It's starting to look like Labor will block the government's marriage plebiscite in the Senate

Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

The Turnbull government’s plan to hold a national vote on marriage equality on February 11 next year looks set to defeated in the Senate, with ALP leader Bill Shorten signalling the Opposition will block the proposal.

Because The Greens and a number of crossbench senators, including three from the Nick Xenophon Team, plus Derryn Hinch, have already said they will vote against the proposal, the Coalition needs the support of Labor for the plebiscite to proceed.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is introducing the legislation for the plebiscite to the House of Representatives today after the Coalition party room signed off on government’s proposal yesterday.

The plebiscite question is: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”, and voting will be compulsory, with the result determined by a national majority.

However, the proposal still needs to be signed off by parliament, including the Senate, where Labor looks set to block it because the government is proposing giving $7.5 million for campaigning to both the “yes” and “no” campaigns.

And it may take up to three weeks for the ALP to give its official position on how it will vote, with Shorten leaving on an overseas trip to Canada today and the Labor caucus unlikely to meet to debate the issue until the end of the month.

The Opposition leader released a statement before departing, saying:

The fact the Liberals announced public funding to give a platform to bigotry shows no interest from the Government work with Labor on this.

He is deliberately sabotaging the process to make it difficult for even the most ardent supporters of marriage equality to back it.

It’s clear the extreme right wing of the Liberal party are setting marriage equality up to fail.

History will record Malcolm Turnbull as a fraud on marriage equality, the man who had the opportunity to make it happen but cowered in the face of Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz, the Prime Minister who broke the nation’s heart.

It shows how weak he is – that he’s willing to put extremists above what he genuinely believes, that a plebiscite is a terrible idea.

I am gravely concerned about the plebiscite and over the coming days and weeks, we will be sitting down with people affected, families and mental health experts about the harm a plebiscite will cause.

He has no idea of the harm this could inflict on so many people and their families.

If Labor does block the plebiscite plan, there’s not alternative timeframe for the introduction of marriage equality in Australia.

Labor’s preferred position is to hold a vote in parliament to introduce same-sex marriage. On Monday Shorten tabled a private member’s bill to that effect.

Attorney-general George Brandis accused the opposition of playing politics with the issue.

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