CANBERRA -- Labor leader Bill Shorten has unleashed a fierce tirade against Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, saying he held the Prime Minister "responsible for every hurtful bit of filth" that the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage is feared to allow.
"We have already seen the ugliness this debate holds for LGBTI Australians and their families. Extremists are re-running their smears against same-sex couples and their children," Shorten roared in an address following Question Time on Thursday.
"In less than 48 hours the Prime Minister has gone from promising to call out extreme voices to guaranteeing their view. He calls that strong leadership. Strong leaders do not need to say I am a strong leader. They prove it with their actions."
Shorten's stunning rebuke of the Government's policy also acted as a de factor launch of a "yes" campaign from Labor, with the Opposition Leader calling on Australians to "fight for equality".
"Vote 'yes' and make sure your friends and relatives and colleagues and classmates and teammates vote 'yes', too," Shorten said.
"Get your name on the electoral roll today. Make your voice heard. Voting 'yes' is not about endorsing this process, it is about refusing to walk past our fellow Australians when they need us."
Shorten's passionate speech to the House comes after reports the postal vote may be susceptible to voter fraud and that people living overseas or in rural or remote areas may find it difficult to get their vote counted.
Labor and the Greens have been leading the charge against the plebiscite in the parliament, and the day after his senior colleague Penny Wong delivered a scathing rebuke to the voluntary postal vote, Shorten himself rose in the House of Representatives to deal a stinging speech of his own.
Shorten directed his anger squarely at the PM during an impassioned plea for Australians to vote "yes".
While Turnbull has repeatedly said he is a supporter of marriage equality, he's also repeatedly stuck with his predecessor Tony Abbott's policy of a plebiscite on the reform.
He's maintained that position despite multiple LGBTQ advocates and mental health experts (here, here, here and here) demonstrating that a plebiscite would be accompanied by a harmful public debate which may further marginalise the gay community.
"It will vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children. We know this vile will end up in the playground, the school yard and the sporting field. The slogans will be shouted at the children of same-sex couples. Young people who are gay will be confronted by it on social media every day," Shorten said.
"Prime Minister, I loathe the trolls and the haters, but I expected more from him. I hold you responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash, not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because he agrees to it, he clearly doesn't. But because the Prime Minister has licensed this debate."
"You are the leader, Mr Turnbull, you have given permission. I will never hold you in the same light ever again. I hold the Prime Minister responsible and the Australians will too."
Since the postal plebiscite has firmed as a political reality, with the only avenue to block the plan resting on the success of several legal challenges launched by LGBTQ advocates, there has been talk of an organised boycott of the postal vote.
Shorten said he had sympathy for that view, but urged marriage equality supporters to do the opposite, and instead turn out in force to ensure a 'yes' result nationwide.
"LGBTI Australians have every right to feel let down by their parliament today and to consider the postal survey the latest in a long line of insults. I can understand an LGBTI person receiving a survey with the Australian coat of arms on the envelope, I wouldn't blame you if you just wanted to chuck it in the bin," Shorten said.
"But let me say it to you, that is what they want you to do. The strongest supporters of this survey have been the vocal opponents against marriage equality, they have stacked the deck. The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail. But we cannot let illegitimate tactics deter us and sit on the sidelines."
"I understand the sense of frustration and betrayal by the parliament for LGBTI, but maintain your hope and your enthusiasm."
If you need more information on enrolling to vote, or updating your details to ensure you receive a postal vote, check out our guide here.