Liberal MPs have brokered a cross-party deal on same-sex marriage to bring a bill to parliament, but Tony Abbott remains unmoved on the issue and senior Liberals will resist attempts to bring it to a vote. Liberal backbenchers Warren Entsch and Teresa Gambaro have agreed to co-sponsor a bill to be introduced to parliament next month — the first time Coalition MPs have signed up to promote legislation on same-sex marriage. But, despite last week’s US Supreme Court decision legalising same-sex marriage and the Irish referendum embracing it, the Prime Minister will not fast-track legislation through parliament next month and has reaffirmed his position marriage is between a man and a woman.
Leaks of talks between Mr Entsch and Labor, Greens and the independents on the shape of a private member’s bill to be introduced into the House of Representatives on August 11 sparked speculation of movement on the issue. The private member’s bill under discussion would also be co-sponsored by Labor backbenchers Terri Butler and Laurie Ferguson, Greens MP Adam Bandt and independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan. Supporters expect the bill’s introduction will precipitate a debate among government MPs about granting a conscience vote to its members and senators, possibly on August 18.
But a debate in the Coalition party room is not a certainty, given Mr Abbott’s current intention is to treat any private member’s bill in the “usual process’’. Senior Liberal MPs are resisting a push to bring on a party room debate, fearing it will distract from the government’s messages on national security, the economy and small-business tax relief, which have driven political momentum for the government. Under normal practice, the fate of any private member’s bill is in the hands of a government-controlled selection committee. Most private member’s bills, including one introduced by Bill Shorten last month to legalise same-sex marriage, never make it to a vote.
The government would need to make it a priority for it to progress through parliament. The party room would be unlikely to discuss the issue unless it was coming up for a vote. However, any member can rise in the party room and speak on an issue. It would be up to the Prime Minister to decide if discussion took place. It is unlikely there would be a vote inside the party room. It would be left to Mr Abbott to sum up the mood of the party and to decide whether to grant a conscience vote. While Coalition MPs are able to vote according to their conscience, ministers and frontbenchers are bound to support party policy, including those in favour of same-sex marriage, such as Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg and Simon Birmingham.
Although some Labor MPs remain opposed to same-sex marriage, proponents believe they could win a narrow majority of MPs in both houses if the Coalition grants a free vote. But those on both sides of the debate say there are still several MPs who are undecided and could tip the balance either way. Mr Abbott has given no sign that he would facilitate the private member’s bill. “It is rare for a private member’s bill to be voted on and any bill would be subject to the usual process,’’ a spokesman said. “The Prime Minister’s position remains the same as it has always been and he supports the current policy that marriage is between a man and a woman. “The government’s priority is strong economic management and keeping Australians safe.”
The bill would repeal the 11-year-old legal definition of marriage as between “a man and a woman” and replace it with “two people”. The bill has been drafted so that it exempts “ministers” and “chaplains” of religion from being forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies. But Tasmanian Liberal MP and government whip Andrew Nikolic said: “I don’t believe anyone on our side of politics would intentionally divert attention away from much more compelling economic and national security issues. “People voted for or against Coalition candidates on the basis of our longstanding and unified position on marriage, which the government has taken to many elections. It would be dishonest and disrespectful to change our longstanding position mid-term.”
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss dismissed the issue as a distraction. NSW Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos expected the bill to be brought up inside the party room, but questioned whether it would be as soon as August 18. He warned that it could distract from key government issues. Mr Shorten welcomed the news as a “sign of progress”. “As I’ve consistently said, it’s the outcome that is important here, not whose name is on the bill,” he said.
“A Galaxy poll released by the Australian Marriage Forum indicates that the federal Coalition should retain man-woman marriage as party policy,” Family Voice research officer Ros Phillips said. The poll asked questions ignored by previous surveys. Some 65% of respondents understood same-sex marriage meant choosing between the right of a child to have a mum and a dad – and the right of same-sex couples to marry and create a family. Mrs Phillips said “Nearly half of these said the right of children should come first, while only 17% said same-sex couple rights are more important.” Ros Phillips said the Galaxy poll results send a clear message to Coalition MPs.
“It effectively found that if a Coalition MP supports same-sex marriage, he or she would risk losing up to 30 per cent of the Coalition vote at the next election. By contrast, only 10 per cent of Coalition voters would be much more likely to vote for their MP on this basis – a huge 20 per cent difference,” Ros Phillips said. “The issue is a vote changer. Coalition MPs are more likely to retain their seats if they support natural man-woman marriage. It could decide whether the Coalition wins or loses the next election. “Australian MPs should note the recent overwhelming (110:26) rejection of same-sex marriage by the Austrian parliament,” Ros Phillips said. “Homosexual marriage is neither inevitable nor unstoppable!”
LATEST SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PROSTITUTION BILL THROWS WOMEN TO THE WOLVES
‘Michelle Lensink’s Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill, introduced in the South Australian Legislative Council, would repeal all the protections for women in our current laws,’ FamilyVoice research officer Ros Phillips says. ‘Ms Lensink’s bill is the same as Steph Key’s lapsed 2014 bill. Its schedule would repeal laws against pimping and procuring. There would be no limits on brothels or street prostitution. It would be open slather for exploiters. If passed, it would be a disaster.’ The new bill is the ninth attempt to legalise or decriminalise the SA sex trade. The first, sponsored by Robin Millhouse, was defeated in 1980. The next, by Carolyn Pickles, was withdrawn in 1987.
Ian Gilfillan, Mark Brindal and Terry Cameron failed in the 1990’s, while several bills were introduced simultaneously in 2000 – the one which narrowly passed the Lower House failed in the Upper House in 2001. Steph Key’s 2012 bill was defeated; her 2014 bill lapsed. ‘I urge Michelle Lensink to learn from New Zealand, which passed similar legislation in 2003,’ Ros Phillips said. ‘I visited Christchurch in 2012, and learned that three street prostitutes had been murdered since the law was passed, compared with none before. South Australia would do well to follow the example of Canada and France. Both countries have adopted the Nordic model of prostitution law, which penalises exploiters and helps sex workers quit their damaging trade.’