Social conservatives in the Liberal Party have raised the spectre of the revolt against Malcolm Turnbull’s position on emissions trading – which cost him the leadership – to warn Tony Abbott against changing the party’s position on marriage equality.
Opponents of allowing a free vote among Liberal MPs, which would most likely pave the way for a change to the Marriage Act through Parliament, are warning the prime minister of mounting hostility within the party, according to a report by Latika Bourke in Fairfax Media.
The MPs are reporting the rank and file are “going feral”, arguing any currently elected MP has no mandate for an alternate view on marriage equality, and claim there isn’t support in the partyroom for a change to a free vote anyway.
LNP backbencher George Christensen is quoted as saying the “party membership didn’t like being ignored on the ETS and they won’t on this one either”.
It’s an ominous warning because grassroots anger was a key element of the campaign to depose Malcolm Turnbull as leader in 2009. His position on the then Labor government’s emissions trading scheme ended up costing him the leadership – a process that kicked off when Tony Abbott, then one of Turnbull’s frontbenchers, walked into his office and resigned.
(While the opposition to marriage equality may well be ferocious in some Liberal branches, some of the opposition to the ETS in 2009 was led by conservative elements beyond the Liberal Party, including the Salt Shakers and the Catch the Fire ministries led by Danny Nalliah. An evangelical preacher who once claimed a link between the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and abortion law in the State of Victoria, Nalliah’s website at the time was buzzing with letters from MPs acknowledging correspondence on climate change.)
The warnings from the backbenchers expose once again the internal divisions within the Coalition on the subject. Public polling has repeatedly shown two-thirds or more of Australian voters support same-sex marriage. Polling by Crosby-Textor, the Coalition-aligned research firm, also suggests even those opposed to marriage equality don’t see it as an important issue.
And all this comes after the leadership destabilisation of the past summer over about Abbott’s failure to consult broadly enough with in the party on some issues, including the awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip which triggered an outburst of anger from the party’s moderate wing. Abbott needs eyes in the back of his head.
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