MALCOLM TURNBULL: It’s the postal vote or nothing if you want same-sex marriage

Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has raised the stakes in the debate over same-sex marriage, saying that if the government’s plan for a non-compulsory postal vote is struck down by legal action, there won’t be a vote on the issue in parliament.

Speaking at a media conference on Thursday morning, the prime minister ruled out any chance of that a private members bill for same-sex marriage, proposed by some members of his party will go ahead.

“Our policy is very clear. We will not facilitate the introduction of a private members’ bill on this matter unless the Australian people have given their support through a ‘yes’ vote through this national vote that we are now undertaking,” he said.

The prime minister called a special meeting of the Liberal Party room on Monday to debate the issue after a concerted push for a parliamentary “free vote” emerged among several Coalition MPs.

Liberal MPs emerged from the two-hour meeting backing the government’s existing policy for a compulsory national plebiscite by an overwhelming majority, but with that proposal already rejected once by the senate, a non-compulsory postal vote, which does not require parliamentary approval, became plan B.

The senate rejected the plebiscite idea for a second time on Wednesday, and same-sex marriage advocates are launching a legal challenge against the $122 million postal vote plan.

The non-binding vote would then determine whether parliament then votes on the issue. Turnbull said a majority yes vote would result in a free vote in parliament, but there would be no parliamentary debate if the result was no.

Turnbull’s announcement today will undoubtedly please the hardline conservatives in his party, including former PM Tony Abbott, who plans to campaign for a no vote, claiming it’s a matter of free speech, religious freedom and a battle against political correctness.

A key part of the strategy for opponents of marriage equality has been to delay a decision on the issue and they will undoubtedly relish the prospect of advocates in favour of same-sex marriage sinking any chance of a resolution on the issue, which has now dragged on for more than two years as a government policy debate after Ireland voted yes on the issue in May 2015.