By Andrew M.Potts
Questions have been raised about the Greens’ commitment to the Marriage Equality Bill after it emerged the party brokered a deal with the major parties that limited debate and forced the bill to a quick vote.
The bill was defeated in the Senate after only 30 minutes of debate last Thursday. Originally, debate was to begin at 4pm and run for 90 minutes.
However, in what appears to have been a deal between the Greens and the major parties to have the bill put to a vote, debate began at 3.30pm and finished at 4pm.
On Friday morning, Greens leader Senator Bob Brown told media, “I’ve tried really hard to get the Government to ensure that we get a second reading vote, but I’ve got no response out of them … It’s really important that they do, it is a deprivation of rights, that gay and lesbian couples can’t marry.”
But when Family First Senator Steve Fielding got up to speak at 3.55pm, he was warned of time constraints by the deputy president of the Senate, Alan Ferguson.
“I omitted to say earlier … that an agreement had been reached between parties concerned on speaking times and I had asked the clerks to set the clocks accordingly,” Ferguson told Fielding.
The Greens did not raise objections to the limiting of debate on the bill.
Following debate, the bill was put to a vote where it was defeated 45 to five along party lines.
Twenty-six senators, including Louise Pratt, Labor’s only vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, were absent from the vote, leading to speculation that they were avoiding having to vote against a bill they agreed with.
During debate, only four Senators spoke — Sarah Hanson-Young for the Greens, Fielding, and Nick Sherry and George Brandis for the Government and Opposition respectively.
Sherry spoke for eight minutes, reiterating the Government’s position without explaining it.
Brandis claimed that barring same-sex couples from marriage was not a form of discrimination as same-sex couples had “never, ever in any society, in the whole of human history” been allowed to marry.
“Senate procedures are always difficult, when you’re a minor party, to be able to decide how long a debate should occur,” Corey Irlam, of the Australian Coalition for Equality, told Southern Star.
“But the purpose of these sorts of debates, where it’s likely to go down in the vote, is not about a vote. It’s about having a frank and open discussion and in half an hour, we didn’t see that.”
Southern Star sought confirmation of a deal from Brown, but was directed to Hanson-Young’s office.
Hanson-Young replied with a statement saying that time for debating private members bills in the Senate was limited and the Greens would like to extend that, but would not comment directly on whether a deal had been done.