CANBERRA – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has had a tricky start to the opening of the 45th parliament, amid a very public confrontation with an Anglican rector over same sex marriage.
Attending a traditional church service in Canberra to mark the start of the parliamentary year, Shorten was challenged by Rector Ian Powell over his use of "hate speech" to describe people opposed to same sex marriage.
The rector said he "liked the Labor Party," but was disappointed in Bill Shorten's use of words during a June event in the federal election campaign.
"You described people who weren't in favour of changing the definition of marriage as 'haters who come out from under rock'. Can I ask you not to speak like that?" Ian Powell said.
"Please don't speak like that about other Australians."
"So we have a civil and tolerant discussion rather than the hate speech from our prospective Prime Minister."
The Labor Leader explained he had not been quoted "correctly" and, as he tried to explain through an interruption, accused the parish priest of hectoring him.
"People of faith can be opposed to marriage equality, but some people who object to marriage equality do have homophobic attitudes," Shorten said before briskly walking back to his car.
The Opposition Leader supports marriage equality, but has blasted the Turnbull Government's current proposal of plebiscite as a "second best" option as expensive, non-binding and likely to lead of the vilification of LGBTIQ people.
In June, Shorten linked the same sex marriage plebiscite to the deadly shooting in Orlando, suggesting a "yes/no" campaign could "give the haters a chance to come out from underneath the rock and make life harder for LGBTI people."
After the Opposition Leader left the church grounds, Rector Ian Powell explained he has written letters to politicians about their use of language in the debate over marriage equality, "but they just get ignored."
"Of course there are haters on both sides in this discussion, but (politicians) need to model for us," he said.
Labor holds the fate of the plebiscite with the key senate grouping of the Nick Xenophon Team pledging Monday to block the Turnbull Government's effort to put same sex marriage to a popular vote.