Tim Wilson: Plebiscite Now

pic: Tim Wilson for Goldstein

pic: Tim Wilson for Goldstein

After my interview with Alex Greenwich of Australian Marriage Equality, who is strongly opposed to a plebiscite on equal marriage, I turned next to Tim Wilson, ex-IPA, former Human Rights Commissioner and now out-gay MP for the very safe Liberal seat of Goldstein. The full interview is in the podcast at the end of this post.

Wilson doesn’t like hanging about. He says he’s already sat through seven years of Labor not doing very much on marriage equality, and although a plebiscite is not his preferred option, it offers the only pathway forward.

“If it is necessary to get it done, then so be it . . . I want the issue dealt with.”

There’s a lot of pressure for the government to abandon the plebiscite, with strong statements from Shelley Argent of PFLAG, among others. Many want the government instead to go direct to a free vote, preferably with a cross party bill.

“[That’s] A nice thing for some activists to put out there [but] it won’t make it on to the notice paper to be debated, so it’s largely a tactical push by some people in defiance of the political reality. The govt has won, it has a mandate to push forward the plebiscite.”

In addition he thinks it’s important the government is seen to do what it promised.

“Some people want to keep trust with the Australian people, and some, rightly or wrongly, genuinely believe there is no public support for marriage equality”

He firmly squashed any speculation that the four out gay members of the Coalition party room might cross the floor to derail a plebiscite. It’s a fantasy, he says, it isn’t going to happen, especially as we still don’t know the make-up of the Senate.  He believes there’s a very real chance that a bill wouldn’t make it through the Senate without a plebiscite.

“[That idea] is for the entertainment of speculators but will not amount to a material outcome”

When asked about the timing of a plebiscite, he conceded that it is very likely off the agenda for this year, not through any deliberate effort to delay it, simply due to lack of time the lack of time.

He agrees with the PM that, following a lot of behind the scenes discussions, a marriage equality bill would pass both houses after a win in a plebiscite, even though some people might not vote for it because of religious objections, or the feelings in their own electorate. The responsible course of action for such MPs would be to abstain.

He expects we will see the text of the plebiscite enabling bill around mid September, after Parliament resumes. The bill is apparently modelled on the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act

Referring to speculation that Labor and the Greens could block the plebiscite legislate, he says

“I hope Labor and the Greens will do the honourable and decent thing and put gay and lesbian couples first by not opposing a plebiscite.”

I asked him how we could be sure debate would be respectful. He criticized people on all sides for intemperate language: on one side calling people recalcitrant or bigot for opposing a change in the law; on the other, accusing LGBTI people of wanting destroy marriage and the family.

“Neither are right. The way we’re going to have respectful debate is by us leading by example.”

But he was extremely confident there would be no new religious exemptions, beyond those for ministers of religion, in any eventual marriage bill.

Turning to Safe Schools, which was defunded earlier this year amid great controversy, he said we needed to ensure that anti-bullying programs to engender respect for minorities were in line with community standards, and there were aspects of Safe Schools that were not. Any new anti-bullying program has to be done with acknowledgement that there are aspects of the Safe Schools program that have drawn controversy in the past and those would need to be addressed.

Just.equal have launched a major survey into the marriage equality plebiscite: please let them know what you think https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Plebiscite_Survey_Facebook

The full interview podcast is available below. You can subscribe to my Rainbow Report podcasts on iTunes.

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)