As calls mount for action to be taken on the ailing issue of marriage equality, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has laid blame for its uncertain future squarely at the door of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Speaking with Channel Nine political commentator Laurie Oakes on Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, Mr Turnbull said Mr Shorten was entirely to blame for the fact that the gay marriage question has stalled politically.
“The only reason gay couples will not be able to get married is because of Bill Shorten’s totally political approach,” he said.
Mr Turnbull said if Labor had voted for the plebiscite, gay marriage would have been legal within the next few days.
If passed, a national vote on gay marriage would have taken place next weekend.
“We took the plebiscite position to the election that is our policy and we are calling on Bill Shorten to rethink his position and if he supports the plebiscite then it will pass through the Senate and it will be held. Every Australian will have a say.”
Tensions have flared within government ranks in recent days over a push by some Liberal MPs for the party to abandon its adherence to a plebiscite.
A group of Liberals in support of same-sex marriage are leading a push for the government to ditch the plebiscite in favour of a free vote in Parliament.
Former PM Tony Abbott – a leader of the party’s right – came out on Sunday to warn against abandoning a national plebiscite, saying it would break a key election promise.
“Malcolm Turnbull made a clear election commitment that the marriage law would only change by way of people’s plebiscite, not free vote of the Parliament,” Mr Abbott told Fairfax Media.
Mr Turnbull agreed, despite Mr Oakes accusing the PM of “riding instructions from your predecessor and the right wing of the Coalition”.
“I support gay marriage, Laurie,” the Prime Minister said.
“I have got no doubt that all of these matters will be discussed in the party room, but I’m the Prime Minister, the government’s position is that which we took to the election, which is that this issue should be determined by a vote of every Australian in a plebiscite.”
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) February 5, 2017
Labor frontbencher Terri Butler earlier weighed into the issue, saying Australians are sick of Parliament bickering over the issue and that people want MPs to get on and support gay marriage through a free vote.
Ms Butler said talk about the plebiscite was now irrelevant.
“There wasn’t (a plebiscite), there won’t be, but we can have a free vote, we can pass marriage equality in this term,” she told reporters in Canberra.
Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson, who is gay, played down reports of a renewed push among a clutch of Liberal MPs to have a free vote, saying it’s not news that he wants a change in the law but he’s sticking to his party’s commitment for a plebiscite.
A Senate inquiry into same sex-marriage draft laws in January has yet to report back.
“When that committee reports, when that inquiry is concluded, obviously there is going to have to be a discussion,” Mr Wilson told ABC television on Sunday.
The Trump call
Mr Turnbull also clarified aspects of his infamous phone call with President Donald Trump, after the ill-tempered and reportedly truncated conversation made world news last week.
Mr Oakes quizzed Australia’s leader how the relationship between the two nations will move forward, and if Australia will be indebted to Mr Trump if the US proceeds with the controversial refugee deal.
“What now if the Trump administration comes to you and says ‘we want troops for some Middle Eastern adventure’ or ‘we want ships in the South China Sea’, do you now see yourself as indebted? And does he see you as indebted?” Mr Oakes pressed.
The Washington Post broke the news on Wednesday of the abrupt end to Mr Turnbull’s phone call with Mr Trump on January 29.
It reported that Mr Trump told Mr Turnbull the agreement he struck with the Obama administration was “the worst deal ever”, and that by agreeing to it, Mr Trump was “going to get killed” politically.
Mr Trump later tweeted that the deal to take in refugees from Nauru and Manus Island was “dumb”.
Record low approval
The Prime Minister’s assertions come as the latest Newspoll shows the Coalition’s support has collapsed to the lowest level since Mr Turnbull became PM, with The Australian reporting the government trails Labor by 46 to 54 per cent in two-party terms.
The first Newspoll for the year also indicates that a record 29 per cent of people would not give their first preference vote in the House of Representatives to the Coalition or Labor.
The Coalition’s primary vote has tumbled four points over the summer holidays to 35 per cent, The Australian reported.
“It last dropped this low exactly two years ago when Mr Abbott faced the ’empty chair’ move to spill his leadership in the wake of his decision to give a knighthood to Prince Philip,” it said. “When Mr Turnbull launched his challenge against Mr Abbott in September 2015 the Coalition’s primary vote was 39 per cent.”