MARRIAGE equality advocates have reiterated their calls for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to allow his party a conscience vote, after two Liberal senators confirmed they would not be held to the outcome of a plebiscite.
“There’s no point having an expensive public vote if politicians won’t abide by the outcome,” Australian Marriage Equality (AME) national director Rodney Croome said in a statement.
[showads ad=MREC] Senators Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi caused controversy earlier today by stating they would not vote according to the results of the planned marriage equality plebiscite.
“I would need to determine whether [the plebiscite] really is an accurate reflection [of the national view], whether it is all above board or whether the question is stacked, whether all sides received public funding,” Abetz told Guardian Australia.
Bernardi, on the other hand, was more decisive.
“Even if the public voted for [marriage equality], I wouldn’t vote for it,” he told Fairfax Media.
Unlike a referendum, a plebiscite does not have the power to amend the constitution nor compel MPs to make any change in Australian law. At most, a plebiscite would provide parliament with a mandate to vote in either direction when a bill for marriage equality next appeared in the House of Representatives.
However, the PM said in October last year that the plebiscite would have force.
“When the Australian people make their decision, that decision will stick,” he said in parliament.
“It will be decisive. It will be respected by this government and by this parliament and this nation.
“But let me tell you this. If you imagine that any government, this government or any government, would spend over $150m consulting every Australian on an issue of this kind and then ignore their decision, then they really are not living in the real world.”
Despite this, Abetz reiterated the non-binding nature of a plebiscite.
“It would be up to each member to decide whether the plebiscite accurately reflects the views of the Australian people, whether it reflects the views of their electorates and whether it is good or bad public policy in their view,” he said.
The Australian Electoral Commission’s submission to a Senate inquiry last year estimated the cost of the plebiscite to be $44 million if held at the same time as the next federal election, or $158 million if held on its own.
The Senate subsequently warned against a plebiscite and recommended instead a free vote in parliament.
The idea of a plebiscite first came up after a Liberal party room vote in mid-2015, under the leadership of then-PM Tony Abbott, which determined that its MPs would continue to not have a free vote on a the matter.
The Greens and the ALP have also reiterated their calls for the need for a free vote.
“This just demonstrates what a complete nonsense this plebiscite is,” South Australian Greens Senator Robert Simms said in a statement.
“Why should Australians be exposed to a costly and divisive plebiscite if conservative MPs aren’t even bound to accept the outcome?
“It’s time for the parliament to decide and the Prime Minister should grant his members a conscience vote.”
Croome expressed concern that the political divisions of the Coalition were delaying action on a policy with broad social support.
“Many people are concerned that we are having this expensive public vote simply for internal party politics, when we already know Australians support fairness in marriage,” he said.
“The onus is on Malcolm Turnbull to allow his party a free vote on marriage equality as soon as possible so Australia can move on.”[showads ad=FOOT]