Former PM head-butted

Australia's prime minister on Friday urged restraint in the nation's same-sex marriage debate after his predecessor, Tony Abbott, said he was head-butted by a gay rights advocate and sustained a swollen lip.

Abbott said he was attacked in the Tasmania state capital Hobart on Thursday as he walked with a staffer to his hotel after attending an anti-gay marriage luncheon.

Police on Friday charged a 38-year-old Hobart man with assault. The man, who identified himself to reporters as Astro Labe, was released on bail until a court hearing next month. He faces a possible 12-month prison sentence if convicted.

The altercation is one of several allegations of violence and vote-rigging that have marred an ongoing postal ballot on whether Australia should lift its prohibition on gay marriage. Australia and Ireland are the only countries to put the issue to the public to decide.

Abbott remains a government lawmaker and is a vocal advocate for the "no" vote. The two-month voting process began last week.

He reported to police that a man wearing a "vote yes" badge pretended to want to shake hands before clashing heads. The assailant fled after a brief scuffle with the staffer.

"It's a shock to have a fellow Australian seeking to shake your hand turn a handshake into an assault," Abbott said on Friday.

"There is no doubt that there has been some ugliness as part of this debate, but I regret to say that nearly all of it seems to be coming from one side and that is the people who tell us that love is love," he added.

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