Let’s Go Fly A Marriage Equality Kite


Kite fighting: Nevil Zeveri

Media commentators flying all manner of kites ahead of Mondays Liberal party room


In the absence of any solid data, the papers are awash with confident predictions about what will, or won’t, happen re Marriage Equality next week. Every journalist seems to be flying a kite for whoever briefed them last [extended quotes and links below]. Just take your pick: they’re all as likely to be as right as each other, and equally as likely to be overtake by events. Including me!

The only solid fact we have is that Senator Dean Smith will release the draft of his Marriage Bill. It’s far from certain this will be a Marriage Equality measure: if, as he says, he’s used the report of the last Senate enquiry, it will be Marriage Apartheid, replete with legally permissions to discriminate for selected minorities.

Peter Hartcher (Sydney Morning Herald) says we will have a postal plebiscite. Nicholas Stuart, also in the SMH, seems to think the “rebels” (Warren Entsch, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, and Tim Wilson) will not accept that outcome.

Cate McGregor in the Daily Telegraph thinks they will throw caution (and their political careers) to the winds and force a vote on the floor of the house. Peter Van Onselen in the Australian appears to agree, saying Warren Entsch is pushing hard for a resolution now, before he heads off to the UN in a fortnight’s time.

Cate McGregor pic: DEFGLIS

That at least has the merit of plausibility. Entsch is at the end of his career and unlikely to stand at the next election. He has nothing to lose from resigning from the party and going to the cross-bench, for example.

Senator Dean Smith, in the Guardian, said that under no circumstances would he ever support any form of plebiscite, postal or otherwise.

Rob Harris, in the Herald Sun, says the rebels will reluctantly accept a postal plebiscite on condition it is followed by a free vote in Parliament immediately afterwards. David Crowe in the Australian seems to have had the same briefing, claiming that the cabinet will endorse a postal vote plus a firm date for a vote on a marriage bill.

Mark Kenny calls a postal plebiscite ‘too silly for words’ (which doesn’t mean they wont have one: they’ve done sillier things before – NBN, anyone?) and says the party room, including the rebels, will send the full-on plebiscite back to the Senate for it to fail again, while committing to take a policy for a free vote to the next election. But nothing in-between.

That sounds even sillier than a postal plebiscite – or the NBN – or a Peter Dutton Prime Ministership.

Meanwhile Barnaby Joyce just wants it all to go away.


Barnaby Joyce will be disappointed. The only time this issue will go away is when full Marriage Equality – not Marriage Apartheid – is legislated. If he really wants it off the agenda, tell the Cabinet to change the Marriage Act, next week, back the way it was before John Howard defaced it. The End.


“How’d you like them apples?”
“They’re pears, Barnaby.”

Dear Waterbender. For as long as you allow the lunatic right to delay equality, so long shall you live in a world of pain. If you’re sticking with them, better buy yourself a brewery, because you’re going to want to stay personally sozzled for the next two years. Not that anyone will notice the difference.

The longer it goes on, the less the government will be able to do, the more likely it is you will lose the next election, and probably for a generation. And you will deserve it. Did that get through your hangover?

A postal plebiscite will not do it: I’ve written about this before, here Is The LNP Going Postal, here Postal Plebiscite Ahead  and here Postal Plebiscite Advances.  A change of leader won’t do it: that will only make it worse, especially if Dutton gets up. So think long and hard before you vote for any kind of fudge, delay or evasion and against an immediate resolution.

What will happen? Unless Turnbull suddenly discovers a spine and decides to face Dutton and the Tasmanian Inquisition down, nothing much. More of the same. We know that Dutton has been running the numbers for some time now, and has a majority of the parliamentary party ready to vote him into the leadership as soon as they can decently despatch the PM. Turnbull knows this, and for some gawdforsaken reason – probably personal vanity, though that must be pretty threadbare and moth-eaten by now –  is not yet jack of the lot of them. He wants to keep his job. Peter wants a postal vote. Therefore Turnbull and the Cabinet will give him a postal vote. The party room will swallow hard and accept a postal vote. Even the so-called rebels, who, when push comes to shove, will put their political careers ahead of the LGBTI community.  You can try stiffening their spines here-> but I doubt it will make much difference.

The only slight chance of any genuine fireworks and meaningful rebellion will come from Warren Entsch who, despite a long history of backing down at the last minute and kowtowing to his superiors on LGBTI issues, now has little if anything to lose by burning his bridges. And from Senator Dean Smith, who, to my very considerable surprise, actually appears to be a man of principle. Probably the last one left in the party. They haven’t had time to ruin him yet.


