A doctor who called homosexuality a “disordered form of behaviour” and who campaigned against legal abortion, transgender rights and gay marriage has emerged as the frontrunner for Liberal National party preselection in the safe federal seat of Groom.
Guardian Australia understands the LNP’s increasingly influential “Christian soldiers” faction has thrown its support behind David van Gend’s nomination.
LNP sources said it appeared van Gend had the numbers to win Sunday’s vote of party members in Toowoomba, which is considered a stronghold of the party’s religious right. The byelection in Groom, set for 28 November, was caused by the sudden resignation last month of the sitting member, John McVeigh.
Senior LNP officials are understood to be alarmed at the prospect of the party publicly endorsing such a controversial figure six days before the Queensland election – particularly given the “unwelcome” focus of the state campaign on conscience issues.
Guardian Australia revealed on Saturday that a conservative state frontbencher, Christian Rowan, gave an “iron clad guarantee” the party would wind back 2018 laws that decriminalised abortion.
Labor has recently promised to bring voluntary assisted dying legislation to the parliament.
The opposition leader, Deb Frecklington, has been reluctant to talk about either issue, both of which are opposed by the LNP membership but overwhelmingly supported by the Queensland public.
The LNP has said publicly it needs to win progressive inner-city seats to take government in Queensland, and it is understood party officials are seriously concerned the final week of the state campaign could be dominated by accusations the party has fallen captive to zealots.
Van Gend, a practising GP who wrote a book about gay marriage called Stealing from a Child, campaigned against Queensland’s 2018 abortion laws.
In a recent article in the Spectator, van Gend attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, describing it as a “demoralising slander of our culture”, and disputed scientific evidence on global heating.
In his most recent piece, van Gend suggested transgender people suffer from “varieties of psychological disturbance”.
LNP members have told the Guardian the preselection vote also looms as a test of the authority of its new president, Cynthia Hardy, who is based in Groom.
Some party officials are understood to be backing an outsider, Bryce Camm. Sources say the former Groom MP and Queensland Resources Council chief executive, Ian Macfarlane, has thrown his support behind Toowoomba councillor Rebecca Vonhoff.
Van Gend did not return calls.