POLITICS

The Unedifying Spectacle Of The Australian Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage

It's ugly.

03/08/2017 1:17 PM AEST | Updated 03/08/2017 1:27 PM AEST
Andrew Meares

CANBERRA -- Threats, showdowns and seemingly forgetting about the rights of same-sex attracted people; it is getting ugly over efforts to bring in same-sex marriage marriage in Australia.

And it is all building up to a Liberal Party face-off when federal parliament resumes next Tuesday after the long winter break.

As Liberal support grows for a postal plebiscite, which isn't current government policy and something that even Malcolm Turnbull in a previous life could not possibly support, a handful of Government MPs and a Senator calling for the Coalition to allow a conscience vote on same-sex marriage are staring down mainly anonymous threats -- including serious moves to end of their political careers.

Senior party officials, including Queensland LNP president Gary Spence, are also pointedly reminding members, elected under the LNP banner, to stick to LNP policy -- which includes no change to the definition of marriage under the Marriage Act 1961.

Long-time Liberal supporter of same-sex marriage Warren Entsch has told Sky News marriage equality has been "debated to death," but he does not care if he is being threatened with political death.

"I said to him 'bring it on'. If you are not happy with the way I am all, you have to do is have me disendorsed. Got for it. Bring it on," Entsch said.

"But my concern is for the members who have just been recently elected. I think that veiled threats and intimidation are totally inappropriate."

The first time members, Tim Wilson and Trevor Evans, have had their pre-selection threatened if they cross the floor to suspend standing orders to bring on a parliamentary conscience vote over same-sex marriage. That is not what they are indicating they want to do, but more on that later.

It comes as the Liberal support grows for a postal plebiscite. And there's renewed talk of Nationals MP Andrew Broad threatening to leave the Coalition over the issue.

Ugly indeed. The Government holds the lower house with a paper thin one seat majority.

And the issue is increasingly being seen as a test of Turnbull's leadership, not one of fixing the problem of Australia being the last developed English-speaking country not to allow same-sex couples to marry.

There's that talk again about Turnbull being 'terminal'.

The Prime Minister personally supports marriage equality and he knows the community also wants to see the change, but marriage equality is the last stand-out issue of the conservatives and they are not letting go.

A move towards a postal plebiscite has been rejected by pro-marriage advocates - and could be the subject of a legal challenge - but could help the Turnbull Government get around the problem of having an election promise of holding a plebiscite, but being unable to get a legislation to hold it through a hostile parliament.

Leading conservative Cabinet Minister Peter Dutton said the Turnbull Government has been very clear about the people having their say.

"This is why the discussion of a postal vote has come up and that is worth debating," the Immigration Minister Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday.

"With a postal plebiscite there is no legislation required and people would still have their say so we keep the spirit of the commitment that we made at the last election."

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton

But pro-marriage advocates within the Liberal Party, like Wilson, insist the plebiscite commitment has expired and the party and parliament should move on.

There are other issues with a postal plebiscite. Mainly, that would unrepresentative, non-compulsory and non-binding.

Warren Entsch said Thursday there should be a vote in parliament.

"I would like have a vote myself. I would like vote on floor of parliament on this issue," he told Sky News.

"This has been debated now for about 15 years or more. It has been debated to death. The question needs to be put."

Liberal MP Warren Entsch

Darren Chester, a Nationals minister who has stuck his neck out by supporting marriage equality, is backing current government policy for a plebiscite.

"If we have a national vote, If we had a plebiscite conducted as soon as possible, I think it would receive a national standing ovation," he told RN Breakfast.

"It would resolve this issue once and for all. It would give an extra layer of legitimacy. It would give an extra level of indication to same sex attracted couples and we would get on with the job."

The so-called "rebel" Liberal MPs and Liberal Senator Dean Smith are being described widely as not ruling out crossing the floor.

However, they insist they are not lining up to cross the floor by voting for any Labor Bill or motion. They have been saying they are ready instead to support Smith's private members bill for same sex marriage.

On Wednesday, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott backtracked on his clear statement in 2015 that government MPs should not be bound on same-sex marriage in the next parliament, declaring the Coalition should take a plebiscite policy to the next federal 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 2GB.

The former PM also muddied the waters and sought to boost conservative voices on the issue by saying the matter was one for the Coalition party room rather than just the Liberal party room.

More On This Topic