Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has controversially failed to support Attorney-General George Brandis over a pledge made on Sky News. Senator Brandis had said that the government would hold a plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage before the end of the year if it won the upcoming federal election. The aim would be for the Coalition Government to change the Marriage Act by the end of 2016 if there was sufficient support.
A spokeswoman from Mr Turnbull’s office however put distance between the government and this pledge, saying that the government was committed to holding the plebiscite “as soon after the election as can be done.”
Labor’s leader, Bill Shorten, claimed that new heights of the government’s chaos and division had been exposed to public view. He said that this was a “new land speed record for a broken promise – made over breakfast and gone before dinner.”
Last year, the Australian Electoral Commission warned that a public vote on same-sex marriage should not be rushed. Tom Rogers, the Australian Electoral Commissioner, gave evidence to a Senate inquiry on the options for a popular vote on marriage laws, and said that three months would be required to organise a public vote.
If the election is held in October this year, as has been suggested by Mr Turnbull at various points recently, meeting the Attorney-General’s suggested timescale would be incredibly difficult. If held at the same time as a federal election, a referendum would need 29 weeks to set up due to the need to procure required materials. Rushing it to take place any quicker would carry certain risks, but the AEC would run any election called by the government in any timeframe it was given.
The policy confusion arose hours after Mr Turnbull made history by being the first sitting Prime Minister to attend the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. He marched alongside Mr Shorten and the deputy leader Tanya Plibersek. Senator Brandis said in his interview that both he and Mr Turnbull wanted to allow same-sex marriage and would do it if elected by amending the sections of the Marriage Act inserted by the Howard government that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Labor’s policy is to hold a parliamentary vote on same sex marriage within the first 100 days of a new Labor government, and they are accusing Mr Turnbull of failing to stand up to the more conservative elements of his party. They believe that the call for a public vote, at an estimated cost of $160 million, is being dictated by the right of his party instead of the quicker route of changing legislation.
Mr Brandis said in his interview that he understood why conservative electorate around the country might vote no in a plebiscite despite wide-spread support for the move, but believed that if the public voted yes that Parliament would follow its lead.
The Australian Marriage Equality national director, Rodney Croome has urged the government to enact marriage equality immediately without putting it to a public vote, or if that had to happen to enact the result in law without a subsequent return to parliament for further debate and delay. He contends that with a free vote in Parliament marriage equality could be enacted within the week.
If Australia does make same-sex marriage legal, it will join countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, France, United States, South Africa and Ireland that have already legalised it. With Australia getting set to bid on hosting the 2022 Gay Games, the world will be watching with interest.
Tags: gay, same sex marriage
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