Bayswater Councillors take to the airwaves ahead of marriage debate

Councillors at the City of Bayswater have taken to the airwaves to express their differing views about whether it’s appropriate for local government to advocate for marriage equality.

Councillor Catherine Ehrhardt has put forward a motion calling on the city to show it’s support for marriage equality and push for a free vote in federal parliament.  The motion will be debated at tonight’s council meeting.

Speaking to Gareth Parker on 6PR’s morning show Cr Ehrhardt defended putting forward the motion.

“Marriage equality certainly is a local council issue. We have a duty under the local government act to show leadership and governance. While passing the legislation for marriage equality is certainly a federal issue, the lobbying and support to make that happen belongs with all of us, including local government.

“Civil rights is something we all have a responsibility to endorse, they’re not somebody else’s issue. Local government is the tier that is close to the community and encouraging a respectful debate and a free vote will be the very least we can do on behalf of our local residents and rate payers.” Cr Ehrkardt said.

Cr Ehrhardt said that while a formal consultation had not be conducted with rate payers, reliable polls had consistently showed that people living in inner city areas like the City of Belmont support marriage equality at a high level.

Cr Ehrhardt’s motion proposes that the council write to all Western Australian MPs and senators, and the Prime Minister advocating for a free vote on the issue rather than the current Liberal Party policy of holding a plebiscite.

Host Gareth Parker asked if this section of the motion entered the realm of party political debate, something that Cr Ehrhardt denied.

“No, I think that all of our MPs and all of our politicians, they’re elected there to be leaders, and part of being a leader is having those conscience votes. The plebiscite, which is non-binding, is a complete and utter waste of tax payers money. I’m encountering a respectful debate and a free vote.” Cr Ehrhardt said.

Fellow Cr Brent Fleeton also appeared on the program saying it not the responsibility of local government to discuss the issue.

“It’s just not out job.” Cr Fleeton told the program. “It’s not what we are here to do. We should be concentrating on the local services that everyone knows that councils are involved in.”

“There are tiers of  government for different issues, if Catherine believes that we get involved in this issue then we’re asking other community members to talk about issues that might be important to them”

Cr Fleeton said the debate on marriage equality could open the door to discussions about medical marijuana, abortion and national defense.

“We’re just opening ourselves up to getting ourselves involved in areas that we plainly don’t have the resources or mandate to be involved in.”

Cr Fleeton, who has been described as a Liberal party stalwart and is works for a state member, said he wondered if Councillor Ehrhardt had also considered challenging Bill Shorten about his party’s policy of not allowing a conscience vote on the other side of the aisle.

Cr Fleeton said he did not have a personal view on marriage equality.

“I haven’t really made up my mind on this issue. Mostly because I’m not involved in federal politics, I’m in local and state. I stick to my knitting.”

Cr Ehrhardt also made an appearance of RTRFM’s All Things Queer discussing the issue.

Graeme Watson

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