A NATIONAL plebiscite on marriage equality is a form of bullying and proof that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was willing to betray his conscience to get the top job, according to the federal Labor candidate for Brisbane, Pat O’Neill.

The openly-gay candidate is preparing to launch a new campaign against the Coalition Government’s continued push to hold a national vote on granting equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

For O’Neill, Turnbull’s impassioned defence of a plebiscite, repeated at length this week, was forcing LGBTI people to “beg” for equal rights.

“Throughout our history, Australians have fought for opportunity and equality,” O’Neill told the Star Observer.

“Currently, as a result of the discriminatory wording of the Marriage Act, LGBTI Australians are not treated equally under the law. This is un-Australian.

“It also goes against the basic principle of rights. You do not vote on rights. You do not force one group of Australians to have to ask permission to be treated equally. Parliament should do the job it’s paid to do and vote now.

“Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party want to force LGBTI Australians to ask for permission to be treated equally. Do they want us to ask nicely? Do they want us to beg? This bully-boy approach isn’t acceptable.”

O’Neill believes that the campaign leading up to a plebiscite, should it happen, would provide a platform for bigots and fostering division within society.

“For every person like Malcolm Turnbull giving voice to bigots and bullies, there will be people like me standing up to say it’s not on,” he said.

“Governments should represent all Australians equally, not pit one group against another.”

Speaking at the National Press Club this week, NSW Liberal Senator and Assistant Multicultural Affairs Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the views of the “silent majority” that oppose marriage equality and represent the views of multicultural Australia must be respected.

“A Coalition policy that directly supports same-sex marriage could place under threat some of our most marginal seats which have disproportionately high religious and migrant communities,” she said.

O’Neill said marriage equality was an issue that went beyond the LGBTI community and had the support of the majority of Australians.

“Throughout Australia’s history we have fought for the rights of our First Australians, women, workers, those with disabilities and people from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. Equality affects everyone,” he said.

One of the primary criticisms of a plebiscite by the Labor Opposition is the $160 million that would be spent on gauging public opinion, something that has already been done via multiple polls.

“Scott Morrison says we have a spending problem, yet he is happy to spend $160 million on a plebiscite we don’t need,” O’Neill said.

“We are only spending $100 million on combating domestic violence, yet Malcolm Turnbull thinks spending $160 million on a plebiscite, when parliament can achieve the same thing at no cost, is justifiable.

“Let’s spend more on domestic violence prevention rather than giving bullies a platform to air their prejudice.”

O’Neill also accused the recently installed Prime Minister of going back on his support for marriage equality by capitulating to the hard right of the Liberal Party to defeat Tony Abbott.

“Malcolm Turnbull only agreed to a plebiscite to get his job. The equality of LGBTI Australians should not be held ransom to the personal ambitions of a politician,” O’Neill said.

“[Turnbull’s] $160 million plebiscite simply panders to the people who gave him his job, rather than standing up for the people he represents. A real leader does what is right, not what is easy.

“A real leader looks after all Australians, not just his mates in parliament.”

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, a vocal marriage equality opponent and demoted cabinet minister, attacked his colleague and Queensland backbench MP Warren Entsch for recently raising the issue.

Responding to Entsch’s desire this week that the current parliament introduce and pass legislation that would legalise marriage equality, but only as a result of a successful public vote via a plebiscite, Abetz labelled it an “ambush”.

“It seems a bit of a thought bubble and an ambush to boot,” Abetz told ABC Radio.

“To try to force MPs to vote for legislation contrary to that is against that which the party room so overwhelmingly decided.

“Secondly I believe we’d get into uncharted waters and very complicated situations if we try to bind the next parliament by a vote of this parliament.

“It is not the actions, if I might say, that will help unity… which will help to heal some of the wounds of that which has happened over recent weeks.”

O’Neill’s upcoming campaign will feature interviews with LGBTI people and their families, along with videos of him outlining his story and his opposition to a plebiscite. It will start being rolled out next week.

The Greens have announced that they will bring their bill for marriage equality back to the Senate for debate on Thursday, November 12.

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