Time for Moderate Libs to Go Postal


Society has gone postal, by Twisted Gent

*Going Postal: in American English slang, means becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. [Wikipedia]

The government continues to twist and turn, trying to avoid the inevitable: passing marriage equality now.

Billed as an attempt to remove the ‘distraction’, Peter Dutton and Matthias Cormann are said to be pushing for a postal plebiscite. The idea comes from our apparently-helpful-but-not-really friend Warren Entsch. With these three aboard it’s no wonder that it’s a terrible idea.

The government finds the idea superficially attractive, because they could give the go ahead without having to pass any legislation first. The question would be written by the government and approved by the party room, not parliament. There a million ways to skew the outcome of polls using slanted questions.

This is even worse that the original plebiscite proposal. Rodney Croome comes right out and calls it rigged. In other words: bad as the previous plebiscite idea was, this is worse.

“A non-compulsory postal vote doesn’t require legislation.

“This means there will be no parliamentary oversight of the question, the campaigns for and against the proposition, or the voting procedure.

“Plebiscite Mark II will be entirely in the hands of a Government that is clearly at the mercy of members who oppose marriage equality.

“Do we really want Malcolm Turnbull writing the plebiscite question with Eric Abetz watching over his shoulder?”

Dutton is said to be incensed at the CEOs letter pushing for marriage equality, because it turned up just as he was preparing to launch this Big Idea. They stole his thunder, making it look as if he was responding to their lobbying. No wonder he went postal on them.

Mr Potato Head’s idea is, like him, half-baked. A postal plebiscite won’t end “distraction”, but intensify it. Arguments over wording, timing etc. would inevitably spark even more party room fights and internal division. That would be followed by the clamour of the campaigning ahead of the vote. Then another round of fights as the government tries to get legislation through the parliament.

And all for a bill that will probably be stuffed to the gills with special privileges to discriminate for the soi-disant “religious”. Which Labor will promptly remove after the next election.

Gay Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman doesn’t have much time for it either, saying Turnbull should allow a free vote now:

“The Turnbull government should allow a free vote on marriage equality in this term or moderate Liberal MPs could sponsor a bill themselves to force the issue as a last resort, Trent Zimmerman has said… ‘My personal and strong view is that it’s time for us to look at a free vote.’

Zimmerman’s comments throw down a challenge to Turnbull, who has never ruled out a free vote but reiterated his support for a plebiscite as recently as Friday.

…Asked about a report from the Daily Telegraph on Monday that conservatives wanted a voluntary postal plebiscite, Zimmerman said it was the wrong path because it would be seen as ‘tricky and sneaky’, it would be nonbinding and its result could be disregarded and it would result in a three-month campaign.”

What’s 18C got to do with it?

Let’s take a moment here to look at what’s happening in another contentious issue. Are there lessons to be learned from the kerfuffle over changing infamous clause 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act? Turnbull got the changes he wanted through the party room, but then did something highly unusual: he sent them straight to Senate for debate. That can only mean one thing.

He’s hoping the Senate will vote it down, so that it will never come to  the House. Why? Because MPs on the left of the party fear that if they vote for the watering down of 18C, they will suffer a backlash from their highly diverse electorates. They are signalling that if the proposals come to the House, they might have to cross the floor.

Let that sink in for a moment. Turnbull is afraid to put the measures into the House, because the small-l wing of the party might actually stand up to him and his extremist right wing buddies, and cross the floor.

“Labor’s Tony Burke suggested the bill would go to the Senate first because “if they can’t get it through the Senate, they don’t want to force their own back bench to have to vote for it”

The proposed changes to the wording of the act, which bring to a head years of debate, are all but certain to be defeated in the Senate by Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team.”

Why is this important? Because it shows Turnbull is now just as afraid of the left of his party as he is of his right. That fear is what is driving the postal plebiscite idea. It offers no opportunities for leftish Libs to exercise their muscle. Nothing need be put before the House. Because he now knows that the much put-upon (and, to date, largely ignored) centre-to-left bulk of his MPs are now in a mood to rebel. They feel they may have to, to save their seats. He is determined to give them no opportunity.

But every vote is an opportunity, including those on, for example, budget measures. Every one is an opportunity for one or more backbenchers to cross the floor. If Turnbull wants to get his Budget through relatively unscathed, he is going to have to give disaffected small-l MPs something for their votes. They should flex their muscles and make it plain: that something must be a free vote on removing John Howards changes to the Marriage Act. Now.

Or else they will “go postal”.*

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)