Malcolm Turnbull’s promise to quickly deliver a national plebiscite on marriage equality has been mugged by political reality.
So too has the prospect of Australia ending discrimination against the LGBTI community any time soon.
We won’t be joining comparable nations like Canada, New Zealand or the United Kingdom in this reform.
Labor says it’s a broken promise.
Mr Turnbull was trying to match Bill Shorten’s promise of a vote on same-sex marriage within 100 days of being sworn in. At least that is the impression he wanted to give.
Always a stretch, that ploy is now undermining the Prime Minister’s credibility.
Sure, weasel words, even in the last week of the campaign, were always employed.
On June 29 Mr Turnbull carefully promised: “It will be dealt with as quickly as possible. And I am reasonably optimistic that a plebiscite could be held by the end of the year.”
AEC recommends a 2017 vote
The PM’s office now says the Australian Electoral Commission strongly recommends it can’t organise the vote this year.
Labor is sceptical, but whatever the truth of the matter, the plebiscite was always Mr Turnbull’s least favoured option.
In fact the Prime Minister was convinced Tony Abbott engineered the plebiscite precisely to never hold one. It would slip down the agenda. Just like it is now.
There’s no doubt the plebiscite was designed to delay and ultimately defeat adult same-sex couples being able to enter into a civil contract of lifelong exclusive commitment. In other words to deny a civil right shared by a majority of Australian citizens.
Australians being asked to vote on the rights of others really is ugly.
Mr Shorten says spending $160 million on a taxpayer-funded non-binding opinion poll which will give licence to a whole lot of hateful debate is second best.
Attempts by Mr Shorten at a recent meeting with Mr Turnbull to talk him into a conscience vote in the parliament failed. Not surprising. Liberal conservatives are threatening a revolt if the Prime Minister ditches the plebiscite.
Even proponents of marriage equality, like Queensland’s Warren Entsch, are supporting the plebiscite as a shield for Liberal National Party MPs in his state who want to vote for the change. A shield against the conservative dominant state executive threatening disendorsement.
A strong PM would stand up to this bullying but the tight election result has robbed Mr Turnbull of whatever clout he had. He is unwilling to chance his arm to test this.
Pressure to vote down plebiscite
Pressure is now mounting on Labor and the crossbench to vote down the plebiscite. Former High Court Judge Michael Kirby says it would be better to wait for a parliamentary vote than to see a plebiscite fail.
Such a result would kill off ending the discrimination against the LGBTI minority for years, he says. That’s just the result Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby is confident of getting.
No matter how hard he tries every argument Mr Shelton puts rests on a view that stirs hatred of homosexuals. They are a threat to the safety and wellbeing of children and to the social order.
Labor will attempt a vote when parliament returns. Its prospects of success are dismal.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno