Liberal candidate Renee Heath engages lawyers, considers human rights complaint

Victorian Liberal candidate Renee Heath has broken her silence to say she has always believed in the separation of church and state and has never attempted to impose her religious views on her political party.

A joint media investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes revealed Heath had received extensive training from the ISAAC Network, a global group of churches that seeks to build Christian nations by influencing politics, business and society.

Renee Heath (right) in 2014 with Jonathan David (left) and Heidi McIvor, who became the face of the campaign against same-sex marriage in Australia.

The investigation also revealed Heath’s brother-in-law, Patrick McIvor, was subjected to gay conversion therapy while a member of Heath’s family church, City Builders, after disclosing to Renee Heath’s father, pastor Brian Heath, that he was gay.

Clare McIvor, Renee Heath’s sister, has accused Heath of being an “agent” for the church.

Heath, a candidate for the upper house seat of Eastern Victorian Region, has declined multiple requests for interviews and has refused to answer questions about her views on key policy issues.

However, hours before the 60 Minutes investigation was due to air on Sunday night, Heath emailed a statement to this masthead.

“I do not support gay conversion therapy and to suggest otherwise is completely false and misleading,” Heath said.

“I’ve always believed in the separation of church and state. I have never attempted to impose my religious views on others in the Liberal Party and I do not intend to do so now.

“As I have repeatedly stated, the reason I am a Liberal is because I believe in the right of every individual to live life according to their convictions, beliefs and conscience without interference from government. This applies regardless of your gender, sexuality, faith and any other characteristics that makes you who you are.”

Heath said she had engaged law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler to assess whether she had grounds to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission about the “discriminatory treatment of me” as a potential Liberal MP “based on my faith, or assumptions about my faith”.

Renee Heath, the Liberal Party candidate for Eastern Victoria.

Liberal leader Matthew Guy said on the weekend that Heath would not be sitting in the Liberal Party room if elected to parliament in Saturday’s election. The Liberal Party said this decision was because Heath had withheld information about the extent of her dealings with the church network.

Victorian Liberal state director Sam McQuestin issued a statement earlier on Sunday saying he had reviewed all correspondence and information available to him about the pre-selection of Heath, following media reports.

“None of that information shows Ms Heath’s ongoing and recent engagement with Pastor Jonathan David and his organisation,” McQuestin said.

“On November 11, I had a conversation with Ms Heath to discuss questions Ms Heath had received from 60 Minutes.

“[Saturday] morning, it was clear that the responses Ms Heath provided during that conversation were inconsistent with reports in The Age newspaper.”

The Age has reported that as a teenager, Heath completed a year-long internship with David, a Malaysian preacher who heads the global ISAAC (International Strategic Alliance of Apostolic Churches) Network of Pentacostal churches that includes City Builders. She has continued to receive leadership and spiritual training from him in her adult life.

In June 2021, Heath was filmed tuning into an online conference led by David.

Guy condemned gay conversion therapy on Saturday but conceded earlier in the week that he had not personally asked Heath about her views.

At least nine senior Liberal members had warned Guy and other party leaders that Heath posed a political risk for the party at the election, in which moderate Liberal seats are under threat from teal candidates.

Lawyers for pastor Brian Heath and City Builders issued a legal letter on Saturday night denying the church was “ultra-conservative”, “extreme” or “part of a global religious network”.

“City Builders takes an unremarkable, mainstream and modern approach to Christianity,” the lawyers said.

The lawyers denied the church or its leaders were opposed to gay, trans and reproductive rights “subject to two qualifications” including that marriage should be “reserved to traditional families” and abortion should be “rare”.

Brian Heath was quoted in a podcast from February 2021 saying he “could be in jail in a month” following the introduction of laws to outlaw gay conversion practices. His lawyers said this was “hyperbole”.

The joint media investigation has interviewed several former members of City Builders, who claim they were left traumatised after church leaders sought to suppress their sexuality. Ex-church member James Dalton claimed he was subject to an exorcism by church leaders and later sent to gay conversion therapy, which has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article