The week began with Newspoll maintaining Labor’s TPP lead at 52-48, and ended with Kelly O’Dwyer endorsing a bill that criticised the Government. In between Turnbull got the Senate to pass his legislation supporting Victoria’s CFA volunteers, with Pauline Hanson’s support, and one of the National senators stood aside so that Pauline could join the NBN committee.
The major political event of the week, however, was Labor killing off the marriage equality plebiscite legislation. Sure, it still has to go to the senate, but Xenophon, the Greens and Labor oppose it, so it can’t pass.
Laura Tingle says the Faustian bargain Turnbull struck with the Nationals to become PM is eroding the rationale for replacing Abbott with Turnbull.
Put simply, Turnbull was attractive because people thought he would bring politics back to the centre. However, to get the gig he had to do a deal with the Right, some of whom are now exploiting his wafer thin majority by threatening to resign from the Coalition and sit on the cross-bench if they don’t get their way.
- The perception that Queensland LNP MP George Christensen had, single-handed, forced backdowns on superannuation and on the backpacker tax, has started to embolden more of his colleagues to take up the strategy of setting themselves up to look like kingmakers.
This week, Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad emerged to threaten his support of the government if there was a free vote on same-sex marriage. Within hours, Christensen popped up to make the same threat.
Tingle says it’s time these people had a little think about what they are doing. They may end up separating the LNP from the treasury benches. The really crucial dynamic, however, she says is around the Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce:
- Joyce was once the Senate backbencher from hell for John Howard, effectively holding the balance of power in a Senate where the Coalition actually had a majority.
At times, he remains a nightmare for Turnbull: notably, his early intervention after the South Australian storms blaming renewable energy for the statewide blackout set the scene for everything that was subsequently said on the subject.
It is also true that the LNP – the merged Queensland Liberal and Nationals – believe both that Joyce has to keep a firm hand on Turnbull, and provides an important ‘retail’ political foil to the prime minister.
One way or another, Turnbull has little scope to be his own man.
On the plebiscite, there is a theoretical possibility that a Labor-initiated marriage equality could pass both houses, with a few Liberals exercising a conscience vote in the Reps, but the Government will simply not allow such a bill to be debated:
- Labor is expected to keep pressing for a free vote in Parliament on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.
But a number of senior Government ministers have made it clear that will not happen.
Nationals MP Andrew Broad this morning threatened to withdraw his support for the Government if it allowed gay couples to marry without holding the plebiscite.
Bill Shorten has been accused of playing politics on the issue. However, the Four Corners program For Better or Worse showed how many politicians had changed their position in recent years. I think it would be true to say that the only politician advocating a position at variance with his own beliefs is Malcolm Turnbull. That is, if he actually believes in anything these days.
The Four Corners program also showed, beyond doubt, the kind of toxic advertising that opponents of equal marriage would unleash. Some of it already exists.
There are many reasons against having a plebiscite, but the most important is the potential (virtually certain) harm to LGBTI people, especially the young:
- A joint study by Victoria University and the University of Queensland that looked at the same-sex marriage referendum in Ireland, released on Sunday, found gay people suffered serious emotional trauma as the public debated unfolded in 2015.
The university surveyed 1600 LGBTI people in Ireland via interviews conducted over social media and found less than a quarter would be happy to repeat the referendum process.
Nearly three-quarters said the ”no” campaign had a highly detrimental impact on young LGBTI people and the children of LGBTI parents.
Now the Sydney Anglican archbishop has:
refused to renew the licence of a Sydney priest, Keith Mascord, due to theological differences, particularly his support for same-sex marriage.
This has deeply shaken the church, leading to a petition from clerics Australia-wide:
- “For most clergy, delicencing means losing job, income, accommodation, peer networks and spiritual community,” the petition read.
Not to mention the hypocrisy of simultaneously calling for “a publicly-funded plebiscite to promote respectful and genuine debate”.
Elsewhere, reports reveal that the Anglican Church has distributed a booklet, warning against communism, child brides, marriage of close relatives and polygamy.
For Labor now, the issue may be revisited at the National conference next year. Marriage equality is due to become Labor policy in 2019, so there will be no free vote. Some are worrying that it is unfair for Labor to ask for a free vote from the LNP when theirs is tied.
Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek are arguing that marriage equality is a human right, rather than a matter of conscience. It’s a powerful argumaent within labor, and hard to see them back-tracking.