The controversial Victorian Liberal candidate Moira Deeming was captured seated with the party’s former federal vice-president during a Zoom meeting of “pro-life warriors” amid a strict Covid-19 lockdown.
On 6 September 2021, Deeming and Karina Okotel, a leading no campaigner during the same-sex marriage debate, attended the meeting seated beside each other, according to a screenshot posted by Peter Stevens, the Victorian director of Christian lobby group FamilyVoice Australia.
“Great to be meeting with these really awesome pro-life warriors,” Stevens posted on Facebook.
At the time, a lockdown had been in place for a month that included a curfew and travel limit. On 1 September, the lockdown was extended for three weeks, with some small changes, including the reopening of playgrounds and the resumption of childcare for essential workers.
There were only five reasons to leave home: to shop for food and essential items, provide or receive care, exercise, work or study if unable to from home, and to get vaccinated.
Deeming and Okotel have been contacted by Guardian Australia and asked if they had an exemption to be together. Neither responded.
Deeming, a teacher and Melton councillor, was preselected last weekend to represent the Liberals in the western metropolitan region, replacing outspoken MP Bernie Finn for the November state election.
Her appointment has been met with criticism within the Liberal party, largely due to her conservative views on abortion and transgender rights and her criticism of Victorian government’s Safe Schools program.
Deeming has also been critical of Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
In an interview from September 2021, she cast doubts on Covid vaccines, saying they had not gone through “the same processes as other vaccines and I think that it’s legitimate for people to wait”.
In November of the same year, she attended a protest against the government’s pandemic legislation, posting on her Facebook page: “What an honour to walk with all these peaceful protesters against Dictator Dan’s permanent pandemic powers! Kill the bill!!”.
The following month, she told the council she could not support any motions related to Covid mandates or vaccines because she did “not agree with either of them”.
Victoria’s opposition leader, Matthew Guy, has defended Deeming, telling reporters on Friday: “I’m not interested in comments she’s made in the past, I’m interested in what she’s doing as a candidate”.
After Deeming’s preselection, Stevens took to Facebook to congratulate her and directed his followers to a post on FamilyVoice Australia’s website, in which the group decried a Liberal push to present as more progressive for the November state election by pledging to legislate an emission reduction target of 50% by 2030 and guaranteeing it would not amend new laws banning gay conversion practices.
“In recent months, many Victorians have despaired of ever voting Liberal again … However, reports have emerged of several strong, well-qualified and capable Conservative Christian candidates being selected by the Liberals and Nationals for November,” the FamilyVoice Australia post reads.
“Among them is young Melton City Councillor Moira Deeming … [who] is a refreshing new voice of truth. FamilyVoice congratulates Matthew Guy and the Liberal Party for their wisdom in appointing her to this role.”
The Liberals preselected more upper house candidates at the weekend, including Renee Heath, whose father is a pastor at a conservative church accused of historic links to gay conversion practices.
Heath, a Gippsland chiropractor, narrowly beat sitting MP Cathrine Burnett-Wake for the top spot on the Liberal party ticket for the eastern Victorian region on Sunday, winning 55 votes to 53.
Guy told reporters on Sunday that Heath should be judged on her own views.
“She’s a professional woman, she’s in the health field, she’s a professional person. I’ll ask people to judge Renee by Renee and not by anyone else,” he said.
Liberal sources have said Heath, a member of the party’s administrative committee for several years, comes from a science background and does not support gay conversion practice.