Former Howard government minister Amanda Vanstone has accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of stifling internal party debate on the issue of same-sex marriage.

In the opinion piece published in The Age online today, Vanstone said Abbott should also allow Coalition MPs a free vote when a bill calling for the legalisation of gay marriage comes before Parliament.

“One of the things that really aggravates members of Parliament is when a leader announces, through the media, a decision that has been made after Parliament has risen,” Vanstone said.

“As there is no party-room meeting over the break, the leader’s announcement and policy position gets all the airplay and permeates the public mind. MPs who disagree with the decision rightly see the timing as a tactic to weaken them

“…He should say he will look at the issue if and when it comes to Parliament. And he should give the party room the conscience vote that should never have been given away.”

Vanstone said Abbott’s decision to refuse Coalition MPs a conscience vote goes against Liberal Party tradition.

“The Liberal Party prides itself on the right of members to follow their conscience,” Vanstone said.

“It is a cherished Liberal principle.

“….It looks, smells and walks like a leader deliberately shutting the party room out of a decision. MPs will not warm to it.”

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