AME Fails To Revive Plebiscite


the stirrer recently wondered what representatives of AME/A4E were up to, making unpublicised visits to government representatives at their Parliament House offices.

We also wondered why AME/A4E were so keen to sign up as many groups as possible to a statement that left wriggle room for a plebiscite to go ahead, albeit not on the terms then on offer.

We also noted that a group of wily and seasoned marriage equality campaigners did not sign up, precisely because of the document’s failure to firmly dismiss the plebiscite option.

And finally, we were puzzled by the strange and insipid feelgood Dogless Dulux Ad for something called The Equality Campaign, which seemed geared more towards persuading people to vote in a referendum than to pushing MPs to get on with it and hold a free vote:

Well, the stirrer is puzzled no longer. As an article in today’s Australian makes clear, it was all part of yet another failed attempt to get a plebiscite up. Quite why AME/A4E is as married to one as Lucy is to Malcolm remains a mystery.

In recent times they been outplayed at every turn by seasoned campaigners in PLFAG, Rainbow Families, and just.equal, who employed the simple strategy of asking what the community wanted – no plebiscite ever, and a free vote now – and then doing their damndest to deliver it, at considerable personal cost.  In the process AME lost community trust, and is no longer the lead group for either the LGBTI community or politicians, a position they are desperate to recapture.

The plan to recapture their dominant role appears to have been something like this:

  • Draft a community statement with just enough wriggle room to embrace an “acceptable” plebiscite
  • Force community groups to sign on pain of being excluded from AME/A4E meetings going forward, knowing that their rivals would refuse
  • Exclude non-signers like PFLAG, just.equal and Rodney Croome from meetings and negotiations
  • In the meantime, with the help of Warren Entsch, negotiate in Canberra for an “acceptable” plebiscite,
  • Start ramping up a campaign to persuade Joe Public to warmly embrace the LGBTI community and vote yes.
  • And finally, triumphantly reclaim their position as peak LGBTI representative body on the issue as they lead the campaign for a Yes vote in the plebiscite

But now this politically naive plan has fallen in a heap. Despite the assistance of Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson and Turnbull himself, Entsch has failed to persuade the Nick Xenophon Team to support his plan, accusing Sen Xenophon, Labor and ‘marriage equality advocates’ of standing in the way of progress.

Entsch’s proposal would have:

  • used electronic and postal voting to cut costs
  • made the plebiscite result binding on parliament
  • reduced public funding for the Yes and No campaigns.
  • given more money to youth mental health group Headspace
  • allowed groups in the Yes camp to claim tax ­deductions for relevant expenses, as church groups can

It is doubtful that such a package – over-optimistic but well-meaning, like most of Entsch’s efforts down the years –  could ever have got through the Coalition party room, given the threat of defections by the likes of George Christensen, and the opposition of the National Party. Even Entsch would only say he was confident he would’ve got “a lot of this stuff through,” but not all of it.

The Australian reports that the plebiscite’s life-signs are now almost entirely extinguished:

Senator Stirling Griff said NXT’s opposition to the plebiscite was “rock solid” but there was a “minute chance” of change “if all of the key LGBTI groups came to us with a package they were convinced would not be divisive within their own community and would bring about immediate change”.

That’s NO chance, sunshine. None at all. It’s a free vote, asap. Everybody got that now?

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)