Plebiscite becomes major election issue in final days of campaign


Many questions about the plebiscite 

Six months ago The Australian Christian Lobby boasted that the government’s tactic of announcing a plebiscite had kicked the issue into the long grass and blunted the growing momentum for marriage equality in Australia.

The policy created by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was clearly meant to remove the issue from public debate and take it off the table in the run up to a federal election.

The strategy has clearly failed. As the marathon campaign winds it’s way towards Saturday’s poll the plebiscite has become a major election issue.

Furthermore there are signs that the decision to hold a national opinion poll on the issue may have become a poisoned chalice for new leader Malcolm Turnbull.

This week government MPs spent considerable time discussion how they would vote in the plebiscite after concern was raised that the process was being designed for failure, or that a returned Turnbull government might not be able to successfully pass the legislation to hold one.

On SKY News Peta Credlin, Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff highlighted that the government has no ‘Plan B’ for marriage equality should the government fail to pass the legislation to hold a plebiscite. Credlin said marriage equality could become a “very big schism” within the party, suggesting Turnbull might lose the leadership over it.

PM Malcolm Turnbull responded by saying he was confident the process would be successful, the legislation would fly through and it was his belief that the case for change would triumph. Turbull also conceded that all coalition MPs would finally be granted a conscience vote on the issue.

For many years Liberal and Nationals MPs who support marriage equality have been denied a conscience vote on the issue forcing politicians who supported the issue to vote inline with the party’s anti-marriage equality policy. Now, after the non-binding plebiscite is held, MPs will be free to vote however they like.

The revelation led to many senior government MPs quickly reassuring voters of their confidence that most politicians would agree with the results of the plebiscite, but Treasurer Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop were left giving confusing answers during TV interviews.

Morrison clashed with Leigh Sales on ABC’s ‘7:30’ declaring that he’d always been a supporter of the plebiscite and said in his view if it was voted down the issue of marriage equality would be settled for good. Despite repetitive questioning Morrison refused to reveal if he would vote for marriage equality if the plebiscite was successful.

“I’ll respect the outcome of the plebiscite” Morrison repeatedly declared but the Treasurer would not be drawn on whether or not that respect also included him voting for it.

A few hours later Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was avoiding the similar question poised by Lateline’s Emma Alberichi. Bishop was asked what she would do if the plebiscite was carried nationally but her own electorate voted against it.

“Well that would depend on the plebiscite vote overall, how it’s broken down, and what it looks like – state by state, – electorate by electorate, and then of course it would depend what the legislation looks like, but I would respect the outcome of the plebiscite obviously.” Bishop responded.

Asked if she would vote based on how the majority of Australians responded to the plebiscite or based on how voters in her own electorate responded the Foreign Minister said she would take her local electorate into account but a positive national result would also make a compelling case for change. Bishop said she’d have to wait to see the legislation before making a final decision.

“I’ll have to look and see what the legislation says, but I will respect the outcome of the plebiscite.” Bishop said.

Labor Leader Bill Shorten reaffirmed that if his party was successful on Saturday it would introduce legislation for marriage equality within a hundred days of taking office. Later in the week Shorten said it would be the first thing he’d do once he took office.

The Opposition leader was also challenged on his support during the week. A video emerged of Shorten speaking at an Australian Christian Lobby event back in 2013, at that time Shorten indicated that he was supportive of a plebiscite.

He appeared on Breakfast TV during the week telling the ‘Today’ show on Channel Nine that he’d changed his mid since the last election.

“Since 2013 I think the community attitude has moved on, and secondly we saw the experience in Ireland of the referendum in 2015, and we saw a lot of hateful things said in the ‘no’ case. Why don’t we just get parliament to get on and do their job, rather than kicking $160 million taxpayer funded [plebiscite],” Shorten said.

Today Peta Credlin was back on SKY News said she was surprised that he comments on Andrew Bolt’s program had sparked off such a response saying Canberra journalists should have been asking the questions weeks ago.

Credlin said she supported the idea of having a plebiscite and didn’t buy into the idea that it would lead to increased hate speech. Credlin said the government should have worked out that their ‘Plan B’ was weeks ago.

Opposing pundit Kristina Keneally hit back saying the government’s real problem was that they never really had a ‘Plan A’.

“What is ‘Plan A’?” Keneally asked, “Is it compulsory? What will the question be? Will it be binding on people? How will MP’s be treating the result, will they be voting with their consciences? There’s not even a ‘Plan A’ to find here.”

OIP Staff

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