SENATOR George Brandis met with representatives of a number of LGBTI organisations to discuss the marriage equality plebiscite and took the opportunity to reaffirm the government’s position that it would not sway from its commitment to a public vote on the issue.
Brandis consulted with about 36 groups via videoconference today at 5pm, with the meeting lasting about one hour.
There was limited times for questions, but some questions directed to the Senator included grounds for exemptions in the plebiscite and mental health funding for LGBTI people during a plebiscite campaign.
“Basically there was no change for anyone whatsoever (LGBTI groups on their position on the plebiscite),” NSW Gay and Rights Lesbian Lobby co-convenor Chris Pycroft said.
“I think the meeting was constructive, the fact it was the first consultation specifically on marriage equality and so many organisations could share their position.
“I would certainly like to hope Senator Brandis took all our positions into consideration, but unfortunately we’ve been dealt the harsh reality that the coalition took a promise to hold a plebiscite to the election.
“But we’re trying to do everything we can to change that.”
Pycroft said groups must now look beyond lobbying the Attorney-General to ditch the plebiscite and engage with all coalition politicians about the issue.
“We haven’t done that before… if we do find ourselves not having a plebiscite, the campaign strategy to move forward on marriage equality would be to have the conversation with all the coalition’s members of parliament.”
An LGBTI advocate who addressed the meeting today and asked to remain anonymous said it seemed Brandis only held the meeting to seem fair to both sides of the debate.
“I wouldn’t call it a waste of time, but what exactly happened was what we expected,” they said.
“I think he (Brandis) wanted to be seen as doing the right thing, and to be seen as magnanimous and fair to both sides.
“He spoke about people he had met from the other side of the debate, conservative Christian groups he called them, and said he had met with them many, many times. We were struck by that language, he hasn’t met it doesn’t appear with LGBTI groups as many times.
“When we met with Labor it was Mark Dreyfus in the meeting, the Shadow Minister for Equality, the Shadow Minister for Health and the Opposition Leader and it was free ranging discussion.
“It (today’s meeting) indicated to me the level of care he has on the issue and also the underlying care for the LGBTI community.”
The advocate said Brandis was confused with discussions at the meeting because he “was under the impression” it had been arranged to discuss changes to the Marriage Amendment Bills.
Brandis argued a plebiscite was the fastest way to achieve marriage equality and he had confidence the Australian public would vote in favour of marriage equality.
“He said ‘marriage equality is not inevitable’ without a plebiscite and ‘anybody who thinks marriage equality is inevitable is a fool, you are fools’,” they said.
“He said it was in our best interest to have a plebiscite.”
The LGBTI advocate said one of the positives to come from the meeting was Brandis aware people were concerned the proposed plebiscite excluded trans people and confirmed the Marriage Act would be changed from saying ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ to ‘marriage between two people’.
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) helped facilitate the meeting and its national director Alex Greenwich said it was the first time in his 10 years campaigning for marriage equality that an Attorney-General had met with so many LGBTI groups about the issue.
“I thought it was a constructive meeting, it’s important we realise blocking a plebiscite will… not stop people attacking us,” he told Star Observer.
“It’s really important that our community engages directly with decision makers and to have a an Attorney-General talk to us is really important. If we achieve it (marriage equality) through a vote (in parliament), we have to be able to work productively with all members of parliament.
Greenwich said there is more support now in parliament for marriage equality than ever before and that was the result of community campaigning.
“I was proud to help facilitate this meeting. I’m happy because it’s really important when we’re dealing with such an important issue in our community, it’s dominated the dialogue in our community that we don’t just talk to ourselves about it and talk to the decision makers,” he said.
“I hope the plebiscite is voted down as soon as possible so we can get back to working with on marriage equality legislation.
“I think that all Australian should be able to marry the person they love, in the country they love and I’m committed on working on this until it happens.”