A Liberal candidate accused of making offensive comments about Muslims online has fled media in the rain at a chaotic election event in Tasmania.
Jessica Whelan, running in the seat of Lyons, has denied she is behind comments on Facebook attacking Islam and its supporters, but remained silent when asked about the comments while attending an excruciatingly long walkabout with the PM in Tasmania.
Scott Morrison found himself in Lyons this afternoon to open Agfest, an annual agriculture and machinery field day, with his wife Jenny.
During an awkward 40-minute walkabout, the Prime Minister’s advisers stopped Ms Whelan from walking alongside the PM so journalists couldn’t ask her questions.
Ms Whelan slipped into the event and stood behind Mr Morrison, and focus immediately turned on the embattled candidate.
She refused to answer questions from reporters and looked like she was in pain when she joined the PM on a never-ending tour of the grounds.
Ms Whelan pursed her lips and looked downcast as she walked around with an enthusiastic Mr and Mrs Morrison, who happily high-fived kids and inspected camper vans for about 40 minutes.
Dressed in rubber boots, jeans and a navy vest endorsing her candidacy, she looked around hesitantly at the media as they followed.
In a chaotic end to the appearance, Ms Whelan ran away from the media pack after exiting a food vendor shed and again refused to answer questions about the alleged online comments.
When the prime minister went for a walk through the festival to meet voters, his media advisers used themselves as human shields to make sure journalists couldn’t stop her to ask questions.
Ms Whelan was walking almost next to Mr Morrison, so Agriculture Minister David Littleproud called forward the prime minister’s wife Jenny to stand next to the leader instead.
It was a stark contrast to Mr Morrison’s visit to Lyons in the first week of the election, when he and Ms Whelan were photographed side-by-side tasting ice cream.
A party spokesman said the posts about Muslims appeared to have been digitally manipulated.
Speaking about the posts today, Mr Morrison said the matter had been referred to the Australian Federal Police.
“The imagery that we have found, that has been presented to us, appears to have been doctored,” he said.
“And so that is a matter that is being referred, I should say, to the Australian Federal Police. And this is a matter that will be subject to an investigation.
When asked why Ms Whelan didn’t answer questions earlier, Mr Morrison said it was because there was no press conference organised for Agfest.
Mr Morrison used the Agfest visit to announce $500 million worth of cheap loans to fire up the forestry industry.
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Surrounded by a team, Ms Whelan was frantically ushered to a waiting 4WD through pouring rain.
A comment on a video purporting to show “feminists in America begging for sharia Law”, from a profile with Ms Whelan’s name and photograph, has been condemned by Labor.
“Round them up Donald, cut their clitoris’ (sic) off & sell them to Muslims in Muslim countries & cancel their passports,” it reads. “You’ll make a mint.”
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Another attributed to her said Muslims should not be allowed to live in Australia.
“Given that your profile states you went to College at “Never lose hope in ALLAH”. I hope you’re bloody NOT on our housing waiting list. You shouldn’t even be in Australia if you believe in ALLAH!” the comment read.
Labor MP Julie Collins called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to sack his candidate over the remarks.
“This is a test of Scott Morrison’s leadership — he must sack his disgraced candidate for Lyons,” Ms Collins told The Mercury newspaper.
Ms Whelan has insisted the posts are not hers and her campaign spokesperson suggested the images have been digitally altered.