The Prime Minister of Australia was asked an unusual question on the election campaign trail yesterday: Who would you turn gay for?

68-year-old John Howard was campaigning at a shopping mall in Gosford, New South Wales, when “jeans shop worker” Danielle tackled him about that particular big issue.

The PM laughed off the question, but his consistent refusal to grant equal rights for gay and lesbian Australians has been less easy to avoid.

He has been accused of pandering to homophobia to win votes, and despite opinion polls showing 71% of Australians favouring equal rights for gay people, he is still opposed.

In 2004 he passed federal legislation banning same-sex marriage and earlier this year said that HIV positive immigrants should not be allowed into the country.

Last month Mr Howard, the Prime Minister since 1996, called a general election for 24th November.

His Liberal Party is well behind Kevin Rudd’s opposition Labour party in the polls.

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be defending the Sydney seat of Wentworth, which after boundary changes now includes gay districts such as Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey is seeking re-election in North Sydney, another constituency with a high concentration of LGBT voters.

A report in June by Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) recommended that 58 laws need to be changed to grant gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights.

These include key changes in the way that gay couples receive benefits from their relationships.

Calling the election, Mr Howard said:

“Love me or loathe me, the Australian people know where I stand on all the major issues of importance to their future.”