Labor leader Bill Shorten has implored same-sex marriage advocates to drop their resistance to a postal ballot and vote Yes, warning that legal challenges and threats of a boycott were exactly what the opponents of change wanted.
His rallying cry struck an immediate chord, with a senior business source saying that corporate Australia, despite misgivings about the postal ballot as expressed this week by Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, was ramping up to join the Yes campaign.
Qantas, a long-time supporter of marriage equality, was “a big supporter of a Yes vote” and would be front and centre in the campaign, a spokeswoman said.
Mr Shorten’s call for unity followed calls for a boycott of the postal vote on Thursday led by former High Court justice Michael Kirby, and two legal challenges lodged by same-sex marriage advocates. Labor – and the government – believes the legal challenges will fail and a postal vote is inevitable.
Mr Shorten told Parliament that while Labor, along with the majority of those who support change, deemed the $122 million postal ballot wasteful, non-authoritive, unnecessary and hurtful to gay and lesbian people and their families, it was important the No vote did not prevail.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to just chuck that in the bin,” he said of the ballot papers that will be mailed out on September 12.
“But let me say to you, that is what they want you to do. The strongest supporters of this survey have always been the most vocal opponents of marriage equality.
“The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.”
‘Act of resistance’
Amid the threats of boycotts and legal challenges, Mr Shorten said people must not be deterred by “illegitimate tactics” and decide to “sit on the sidelines”. He urged them to enrol to vote and to encourage others to do so.
“The most powerful act of resistance and defiance is to vote Yes for equality,” he said.
“Voting Yes is not about endorsing this illegitimate process, it’s about refusing to walk past our fellow Australians when they need us.
“This is my message for business leaders, for sporting clubs, for the union movement, for community groups – it is time now to get involved.”
He reassured that if the No vote prevails, Labor will still have a free vote in Parliament within 100 days of being elected. One Liberal who supports same-sex marriage said if the No vote wins, it would be five years before the Coalition could revisit its policy.
Mr Shorten’s speech followed a warning by Greg Barns, the director of the Yes campaign during the 1999 republic referendum, that a similarly disunited Yes case for same-sex marriage would ensure defeat.
More so because Tony Abbott, who led the charge to defeat the republic in 1999, was taking a leadership role again in a campaign on an issue about which he felt strongly and that also gave him a chance to do combat with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who backs a Yes vote.
Mr Abbott has united with former prime minister John Howard to campaign against same-sex marriage as part of the Marriage Alliance group.
Greens urge voters to get ready
The Greens, who oppose the postal vote and were part of one of the legal challenges lodged in the High Court on Thursday are also starting to come around. With just two weeks for people to enrol or update their details on the electoral roll, Greens leader Richard Di Natale said it was best to be prepared in the event the “shonky postal vote” was not “knocked off” by the court.
“Make sure your whole household has checked their enrolment and is ready to go,” he said.
The postal ballot, to be conducted as a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, will ask: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
A chief complaint about the three-month campaign is that gay people and their families will be exposed to hateful slurs, as has already been the case with comments made about the children of same-sex couples.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who conceived the postal ballot to break the impasse inside the Coalition, said he would not cop any hate speech.
“I condemn absolutely people who are on the fringes of this argument – whether they are on the Left or the Right – putting out garbage about children of gay couples and all of that is rightly condemned. It has no place in any debate in our country,” he said.
Labor pledge to LGBTI people
In his speech, Mr Shorten said Labor would stand with LGBTI people.
“I want you to know, you are not alone,” he said.
“Over the next few months, terrible things will be said about you and your families, about your lives, your identities, your choices, and the Prime Minister will not stand up for you.
“I give you this promise. We stand with you. When you do not feel like you have a voice, we will speak up for you.
“When you feel attacked, we will defend you. When we hear prejudice and discrimination, we will not cross the road and pretend it is not happening, we will call it out.”
Mr Kirby said the postal ballot was “just a complete political improvisation and it’s completely unacceptable and it should stop”.
“I feel as a citizen I’m being treated in a second-class way by interposing an arrangement of this kind between the making of the law in Parliament, which is where it should be done.”
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