21/09/2017 8:20 PM AEST | Updated 22/09/2017 2:41 PM AEST

Tony Abbott Headbutting: Violence In Same Sex Marriage Campaign Universally Condemned

Former PM Tony Abbott says he's in "shock" after being headbutted by a man wearing a 'vote yes' badge.

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“I went over to shake his hand and he headbutted me. He wasn’t very good at it, but he did make contact,

Politicians and campaigners on both sides of the same sex marriage campaign have condemned the use of violence after former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was allegedly headbutted in the face in Tasmania on Thursday.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has labelled the attack "disgraceful" and said that such incidents would harm the 'yes' campaign.

"I condemn this assault on Tony," Turnbull told the radio station 3AW on Friday morning.

"(Same sex marriage campaigners) are not helping their case by engaging in violent conduct. They are not showing respect for others."

Labor leader Bill Shorten, Attorney General George Brandis and prominent marriage equality advocates have also joined in condemning the man's actions.

But Turnbull also said that "overwhelmingly" Australians were engaging in the same sex marriage debate "peacefully".

"One (violent) incident is too many. However, it is important to remember that overwhelmingly Australians are engaging in this debate respectfully and harmoniously," he told reporters on Friday afternoon.

Fairfax Media
Tony Abbott was in Tasmania meeting with 'no' campaigners.

Police say they are searching for a man, believed to be aged around 40, who Abbott reports was wearing a leather jacket with a 'vote yes' badge on it at the time he approached him on the Hobart waterfront at around 4:35pm.

It is believed Abbott was accompanied by his media assistant at the time of the assault and was travelling between a lunch function he had attended with fellow 'No' supporters and his hotel in Hobart.

Despite initially saying he didn't want to "make too much of" the headbutting, Abbott has since used the incident to encourage Australians to vote 'no' in the same sex marriage survey.

"If you don't like the kind of intimidation that's creeping into our society, then the only safe thing you can do is vote no and tell these people that they have to treat our values and our institutions with respect," he told reporters at Brisbane Airport on Friday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Abbott had said the headbutting was a "shock".

"Normally a handshake is a sign of trust and peace. It is a sign of two people wanting to deal openly and courteously with each other," he said.

"It's sad that this debate has come to that."

Tasmania-based Liberal Senator and vocal 'no' campaigner Eric Abetz, who has been hosting Abbott's visit to the state, claimed the incident was a reminder of the "ugliness" of the 'Yes' campaign.

"The slogan of 'Love is love' is unfortunately shown in practice to be intolerance, not wanting people to be able to have their point of view," he told the ABC on Friday morning.

Tony Abbott filed a formal complaint to police regarding the incident on Thursday evening -- but only after being contacted by police who had heard his media interviews.

Labor leader Bill Shorten described the attack as "terrible", saying he had phoned Abbott following the incident.

"I'm glad Mr Abbott isn't seriously injured and I've rung him to say so," he wrote on Twitter.

Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne told Channel Nine's Today Show that people "shouldn't be physically attacked for having a different view about marriage equality".

"It is an un-Australian thing to do and I hope that Tony is okay."

Co-Chair of Australian Marriage Equality, the group behind the official 'Yes' for same-sex marriage campaign, Alex Greenwich said "there is absolutely no place for violence in the marriage equality debate".

"We condemn this incident and we urge everybody engaged in this debate, regardless of what side you're on, to ensure that you engage in a dignified and respectful way," he told HuffPost Australia.

"That's what the Australian people expect and that's what they deserve."

Tasmanians United for Marriage Equality spokesperson, Rodney Croome, condemed the alleged attack as "beneath contempt", but also said the 'Yes' campaign shouldn't be judged on the actions of one person.

"I urge both Yes and No supporters to act with respect and restraint because, when this postal survey is over, we will still have to live together, side by side, as Australians," he said in a statement.

The incident caps off a tense fortnight for the same-sex marriage debate after postal survey forms began to be mailed out across the country.

While the first week of voting started out positively with rallies planned on both sides of the debate, things soon turned a little ugly after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he wanted 'Yes' campaigners to get out of his face, while others even tried arguing homophobia doesn't exist in modern Australia.

From there, Nationals' senator Matt Canavan told everyone worried about the tone of the same-sex marriage debate they were "delicate little flowers" and ought to "grow a spine" and prominent 'No' campaigner Lyle Shelton said he believes the widely discredited 'gay conversion therapy' should be available for children in Australia.

The furore around the question of whether Australia should allow same-sex couples the right to marry also saw former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's godson "punched while standing up for marriage equality", the organisation of a "Straight Lives Matter" rally to be held in Sydney, and the public criticism of a businesswoman who fired a contractor after she expressed her view that it's OK to vote 'No'.

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