A Katter’s Australian Party candidate has quit and a second hopeful has been sidelined after the pair made controversial comments about gay rights.
Tess Corbett, who had nominated for the federal seat of Wannon in Victoria, sparked a furore following an interview with her local paper when she said: "Paedophiles will be next in line to be recognised in the same way as gays and lesbians and get rights."
Katter’s Australian Party national director Aidan McLindon said Ms Corbett had decided to pull out of the race.
A short time later, Mr McLindon confirmed the party had also suspended the membership of its former national secretary Bernard Gaynor, who had been one of several Senate contenders in Queensland.
Mr Gaynor had tweeted his support saying he did not want gay people teaching his children, but in recent weeks has also published letters denouncing abortion.
Mr McLindon said the national executive’s decision to suspend Mr Gaynor’s membership was made "with regret".
''The party has made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions to all candidates and officials that KAP does not exist for individuals to air and promote their own personal preoccupations," he said in a statement.
“For this reason and as a result of serious breaches of protocol the party has suspended Mr Gaynor’s membership.
“As a result of this decision Mr Gaynor’s nomination for senate candidacy becomes invalid."
Mr McLindon said the member may exercise his right to challenge the suspension, but the party was focused on its "core objectives".
The confirmation came just minutes after Mr Gaynor told Fairfax Media he would not follow Ms Corbett in stepping aside.
"No one’s pushed me out; no one in the party has spoken to me in a negative way whatsoever," he at 4.35pm AEDT.
Mr Gaynor later said he was surprised by his suspension, as Katter’s Australian Party’s first principle was that people were free to speak according to their conscience.
‘‘Look, no one from the party has contacted me whatsoever, and certainly no one from the party has told me I’ve done anything wrong,’’ he told Fairfax Radio 4BC on Thursday evening.
Mr Gaynor said he did not regret the comments but believed it was a mistake for Mr Katter and the party to ‘‘bow down before political correctness’’.
Ms Corbett, who also told The Hamilton Spectator that she did not "want gays, lesbians to be working in my kindergarten", did not return calls on Thursday.
"Her heart was in the right place; she was well intentioned," Mr McLindon said on Thursday afternoon.
"But given what has happened in the last 24 hours she decided to voluntarily step down for the seat of Wannon."
A subsequent media release from Katter’s Australian Party indicated Ms Corbett had "withdrawn her application for endorsement in Western Australia". In fact, the seat for which she was running, Wannon, is in western Victoria.
The departure of Ms Corbett and Mr Gaynor came after party founder Bob Katter warned candidates would not be allowed to use the party as a soapbox on gay issues.
Mr Katter told Fairfax Media on Thursday that candidates should focus on the main policy battles.
Mr Katter, who has previously stirred controversy in his arguments against same-sex marriage, also said he regretted the party's focus on such issues during the 2012 Queensland election campaign.
The party ran ads during that campaign which featured a pixellated image of a shirtless same-sex couple and claimed a vote for Campbell Newman would be a vote for gay marriage.
''So I've got plenty to answer for and I paid for my sins,'' he said. ''That ad was never my idea. I was never in favour of it.''
Mr Katter said the party would make it very clear to candidates and potential candidates not to air their views on issues such as gay rights.
''The party will not be used by people to air and promote their own personal preoccupations and predilections,'' he said.
Labor Senator Penny Wong responded on Twitter to Ms Corbett's comments on Thursday morning with: ''Bigotry is not morality. And it has no place in today's Australia.''
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young also called for the candidates to be immediately disendorsed, saying the comments were unacceptable and Katter's Australian Party appeared to be "riddled with homophobia".
Mr Gaynor, an Iraq war veteran and former national secretary of Katter's Australian Party, had not been formally endorsed by the party to run for the senate but was one of the contenders.
When asked whether he supported Mr Gaynor's senate bid, Mr Katter said the party's statement against candidates airing their own preoccupations was ''very, very clear and very, very unequivocal''.
''Quite frankly we've had six or seven going the other way,'' he said, alluding to other party hopefuls who held more moderate views on gay rights.
Mr Gaynor said he had not spoken to Mr Katter since the controversy arose.
''I'm sure that Bob would absolutely support me 100 per cent in the right of parents to choose who teaches their children,'' Mr Gaynor told Fairfax Media.
He acknowledged Mr Katter was not keen on his candidacy ''but that's over other issues which I don't want to go into''.
Mr Gaynor blasted the ''convected outrage on Twitter'' as unreflective of mainstream views.
''There's been a constant stream of vitriolic and hateful invective at me,'' Mr Gaynor said.
''I've also received a number of emails which have expressed rather unsavoury points of view about my health and life including wishing I had died when I was serving in Iraq.
''I don't appreciate that kind of commentary.''
Mr Gaynor said he would consider going to the police if the comments wishing he was dead continued.
He admitted some people may have viewed his original comments about gays as provocative, but insisted teachers had a huge amount of influence over children.
''I don't think there'd be any parent out there who would say they don't have a right to choose who their teacher is,'' he said.
It is not the first time Katter's Australian Party – and its potential candidates – have courted controversy over attitudes to gay rights.
Justin Englert, an SES controller in Mackay in central Queensland, expressed an interest in running as the Katter's Australian Party federal candidate for Dawson.
He appeared to have the backing of Mr Katter, who reportedly flew to the area late last year to discuss Mr Englert's candidacy.
But after Mr Englert told a local newspaper that he did not agree with Mr Katter's opposition to gay marriage, the party's Dawson chairman, Lindsay Temple, warned that the core principles were non-negotiable.
One core principle of Katter's Australian Party is that modern Australia was founded on Christian values and makes it clear that gay marriage is off limits.
''Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, ideally for life,'' the party states.
''It is in the best interests of children that they are nurtured by their father and their mother and laws concerning children should be based on the best interests of children.''
with Richard Willingham and Adrian Lowe