies to ‘primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods’.
Truss as Equalities Minister
Likewise, Truss has already shaken the LGBT+ community since taking over the equalities role.
In her first comments on her policies, back in April, she indicated she may crack down on trans public bathroom access.
Then in June she did promise the UK would ban ‘conversion therapy’. However, the government told GSN it may stop short of a legal ban.
Some fear Truss and the Conservatives may grant exemptions – including for religious groups – which would render a ‘conversion therapy’ ban useless. This recently happened in Queensland. Meanwhile, it’s not clear if Truss’ plans will also protect trans people.
Post-Brexit trade deals
During her replies to Horton, Truss did emphasize the importance of successful trade deals after Brexit.
In particular she said Britain wanted to do a deal with Australia.
Experts predict even a Canada-style deal between Britain and the EU would reduce the UK’s gross domestic product by 4.9%. And that’s now looking like a fairly optimistic option with talks between Britain and the EU still stuck on a range of issues.
By comparison, the same experts say a UK trade deal with the 11 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership – including Australia – would add 0.1% to 0.4% to GDP.
Meanwhile LGBT+ lawyers and human rights experts have expressed concern that Brexit may lead Britain to trade with countries with bad LGBT+ and human rights records.
Obviously, Australia wouldn’t fall into that category. However, Truss and Abbott – if he is appointed – may later face questions about the kinds of nations they have to cosy up to for the sake of the UK economy.
GSN has contacted the UK Government Equalities Office to ask Truss if she will now answer Horton’s question.