A national vote on legalising same-sex marriage, scheduled for February, looks doomed after talks between the government and Labor collapsed amid acrimony and recriminations in Brisbane today.
Attorney-general George Brandis was seeking a way forward on Malcolm Turnbull’s election promise after Labor announced it would block the plebiscite proposal in the Senate. He met with his Opposition counterpart Mark Dreyfus and ALP equality spokesperson Terri Butler looking for a compromise.
But it appeared to be a continuing game of brinkmanship in which the two sides refused to put any cards on the table, arguing instead that other side should put forward their proposals.
Brandis said that he had asked the Labor attendees repeatedly – nine times, he claimed – for their proposals to adjust the plans for the plebiscite.
Dreyfus, meanwhile, said he was surprised that Brandis had not taken any proposals to the meeting, given that the opposition had repeatedly raised concerns on issues like funding balances for the “yes” and “no” campaigns, and the potential for hate speech from opponents of same-sex marriage.
“I’m surprised the minister didn’t come with something in hand. It was the Attorney-General who requested the meeting,” Mr Dreyfus said, according to The Australian.
Dreyfus claimed “it felt like we were talking to George Christensen” when he spoke with Brandis – a reference to a prominent anti-marriage LNP backbencher from Queensland – as the ALP tried to portray the issue as the prime minister being held captive to the right wing of his party.
The disastrous meeting risks being the nail in the coffin for the plebsicite proposal, which stands as Coalition policy, announced under Tony Abbott, for preceding a free vote in parliament.
The federal Labor partyroom has yet to declare a final position on the issue. That will follow a debate among MPs and Senators next month, at which Labor leader Bill Shorten is expected to recommend rejecting the plan.
There’s a faint hope of a solution, with the attorney-general offering a second meeting to discuss the issue ahead of Parliament returning on October 10, but with both sides appearing intransigent in the positions, any chance of marriage equality in Australian in the next few years now looks increasingly slim, especially with leaders of the pro camp calling for the plebiscite to be scrapped.
Advocate Rodney Croome said the government’s plebiscite plan was “fundamentally flawed and needs to be knocked on the head”.
“The sooner a plebiscite is killed off the sooner we can get back on the path of a vote in parliament,” he said.
“It’s not Labor or the Senate cross-benchers who are standing in the way of a plebiscite, it’s the majority of LGBTI people and our families because we refuse to suffer a plebiscite under any circumstances and insist on a vote in parliament instead.”
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