WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT A PLEBISCITE
By Sally Rugg
A few days ago, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop came out in support of marriage equality. Well, sort of. Ms Bishop indicated vague indifference towards the reform, boldly and bravely declaring “I have absolutely no concerns about it myself”.
We’ll take the support where we can get it.
Ms Bishop’s comment actually wasn’t all that surprising. Her electorate of Stirling is both Liberal and liberal (the phrase “champagne socialist” springs to mind), and her personal views are generally moderate. What is remarkable is that now the leader and deputy leader of every major political party supports marriage equality.
This tri-partisan support from our political leaders is backed by the 72% of the general public. The proposed reform has overwhelming international precedent, with citizens in every other developed, English-speaking country in the world afforded equal marriage rights. We even have a Liberal Private Member’s Bill that would legalise same-sex marriage sitting in the Lower House waiting to be passed!
The momentum for change is undeniable, and Ms Bishop’s new support for marriage equality would be absolutely exhilarating – except that as it stands, her vote counts no more than yours or mine.
If things continue as her government has planned, she will wait another 12-18 months and then cast a single vote for marriage equality in a non-binding plebiscite. She’ll be one among millions who each get a vote on the basic rights of a group of Australian citizens.
It’s estimated this big, national poll will cost $150 million. Then, after the marriage equality plebiscite inevitably demonstrates majority favour for equal marriage rights – mind-meltingly – a piece of legislation probably identical to the one already sitting in the House of Representatives right now will go to a parliamentary vote.
Then, and only then will Ms Bishop’s support actually mean anything tangible.
It absolutely boggles the mind. And for this mess, we have Mr Turnbull to thank.
Just weeks after the Coalition held a six-hour-long emergency meeting on whether to allow a free vote on marriage equality legislation (they decided not to), Malcolm Turnbull toppled Tony Abbott as the Prime Minister of Australia. Many LGBTI+ folk, including myself, felt a surge of optimism for our campaign.
Who could blame us? Malcolm Turnbull had been a vocal supporter of equal marriage for years, his fabulous electorate undoubtedly part of the reason behind it (thanks guys x).
Our glimmer of hope in Turnbull taking the helm was quickly extinguished. In a move negotiated to soothe the reeling National Party, and presumably other conservative interests, Malcolm Turnbull announced that under his new leadership the government would not move to legalise marriage equality.
The Liberal leadership spill meant purely a change in style, not substance. Despite common sense pointing to a quick and painless legislative end to this discrimination LGBT+ people face, he announced he would be sticking to Abbott’s ridiculous delay tactic of a plebiscite after the next election.
And make no mistake; the plebiscite is simply a delay tactic. You needn’t look any further for proof than the spluttered, panicked objections of conservative Liberals such as Senator Eric Abetz when the party-room floated the idea that the results of the plebiscite be legally binding.
Despite a recent Senate Inquiry into marriage equality labelling the popular vote as expensive and unnecessary, and recommending a parliamentary vote as “a matter of urgency”, Prime Minister Turnbull is giving us a plebiscite. Despite community voices, peak bodies, LGBT+ organisations warning of the humiliation, injustice and risk of harm to LGBT+ people and their families as we’re forced to endure a national debate over whether we should be afforded rights, Prime Minister Turnbull is giving us a plebiscite. Despite the opportunity to end marriage discrimination in Australia before Christmas, Prime Minister Turnbull is giving us a plebiscite