The Liberal Party will not force a party position on its elected members when the NSW relationship register bill hits the NSW Parliament’s upper house this afternoon.

NSW Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell – who last night voted for the legislation – confirmed via the Sydney Star Observer’s Twitter site that the party’s decision to offer its members a conscience vote on the bill would stand.

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@barryofarrell Does that mean the Libs will support the bill in the Upper House? Or will the conscience vote stand?

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@sydstarobserver same vote basis in both houses via web in reply to sydstarobserver

The NSW Parliament’s lower house last night passed the relationship register in a 62 – 9 vote. As well as the nine votes against, a further 20 MPs, including Premier Kristina Keneally, were absent from the chamber.

The legislation is expected to easily pass through the Upper House today with the support of the Labor Party and the Greens.

Openly gay NSW Labor MP Penny Sharpe called on the Liberal Party to give the legislation undivided support when it reaches the Upper House later today.

“I welcome this historic Bill that will make it easier for unmarried couples who are in de facto or committed relationships to prove their relationship,” Sharpe said in a statement.

“Premier Keneally supports this important reform and has championed it through the NSW Cabinet and Caucus. While Ms Keneally was ‘paired’ last night, the vote reflected the overwhelming support she has generated for this issue.

“The same cannot be said for the Coalition who could not show unanimous support for these essential rights for NSW couples.”

Sydney Star Observer last week revealed NSW Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell had granted Liberal Party MPs a conscience vote on the legislation.

“The Liberal Party has a tradition of allowing conscience votes where there is no party line that must be followed,” O’Farrell told SSO.

“[Conscience] votes reflect the different opinions that exist in the community on these issues. Our party’s tradition has always allowed for individual MPs to cross the floor when their conscience dictates.”

Sharpe said O’Farrell should direct his party to support the bill.

“Make no mistake, if the Relationships Register does not go ahead, it will be due to one person — Barry O’Farrell,” she said.

“This Bill builds on all of the important reforms NSW Labor Governments have progressed and implemented.”

But O’Farrell said ALP claims the register might not pass the upper house were little more than government scaremongering.

“It’s pure invention and will be exposed as such when the Legislative Council votes,” he said.

“Ms Keneally’s attempted scare campaign is designed to try and distract attention away from her failure to vote for the relationship register legislation last night.”

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