Tony Abbott proposes taking plebiscite to the next election

Tony Abbott thinks the government should stick with the current policy of a plebiscite, and even take it to the next election.

“If it was good to put to the people at the last election, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be good to put it to the people at the next election,” Abbott told Sydney radio station 2GB on Wednesday.

In his final days as Prime Minister, Abbott announced the unusual plan for a plebisicte after a record breaking joint party room meeting between the Liberals and Nationals.

The plebiscite policy killed off the growing calls for the government to embrace marriage equality, and delayed any action until after the 2016 election.

At the time of its announcement, Abbott said the next term of government would be the final one where Liberal MPs would be bound to the party policy.

“I’ve come to the view – I believe this is the party room view – that this is the last term in which the Coalition party room can be bound, although we will definitely maintain the current position for the life of this term”. Abbott said in 2015, “Going into the next election, we will finalise another position”.

Now the former PM has backtracked on that position, saying the policy should remain.

When the government put forward the legislation for a plebiscite it was knocked back by the senate. Concerns were raised over the unusual democratic process, and the precedent it would set, alongside opposition to it’s cost, and the effects a hostile debate might have on the mental health of LGBTI+ people.

Abbott said he remained opposed to allowing same-sex couples the right to marry. The former PM said marriage was about protecting women and children.

“The concept of marriage is between a man and a woman, preferably for life open to children, that long predates our constitution, it long predates our parliament, it long predates the civil law, frankly,” Abbott said.

“It is something that evolved many centuries ago to protect women and children in a world where they were much less secure than they are now. That’s why I would be very reluctant to change.”

The stalemate between the government and the opposition has seen the issue dominate news headlines, and disrupt the government’s desire to discuss issues like job creation, national security and the economy. On Tuesday the Prime Minister chastised journalists in Perth for not wanting to ask questions about other topics.

In recent days several backbench MPs have spoken up and suggested they may ‘cross the floor’ to support a marriage equality bill being debated in parliament.

Abbott warned his colleagues not to break the government’s election promise saying it would be an attack on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.

“For them to cross the floor to try to ensure the parliament does it, that is real breach of faith with the public,” Abbott said.

“It’s obviously a dramatic loss of discipline inside the government and it’s a serious attack on the authority of the leadership.”

Abbott’s comments on the issue are the latest salvo from government ranks as the debate is played out in the public arena.

Behind the scenes there have been suggestions that Liberal members supporting marriage equality will be replaced during pre-selection processes in the lead up to the next election, while conservative MPs have taken to radio and television to deliver warnings to the rebel members.

Yesterday Queensland LNP President Gary Spence sent an message to party members criticising the MP’s that had voiced support for marriage equality.

This morning long term marriage equality supporter Warren Entsch returned fire during an interview on ABC radio.

“I have every right to vote according to my conscience,” Entsch told the ABC.

“I am not making threats, they are the ones making threats against me. I just said to [Spence]: ‘Mate don’t threaten me – do it, pull it on, bring it on’.

“I told him I was highly offended by the tone of the letter itself. In the 21-odd years I have been in this job I have never seen anything like that coming to me.

“I might remind him: OK, the LNP is in Queensland [but] I am a Liberal, I joined the parliament as a Liberal. The motion they are talking about was actually put up by a National party member and I think this is quite relevant.” Entsch said.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said backbench MPs should think carefully before considering crossing the floor.

“It has always been a tradition of the Liberal Party, a right in the Liberal Party for individual members to exercise their conscience from the backbench if they choose,” Birmingham told Sky News.

“But equally it is of course a right people should exercise carefully, with caution and with consideration for all of the consequences.

“Therefore I would urge everybody to think about the policy we took to the last election and to work as hard as we possibly can to ensure that is implemented if it possibly can be.”

Senator Eric Abetz, a vocal supporter of traditional marriage, said it would be a “grave matter” if MPs voted against the government’s own policy.

“That is why any of my colleagues who are contemplating such action should be thinking about this, not two or three times, but a dozen times, then come to the conclusion that losing government isn’t worth it.” Senator Abetz said.

The ongoing debate is expected to come to a head at a party room meeting next Tuesday.

OIP Staff

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