Eric Abetz Says Marriage Equality Plebiscite Would Not Bind His Vote

27/01/2016 9:42 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Stefan Postles via Getty Images
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - JULY 07: Senator Eric Abetz during Senate question time on July 7, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Twelve Senators will be sworn in today, with the repeal of the carbon tax expected to be first on the agenda. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Any plebiscite on marriage equality would be a colossal waste of money under the logic of conservative senator Eric Abetz, who said the parliament would not be obliged to recognise the result.

As calls for legislating marriage equality in Australia grow louder, the idea of a plebiscite -- or a public vote -- has been one consistently put forward by the government.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott flagged the idea last August, saying changes to the Marriage Act "should happen through a people's vote rather than simply through a Parliament's vote".

New PM Malcolm Turnbull said he supported the idea of a plebiscite since his ascension to the top job, confirming his belief that a "yes" vote in any poll should bind the government to legislate marriage equality.

"I think it's an absolutely reasonable request and the answer is that the consequence of a 'yes' vote in the plebiscite will be that same-sex marriage will be legal in Australia," Turnbull said in October.

"When the Australian people make their decision, that decision will stick... It will be decisive. It will be respected by this government and by this parliament and this nation."

"If you imagine that any government, this government or any government, would spend over $150m consulting every Australian on an issue of this kind and then ignore their decision, then they really are not living in the real world."

Prominent conservative Abetz, though, directly contradicted his PM on Wednesday by saying MPs would not be bound to vote in any particular way, regardless of the result of any plebiscite. With a national plebiscite estimated to cost in excess of $160 million, Abetz essentially claimed such an exercise would be a waste of money.

"Every member of parliament will make up his or her mind after the plebiscite is held. People will take into account the views of the electorate, the views of the nation and their own personal views," Abetz told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“It would be up to each member to decide whether the plebiscite accurately reflects the views of the Australian people, whether it reflects the views of their electorates and whether it is good or bad public policy in their view."

While Abetz seemingly does not support the concept of a plebiscite, neither do supporters of marriage equality. Australian Marriage Equality raised seven objections to such a national vote, including the cost and potential for further marginalisation of LGBTI people by a potential "no" campaign.

AME national director Rodney Croome told The Guardian "With or without a plebiscite, this issue will be resolved by a free vote of all members of the parliament, so let’s just get on and have that vote."

"People are attracted to the idea of a plebiscite because at first glance it seems like a circuit breaker, but what Eric Abetz is saying shows it won’t be conclusive at all, and he’s right about that."

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