AUSTRALIA POLITICS: Same-Sex Marriage Legislation Takes Center Stage in Senate

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By Politicoscope August 7, 2017 11:08

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Nationals MP Andrew Broad has promised to quit the Coalition if the Liberal Party allows MPs a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage without a plebiscite. same-sex marriage advocates released their own legal advice showing the government could not conduct a postal vote without its own legislation and that any move down that path would be open to challenge in the High Court. “This is not about the Prime Minister’s leadership, this is about the issue of same-sex marriage and whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed,” Senator Cormann said.

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AUSTRALIA POLITICS: Same-Sex Marriage Legislation Takes Center Stage in Senate

Liberal MPs are backing a federal cabinet plan to insist on a “people’s vote” for same sex marriage, setting up another clash in the Senate over legislation to put the divisive reform to a vote. Liberals in a party room meeting on Monday afternoon are speaking up for the plan to make a second attempt at legislating the plebiscite and to fall back on a postal vote if the Senate blocks the bill.

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The Australian has been told that MPs support the idea of a conscience vote in parliament at the end of the process, hoping for a resolution to years of argument by the end of the year. While at least five Liberals have called for a conscience vote in parliament instead of a popular vote by the community, they are heavily outnumbered.

The Australian understands a non-compulsory vote was held in the Liberal Party room, with a vote of 28 to 6 in favour of maintaining the Turnbull government’s policy to hold a plebiscite.

Frontbenchers did not take part in the vote.

Cabinet minister Mathias Cormann told reporters after the meeting the government’s preference was for a compulsory plebiscite, but if they cannot get it through the Senate a voluntary postal vote would be held. “The government is absolutely committed to keep faith with the commitment we made to the Australian people,” he said.

He said the government had advice there was a “legal and constitutional” way forward on the postal vote, but the specifics were a matter for the joint party room.

It is understood only six people spoke in favour of a private member’s bill at Monday’s meeting and a letter from Brisbane MP Trevor Evans was read out in support.

Before the meeting, same-sex marriage advocates released their own legal advice showing the government could not conduct a postal vote without its own legislation and that any move down that path would be open to challenge in the High Court.

The Labor caucus was briefed on WA Liberal senator Dean Smith’s private bill on Monday, agreeing that it represented an “acceptable compromise” and was in line with a Senate inquiry’s findings.

Labor MPs would get a conscience vote on it if the bill came to parliament, which is possible if the compulsory or voluntary plebiscites pass. Labor frontbencher Terri Butler said it was disappointing the Liberal Party continued to put up more obstacles to marriage equality.

“The Liberal Party is already aware the will of the parliament is not to have a plebiscite, because the plebiscite legislation has already been defeated,” she said.

“The Liberal Party in keeping with the sentiment of the electorate and the desire to do the right thing should seek to remove this discrimination against same-sex couples or at least seek to have a free vote on the floor of parliament, not recycle old ideas.”

The Nationals have been staunch supporters of the plebiscite, with MP Andrew Broad warning the coalition could split if the policy was dumped. Speaking before the meeting, Senator Smith said a postal vote was useless. “It’s a D-grade response to what is a defining A-grade social issue,” Senator Smith said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said the postal vote was “certainly better than ramming the thing through the parliament”, but he questioned whether it would carry the same authority as a plebiscite.

Advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality has legal advice it says confirms a postal vote would be unconstitutional.

According to the advice, the government does not have the power to spend money on a postal plebiscite without first passing legislation authorising use of taxpayer funds.

Advocates say they would seek an injunction to prevent the postal plebiscite from going ahead until a High Court decision on its constitutionality.

Additional reporting: AAP

MP vows to quite over same-sex vote
Nationals MP Andrew Broad has promised to quit the Coalition if the Liberal Party allows MPs a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage without a plebiscite.

The regional Victorian member has threatened to plunge the government into a minority if its larger Coalition partner decides at a 4pm party room meeting it would allow a free vote on a private-members bill to legalise gay marriage.

Mr Broad, the Member for Mallee, told local paper Sunraysia Daily that he would sit on the crossbench if a group of five Liberal moderates got their way this afternoon.

He claimed that Nationals would split with the Liberal Party if a conscience vote was granted.

“If the Liberals come out with a conscience vote, then yeah, I don’t make idle threats,” Mr Broad told Sunraysia Daily.

“If the Liberals come out with a conscience vote, it won’t be me only, the whole show would blow up. So suddenly you’d lose 16 lower house members in one block.

“Turnbull’s leadership would become untenable and he’d no longer be prime minister.

“They’d push for Peter Dutton or Greg Hunt as leader and deputy leader or we’d be going to a general election.”

‘Not a test of PM’s leadership’
Mathias Cormann, a leading conservative in cabinet, says the government’s debate over gay marriage is not a test of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, as Liberal MPs split over a postal plebiscite proposal gaining momentum in the party room.

