The Turnbull government may be willing to compromise on the mechanics of the same-sex marriage plebiscite if Labor agrees to have the vote, Attorney-General George Brandis says.
Senator Brandis was not willing to say what the government may give ground on – like funding for the “yes” and the “no” cases – saying the government has delivered a package.
“(But) the theme of this parliament has to be compromise, we have to deal with the parliament that the people gave us,” Senator Brandis told Sky News on Sunday.
“So just as we have seen successful outcomes to the omnibus savings bill in the week, then of course we are prepared to talk to the Opposition.”
Labor won’t make a formal stance on the plebiscite until its caucus meets in October when the parliament sits again, but the party’s leadership have raised their concerns.
Opposition leader in the Senate Penny Wong says there is a good compromise available to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – “Have a free vote”.
“Let’s not have lots of taxpayers’ dollars spent on what would be a divisive campaign,” Senator Wong told ABC television.
She says the plebiscite is non-binding and the likes of Liberals Cory Bernardi, Eric Abetz and others will never vote for marriage equality even if the plebiscite were successful.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus jumped on his counterpart’s admission a plebiscite had not been his “preferred option”, saying he has finally injected some honesty into the government’s position.
“He could admit that the only reason this plebiscite is being proposed is because supporters of marriage equality like him and Mr Turnbull do not have the backbone to stand up to their backbench,” Mr Dreyfus said in a statement.
Former Liberal leader John Hewson said Senator Brandis has put up a “strong defence of the indefensible”, calling it an unnecessary process.
“They are claiming a mandate, everyone is claiming a mandate from the election – I think the electorate would just love the issue to be put to a vote in the parliament and just get on with it,” he told Sky News.
“It will be a distraction for the next five or six months or beyond.”
Former Labor MP and minister Craig Emerson agreed, telling the same program it doesn’t seem likely Labor will support a plebiscite, even if there are changes to the legislation.