Malcolm Turnbull shares his view of the same-sex marriage debate

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has laid out his recollections of Australia’s crawl towards allowing marriage equality in his new autobiography A Bigger Picture.

In the memoir released on Monday Turnbull recounts how Australian politics took precedence over the opinion polls that showed an overwhelming number of Australians wanted the laws to be changed.

A whole chapter of the book of devoted to the issue of marriage equality with the former PM declaring he’s always been in favour of changing the laws as he recounts every steps in the debate from his viewpoint.

In the book he claims that Liberal PM John Howard was motivated in 2004 to bring in the laws which prevented same-sex marriage because it created a wedge within the Labor party, but says the decision to not allow a free vote on the issue set a very unhappy precedent that would limit future leader’s choices.

Turnbull describes those opposed to same sex marriage as hypocrites saying “Many of the staunchest advocates of ‘traditional marriage’ were the keenest practitioners of traditional adultery.”

The former PM suggests if they were really concerned about Australian families they’d be out campaigning against the issues that actually cause family breakdowns.

In the book, Turnbull describes the political constraints that repetitively stopped a free vote being held on the issue, including an agreement with coalition partners The Nationals, a desire not to be seen as changing a commitment, and media leaks that derailed plans to revert to a vote on the floor of parliament.

Turnbull shares that before committing to the postal survey plan, there was an attempt to move to a parliamentary vote on the issue. When the proposal for a formal plebiscite had failed to pass the senate Mathias Cormann began quietly working with Penny Wong from Labor on a select committee.

Turnbull says the idea was the committee would draw the two sides of politics closer together and draw out some solutions to religious groups opposition to legalisation.

The plan almost went astray when Senator George Brandis suggested appointing Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz to head the committee. Turnbull says he had to step in and ensure that more moderate politician David Fawcett was given the role.

In the book Turnbull described Abetz as a “die-in-the-ditch opponent of same-sex marriage, a fully paid up Turnbull hater and [Tony] Abbott’s staunchest ally.”

After it became clear that there would still not be support for a free vote, Turnbull says supporters of marriage equality within the party, and some of were opposed but accepted it would become a reality, began working on a plan which would see a cross party bill allow some members to cross the floor.

This plan fell apart, according to Turnbull, when Christopher Pyne was recorded boasting that the moderates now ran the party. The news stories enraged conservatives and killed off any possibility of the issue being dealt with within the parliament.

Turnbull says the outcome of the postal survey that followed, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage, will be the enduring legacy of his government. He notes that it also lead to a significant number of young people becoming politically engaged and joining the electoral role.

The former PM also acknowledges that the process was traumatic for many members of the LGBTIQ community.

Malcolm Turnbull’s A Bigger Picture is released on Monday 20th April by Grant Hardie books.  

OIP Staff

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