AME Takes Plebiscite Off Life Support

Alex Greenwich of AME by Kate Ausburn

Not Quite Dead: AME/A4E lobbyists were still hopeful plebiscite could be saved

[Note: this post has been updated, following today’s release of the latest joint statement from AME and other organisations, which marks a substantial change in their position]

Malcolm Turnbull has been sounding remarkably chipper about the prospects for his plebiscite lately, despite Labor and almost everyone else pronouncing it dead. Yesterday the PM told the ABC he is still confident of winning enough support from crossbenchers to get it passed in the Senate come November.

“Of course, of course. Experience tells me that you don’t know what the numbers are until the votes are finally counted.”

Perhaps he was buoyed by what Australian Marriage Equality/Australians 4 Equality were telling him when they were in the House last week, on their unpublicised mission to lobby members of his government.

AME were circulating a joint statement which did not outright oppose a plebiscite, or back a free vote – the preferred option of the vast majority of the public as well as our community. But they have now released a statement calling for abandoning the plebiscite and for a free vote: click here for the full version. It says:

We are calling on Parliament to vote down the plebiscite machinery legislation. By rejecting the plebiscite, Parliament will in part acknowledge the potential impact on our communities caused by exposure to the divisive and marginalising language used by a vocal minority who oppose marriage equality. Our concerns about the negative impact of the plebiscite are based on lived experience and supported by research. This impact is also exacerbated by the continued uncertainty around our equal rights, and a continued campaign by those who oppose reform, which further underscores our request for immediate action by the Parliament.

We once again call on the parliamentary representatives and leaders who support reform to come together and deliver a parliamentary path to reform in this term, so that every Australian is able to marry the person they love, in the country they cherish, on equal terms.

It appears AME have at last abandoned hope the plebiscite will go ahead, and working towards that end.Just as well: the latest poll from just.equal shows that only 30% of Australian support a plebiscite, while 55% want the government to get on with it and pass marriage equality on a free vote.

AME are alleged to be interested in positioning themselves as the Australian LGBTI “peak body” – which would turn them into the gatekeepers for all LGBTI-related federal funding – and have now come into line with the position advocated by almost every other LGBTI group.

  • No plebiscite ever, on any terms.
  • No to Brandis’ proposed Marriage Bill.

As former Senator Brian Grieg said, not everyone is happy with the statement, and many have refused to sign it, because it does not oppose a plebiscite under any circumstances and does not not call on parliament to progress a free vote.

The statement opposes only the “plebiscite machinery legislation” , it does not oppose a non-machinery plebiscite. It does not oppose the principal of a plebiscite. It does not oppose a plebiscite under *any* circumstances. As such, this document could be be used to misrepresent the views and aspirations of the LGBTI community.

Alastair Lawrie has laid out in precise forensic detail just why the Marriage Bill on offer is completely unacceptable: please have a read. A sample:

…their planned ‘reward’ – if the plebiscite is held, and if we are ultimately successful in their $200 million+ national opinion poll – is actually a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, that spends more time and effort in expanding the rights of religious bodies, and civil celebrants, to discriminate against us than in actually implementing marriage equality.

This carelessly arrogant attitude of the government towards LGBTI has been on display for months, while they consistently pooh-poohed the potentially damaging effects of a NO campaign. In fact, our enemies have been waging that campaign anyway, with no rebuke from the Prime Minister.

But for sheer brutal contempt, it would be hard to surpass the attitude of Mike Pezzullo of the Department of Immigration & Border Control. Crikey reports:

“Western Australian Senator Louise Pratt asked the department how many asylum seekers sent by Australia to Manus Island had been granted refugee status based on justified fear of persecution over their sexual orientation or gender identity. Immigration officials said it was a matter for the equivalent PNG department and they kept no records. Pratt then asked what happened to such refugees, since homosexuality is a criminal offence in PNG.

Pezzullo responded that the matter wasn’t his department’s responsibility: Australia’s only obligation was not to send them back to their country of origin (refoulement) and its responsibilities ended when it handed them over to PNG. Pezzullo went on to suggest that PNG should send LGBTI refugees on Manus Island to a third country if it had a problem with them — but it wasn’t Australia’s concern.

“We have enough on our plate,” he told the committee, without checking whether LGBTI refugees were facing more persecution. Pezzullo said he didn’t know whether homosexual acts were illegal in PNG, before Pratt again pointed out they were specifically prohibited (male homosexual acts are punishable with 14 years’ jail in PNG).”

So now you know what the Turnbull government thinks of LGBTI people. In a phrase, ‘Couldn’t give a toss mate.’


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)