Senator Dean Smith (OutInPerth)

So my best guess – and that’s all it is – is no rebellion, no crossing the floor, a postal vote with ‘maybe’ a free vote to follow, on a Marriage Apartheid Bill that’s probably too flawed to rejoice (pun intended) over. We should not be writing discrimination into law.

To save you hunting all over the web, here’s what the rest of the standard issue bloviators mentioned above has to say: click on their names for the source, and don’t blame me if you hit a paywall.

Do like I do and figure out how to get round it!



So the postal plebiscite is the least worst option for the longevity of the Prime Minister and the stability of the government. But even if Dutton wins the argument in the cabinet, it still has to go through another two ordeals.

One is the Liberal party room. The other is the meeting of the full Coalition party room, where the National Party joins the Liberals. So uncertainty is high and the margin for error wide. But the Dutton compromise is, as things stand, the most likely outcome.


The first crisis will arrive on Monday afternoon, when a party-room meeting will attempt to find a way of resolving the issue of gay marriage. The issue here is fundamental, ideological, and lies at the heart of the reason people become involved in politics: a view of society. The majority of Australians see no problem with gay marriage, while others are implacably opposed. There is no way of bridging this fundamental divide. The conservatives want to postpone any debate; progressive Liberals are refusing to delay it any longer (particularly when some, like Trent Zimmerman, face preselection threats from the right).


How this will plays out is difficult to predict. One of the Liberal MPs who is willing to cross the floor to support a bill legalising same sex marriage told me that this had dragged on too long. “We are going to push ahead. We have ripped the Bandaid off.” Reinforcing that comment is Senator Dean Smith’s argument that the Coalition may be forfeiting the votes of young Australians aged under 35 for generations to come if the Coalition continues to placate its shrinking and rapidly ageing base by opposing marriage equality.


“The more you talk about issues which have nothing to do with people’s lives, the more One Nation’s vote will go up, and not by reason of One Nation’s policies.”

He said the same-sex marriage debate was dangerous in this context because “the fact you are talking about an issue that has nothing to do with their lives will lose you votes”.


The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, and Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan are among those who support a postal plebiscite, but Smith said he would not support such a move.

“I have made it very, very clear that I cannot support and will not support a plebiscite nor a postal plebiscite,” Smith said. “They are corrosive, they are divisive, I think they will stain our parliamentary democracy and not improve it.” He said a postal plebiscite would disenfranchise younger voters and would be open to legal challenge. “The parliament will not allow the plebiscite because it has failed to win community support.”


Warren Entsch has advocated for the policy since the Howard years. He’s got two weeks left before jetting off to New York for a secondment at the UN (the same junket Cory Bernardi enjoyed). Entsch is pushing hard for action now. The four openly gay Liberal MPs and senators want a free vote and are happy to point out that if George Christensen can cross the floor on penalty rates, why can’t they do the same on this issue? Fair point, especially given that as prime minister Abbott said the previous parliament would be the last time MPs and senators would be bound against same-sex marriage…

…But what if the postal plebiscite failed with a low response rate? It wouldn’t have reflected the community’s views on the issue. That would wreck the politics of having chosen this option to get the issue off the agenda. The ginger group would cross the floor, conservatives emboldened by the debacle that was the postal plebiscite would condemn them for doing so, and Turnbull would be left in political no-man’s land.


The best bet is that it would contain three elements, none of which contemplates a voluntary postal ballot – an idea too silly for words.

Stage one would be another attempt to drive the plebiscite bill through the Senate.

Assuming that fails given that the numbers upstairs have not moved, the other elements would kick in: reform advocates would accept that the plebiscite remains Coalition policy for the balance of this term. Reformers would concede this because conservatives would agree to a shelf-life, allowing the government to retire the plebiscite boondoggle and take the promise of a free parliamentary vote to the next election.

For conservatives, it buys another delay of up to 2 years, which is always their goal. For reformers, it buys the clear promise of a parliamentary conscience vote. And for Turnbull? Peace.


The Herald Sun understands pro-gay marriage advocates within the Liberals could reluctantly support the Turnbull Government’s policy of a public vote on the issue — run by postal vote — if it was tied to a commitment of a free vote following the process.


A secret plan to decide same-sex marriage could put a vote to the Australian people by the end of the year, as Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues draft a new strategy that also includes a deadline for parliament to vote on the divisive reform.

In a new bid to break an impasse­ in the Senate, senior minister­s are throwing their suppor­t behind an optional postal vote that will be tied to a new bill to legislate marriage equality and a hard date for all federal MPs to declar­e where they stand.


Lost: have you seen any like this lying around? Urgently needed, Canberra, Monday
Little reward
pic: General Popo

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)