THE Liberal Party’s first openly gay federal politician, Dean Smith, has confirmed he would not support legislation approving a plebiscite on marriage equality.
The West Australian senator told Fairfax Media he would either cross the party floor or abstain from voting on any plebiscite-enabling legislation, but his decision was based on wanting to respect the country’s tradition of being a representative democracy rather than his sexuality.
“I have never heard a candidate standing for election say they want to represent their community – except on issues where it’s all too difficult, in which case they will contract-out their responsibilities as a legislator.
“Yet, this is effectively what the plebiscite proposal is – a willing admission by some that an institution which has served the nation well for 115 years is suddenly, on one issue alone, not up to the job.”
Smith told his Federal Liberal Party colleagues he would not support the plebiscite today after a joint party room meeting, describing it as “abhorrent” idea.
The Senator went on to say in an opinion piece published in Fairfax Media that he was sure people would be sceptical about his motivations for not supporting the plebiscite.
“I am well aware that no explanation on my part will be enough to placate those critics who, disappointingly and dishonestly, wish to portray this as ‘the gay Senator campaigning for gay marriage’. As I have regularly said and written, I am not a ‘campaigner’ on this issue,” Smith wrote.
“As a lifelong parliamentary and constitutional conservative, I cannot countenance a proposition that threatens to undermine the democratic compact that has seen Australia emerge as one of the most stable parliamentary democracies in the world.
“The people chosen as members of the Parliament are expected to make decisions on the full gamut of issues that confront the nation in the course of a parliamentary term, foreseen or unforeseen.
“I have never heard a candidate standing for election say they want to represent their community, except on issues where it’s all too difficult, in which case they will contract-out their responsibilities as a legislator. Yet, this is effectively what the plebiscite proposal is – a willing admission by some that an institution which has served the nation well for 115 years is suddenly, on one issue alone, not up to the job.”
He said that the people who were in favour of the marriage equality plebiscite relied on a single argument that marriage was too much of an important institution culturally, socially and religiously that the issue had to be put up to a public vote.
Dean argued if this principle was applied to all deeply ethical issues such as, euthanasia, then every similar kind of changes to the law would have to be put to a public vote.
“Certainly, this issue – quite literally one of life and death – arouses personal, ethical and religious considerations every bit as deeply held as those which exist in relation to same-sex marriage,” he wrote.
“So the fact that none of the same-sex marriage plebiscite’s staunchest supporters are calling for a “people’s vote” on euthanasia is instructive. If this truly was a question of principle, they would be.”
No Hinch, no Dean Smith, no SHY and no Labor leaves the government three votes short of getting the plebiscite through the senate.
— Rob Stott (@Rob_Stott) September 13, 2016
Smith’s decision comes following the government’s announcement that the plebiscite will be held on February 11 and it will provide a total of $15 million in campaign funding to both sides of the debate, with the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ advocates receiving $7.5 million dollars each, this is in addition to the estimated $160 million cost of holding a public vote on marriage equality.
It was also revealed today that the Federal Cabinet had proposed establishing a 10-person committee for both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sides of the debate to decide on the allocation of the money. The committee would consist of five politicians – two government politicians, two Labor and one cross-bencber – and five lay people with Attorney General George Brandis responsible for choosing the citizens on the committee.
Support for the plebiscite in the Senate is waning with the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch opposed to the plebiscite. It was expected the Labor Party would reveal tomorrow whether it would block the plebiscite, but it may not announce its position before the next parliamentary sitting period in a month.
We won’t know whether Labor will support the plebiscite or not until the next sitting period, which is about a month from now (October 10)
— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) September 13, 2016
LGBTI community advocates praised the courage and principle of Smith for declaring his opposition to a marriage equality plebiscite saying he deserves “the applause of the growing number of Australians who are against an expensive, divisive and unnecessary plebiscite and want Parliament to do its job by voting through marriage equality”.
“I encourage all Coalition members who value our existing system of government and balk at the damage a plebiscite will cause to follow Senator Smith’s lead,” spokesperson for just.equal Ivan Hinton-Teoh said.
“My hope is that Senator Smith will join with other Senators across all parties to move a marriage equality bill forward in the Senate.”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young has confirmed she would not support the plebiscite after previously saying she might support if it was the only way to achieve marriage equality.
“I said I would wait to see the government’s proposal and, now that I have, I won’t be supporting it,” she said.
“This isn’t a pathway for delivering marriage equality; it’s a shameless display of the arrogant game playing that makes so many people hate politicians. Malcolm Turnbull has forsaken the marriage equality movement and allowed for this plebiscite to be rigged, so that it will never see the light of day.
“I could never accept spending tax payers’ money on a campaign that attacks members of the Australian community.
“Gay and lesbian Australians shouldn’t be forced to wait years to marry the person they love. This Parliament has failed the Australian people, who only want to see us legislate so that their LGBTI friends and family members are treated equally by the law.
“Doing nothing on marriage equality is still not an option for me and I’ll be working with all people who support this essential reform, regardless of their party.
“Malcolm Turnbull has shown no leadership on this issue and proven himself to be a Prime Minister with no authority, no credibility and no courage.”