Liberal MPs in favour of a free vote are out in force pushing for a policy change, warning a pathway that does not resolve the issue in this term of parliament or preferably by the end of the year “would be untenable”.

Details of a postal plebiscite are likely to be discussed by cabinet ahead of a special 4pm Liberal party room meeting, where an overwhelming majority of MPs are expected to block moves by rebels to force a parliamentary vote on the issue.

Western Australian senator Dean Smith, who with lower house MPs Warren Entsch, Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson and Trevor Evans has drafted a bill to legalise gay marriage, slammed the postal plebiscite.

Senator Smith voted against the government’s original bill to set up a plebiscite when it was voted down by the Senate late last year.

“People might desire a postal plebiscite but at the moment it is conceptual, its details are unknown and again I would argue that it’s a D grade response to what is a defining A grade social issue,” he told the Nine Network. “It’s useless.”

Mr Entsch, the government’s most outspoken gay marriage advocate, did not rule out supporting a postal plebiscite but said he had not seen the details.

“There’s a small group there that will never, ever accept it (gay marriage). They will always be finding ways of pushing it off to one side and I think the plebiscite concept is one of those,” he told Sky News.

“Because (the postal plebiscite) hasn’t been put to me, I want to have a look at it first and without ruling anything out before I walk into that party room, the one criteria that I have is that it’s got to be dealt with.”

Senator Cormann, who is acting Special Minister of State and would be responsible for putting a submission on a postal plebiscite to cabinet, said the government’s policy remained giving the Australian people a say on changing the definition of marriage before parliament voted on the issue.

“This is not about the Prime Minister’s leadership, this is about the issue of same-sex marriage and whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed,” he said on Sky News.

“As far as the Prime Minister’s leadership is concerned, he has unanimous support of his cabinet, he has got the strong and overwhelming support of the party room. This is now a matter for the party to deal with this issue in a respectful and professional manner.”

‘Govt should be allowed to keep promises’
Cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos pleaded with Labor and the parliament to help the government keep its gay marriage election promise by allowing a plebiscite.

Senator Sinodinos, who supports gay marriage and has previously called for a conscience vote, said he believed the policy would be settled at today’s party room meeting but the government’s frontbench remained committed to the election promise to hold a plebiscite.

“The Prime Minister and senior ministers, as far as I’m concerned, are very committed to having a process which best reflects the election commitment we made just a year ago and for which we were endorsed and we came back into power,” Senator Sinodinos told ABC radio, indicating he could support a postal plebiscite.

“All of us went to the election saying that we wanted to have a plebiscite and we would have a plebiscite today if we were allowed to keep our promises. If we want to repair this trust deficit that people talk about in Australian politics, one of the first steps must be to allow the government of the day to keep its promises. That’s what I’m fighting for.”

Mr Zimmerman said there was a “strong case to move immediately to a free vote” and hit out at conservative colleagues who have attempted to turn the debate into a leadership test, labelling the behaviour “bullying”.

“A free parliamentary vote will assist in ensuring there is a proper debate with a view that the entire parliament is reflected,” Mr Zimmerman told ABC radio.

“I understand and recognise and respect that people have deeply held views about this but at the end of the day this is about the party discussing a policy issue like it does many others. From my perspective we should be able to do that maturely, I’m always concerned about people who try to turn this into a leadership issue and it’s really a case of bullying which does nothing for the reputation of the government or our prospects.”

Mr Zimmerman is open to reintroducing the original plebiscite bill — which was rejected by the Senate last year — to satisfy MPs that the upper house has not changed its mind, but doubted a second vote would differ from the first.

He said if the debate on gay marriage was not resolved before the 45th parliament rises, it would continue to raise its head.

“That’s not good for the government, it’s not good for the people waiting to be able to express their love for each other in the same way that other Australians can,” he said.

Shorten is the villain’
Liberal MP Craig Kelly said the Coalition should put more pressure on the Senate to vote for a plebiscite, pointing out many contentious policies like the repeal of the carbon tax did not win parliamentary support in the first instance.

Mr Kelly, who is against same-sex marriage, said the government should present the plebiscite bill to the Senate “again and again” through this term of parliament rather than break its promise and allow a free vote.

“It is about time the advocates of same-sex marriage put the pressure back on the Senate, put the pressure back on (Bill) Shorten, he is the villain here, not allowing the plebiscite to go ahead to give every Australian a say on this issue,” Mr Kelly told ABC radio.

“I don’t think the Australian public is going to wear it if we just put it once up to the Senate and say, ‘it’s too hard’.”

“I defend my colleagues right to the hilt to bring any bill to parliament but I think when the party room sits down today and we are asked to break an election commitment I think the majority will be against this.”

Additional reporting: Greg Brown, Rosie Lewis

– Australian


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Politicoscope
By Politicoscope August 7, 2017 11:08

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