CANBERRA -- There are a number of government members proudly in favour of marriage equality -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, backbenchers like Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman and Warren Entsch. But in a bizarre turn of events, it might be one of the most conservative Liberals whose role in the passing of same-sex marriage into law may become most significant.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, arguably the highest-ranking conservative member of the government and currently being whispered about in the halls of parliament as a possible right-wing challenger to Turnbull in the future, has reportedly been pushing for the Coalition to resolve the marriage equality issue. Fairfax Media reported this week an unnamed source claiming Dutton's strategy is that the Coalition should be the ones to claim credit for legalising gay marriage, as he believes the reform is inevitably going to happen soon.
The Coalition committed to a plebiscite, or national vote, on marriage equality, and the government has repeatedly ruled out scrapping the plebiscite -- Dutton's reported hope is for a plebiscite to be conducted via postal vote, to keep the government's promise while saving tens of millions of dollars and sidestepping various other legal and parliamentary hurdles which have so far blocked the government's plebiscite plan. The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that conservatives have been pushing for the postal plan.
On Thursday, Dutton was asked about the postal vote plebiscite plan. While he stopped short of confirming he was behind the push, he voiced support for the plan.
— SameSame.com.au (@samesame) March 22, 2017
"Obviously the Senate has knocked back the [plebiscite] legislation and there is no prospect of the plebiscite proper passing through the Senate and there is an option, as I understand in relation to the postal plebiscite; that's to be contemplated," he said.
"I think others can comment on the legality or otherwise of it, but I'm advised that it is an option. It adheres with our policy that we took to the last election and I think we need to deal with the realities of the current Parliament.
"The current Parliament will not pass the plebiscite legislation and that's the policy we took to the last election. So I want us to stay true to the policy that we took to the last election and I think ideas should be considered in that context."
In an interview on 2GB, Dutton expanded on his comments, confirming that a postal plebiscite would not require the approval of the parliament.
"There is this option of a postal plebiscite which doesn't require legislation as I understand. It may achieve in some ways the same outcome to a plebiscite that you would think of in the traditional sense," he said.
Labor and the Greens oppose a plebiscite in any form, fearing that such a national debate would lead to targeting of the LGBTQ community. There are arguments against the postal vote, including that it could be more easily tampered and may have a much lower response rate than a normal election.
Zimmerman, an advocate of a free vote on marriage equality in parliament, told RN Drive on Tuesday that the postal plebiscite would be seen as "tricky and sneaky".
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