Coalition showdown on marriage equality looming

Tony Abott

The federal Liberal party appears to be heading towards a showdown over it’s policy on marriage with several MPs demanding the Prime Minister reject calls for a free vote on the issue.

Fairfax Media reported that there are a growing number of Liberal members who are advocating for the party to abandon its failed plebiscite policy and bring about a fee vote on the issue.

WA Senator Dean Smith was named as one of those pushing for a new approach alongside colleagues Warren Entsch, Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans and Melissa Price.

Last year the government’s plan to hold a plebiscite on the issue failed to be pass in the senate leaving many Liberal MPs to declare the issue was over for the current term of parliament.

Marriage equality advocates vowed that the issue was not going to go away, and have continued to campaign for the issue to be addressed directly in the parliament.

Last week a senate inquiry into the government’s bill that would have changed the act, if the plebiscite had indicated support for change, heard testimony from group who are both supportive and opposed to allowing same sex couples being allowed to wed. The committees report is due on 13 February.

The report in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that Liberal members both within cabinet and backbenchers are concerned that the sticking to the ‘plebiscite or nothing’ position will prove to be a vote-losing policy in the long term.

Conservative MPs have quickly dismissed suggestions that the party will consider changing it’s policy. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who brought in the plebiscite policy, has labeled any decision by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that allows a free vote a “betrayal” of the electorate.

“Malcolm Turnbull made a clear election commitment that the marriage law would only change by way of people’s plebiscite, not free vote of the parliament,” Abbott said.

“I’m sure he’ll honour that commitment. This isn’t about same-sex marriage, it’s about keeping faith with the people.”

Senator Eric Abetz, a leading supporter of traditional marriage, said the Prime Minister had made it clear to everyone that he would not be changing his mind.

“The Prime Minister has made it crystal clear that the government’s position is for a plebiscite or nothing.

“This position enjoys overwhelming support and most colleagues see this as an unhelpful distraction.” Senator Abetz said.

Nationals MP George Christensen has suggested that any change to the government’s position on marriage would thrown the coalition agreement with his party into doubt.

“There will be push back on any move to drop the plebiscite,” Christensen told Fairfax Media. “It would be a breach of the Coalition agreement.”

Christensen said he believed the government should have another go at introducing the plebiscite option and try to convince the senate to pass the legislation.

“I don’t think a plebiscite is a dead option in this term of Parliament – we should tweak it and try to get it through.” Christensen said.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly has also called for the plebiscite legislation to be re-introduced, saying it was a “black and white” election commitment that needed to be honoured.

Speaking to SKY News Senator Abetz said there was no limit to the number of times the government could try to get through the unsuccessful legislation.

“The government should have another go at the plebiscite if the numbers are likely to change.” Senator Abetz said.

“I still remember our policy in relation to unfair dismissals, the Howard government put it up to the parliament 40 separate times, and nobody said ‘Oh, it’s been defeated once, therefore we have to jettison it.'”

Senator Abetz said people expected the party to pursue its policy positions irrespective of the outcome in the parliament.

The Australian Christian Lobby has called on the government to public reassure Australians that they will not consider changing their policy.

Lyle Shelton, the organisation’s Managing Director, said suggestion that a free vote would be allowed showed that political elites had not learned from the outcomes of the US election and Britain’s Brexit vote.

“Whatever peoples’ views are on redefining marriage, everyone agrees that politicians should keep their promises,” Shelton said.

“Politicians continue to damage their standing in the eyes of the public and then wonder why people are attracted to anti-establishment movements.”

OIP Staff

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