Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott: I was head-butted by gay rights advocate

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was head-butted Thursday by a gay rights advocate while walking in a city street.

Abbott said he sustained a swollen lip during the attack in Hobart, the capital of the Australian island Tasmania, as he walked to his hotel after attending a luncheon.

During Abbott’s tenure as prime minister in 2015, he decided the Australian citizens should vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legalized. Abbott is a vocal advocate for the “no” vote. The two-month voting process began last week.

"A fellow sung out at me — 'Hey Tony.' I turned around. There was a chap wearing a 'vote yes' badge," Abbott told Radio 3AW.

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Abbott added: "He says: 'I want to shake your hand.' I went over to shake his hand, then he head-butted me."

Abbott said the man “wasn’t very good at [the head butt].” A member of Abbott’s staff scuffled with the man before the attacker ran off.

“It was very disconcerting to find...someone who, under the guise of wanting to shake your hand, gives you a so called Liverpool kiss," Abbott said. “As he was scuttling away, amidst all the 'F this' and 'F that,' was ‘you deserve it because of all the things you’ve said.' I think it was pretty clear it was...politically motivated violence.”

He added: "It's just a reminder of how ugly this debate is getting."

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Abbott committed to the vote before being replaced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supports gay marriage. Turnbull opposed the public vote but agreed to maintain Abbott's policy in a deal with the government powerbrokers who ousted Abbott in an internal leadership ballot. 

The Senate refused to fund a compulsory vote, so the government is proceeding with a voluntary postal ballot which critics say is unlikely to provide an accurate picture of public opinion.

Lawmakers would still have to pass a law to allow gay marriage and several have said they would not allow it regardless of public opinion.

Successive opinion polls in recent years show that most Australians support gay marriage.

Tasmania state police had yet to say Thursday whether Abbott had lodged an official complaint.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.