Perhaps we lauded Robert McClelland’s wedging capabilities prematurely. Yesterday’s announcement about the removal of discrimination against same-s-x couples in Commonwealth legislation and services has been immediately overtaken by debate over the ACT’s same-s-x civil union legislation. The wedgers might end up wedged themselves.
McClelland downplayed the issue yesterday, saying he was still in discussions with the ACT Government, which has indicated a willingness to compromise over the issue of ceremonies for civil unions. But as Misha Schubert reported today, the ACT Government intends to press ahead regardless of whether it manages a deal with the Commonwealth.
This sets up some interesting dilemmas for the ALP. Last year, ACT Senator Gary Humphries – normally a social conservative – stuck up for his voters and crossed the floor to oppose the Howard Government’s overturning of the previous iteration of the ACT’s laws. Humphries’ office confirmed he’ll do exactly the same thing if the Government decides to overturn the ACT bill. Last time around, Humphries joined the ALP and minor party senators in opposing the disallowance motion, meaning the then-Government only got over the line of the vote of Steve Fielding.
At the time, Kevin Rudd declared that it wasn’t Labor policy to overturn such laws. “On these matters, state and territories are answerable to their own jurisdictions.” What a difference being in power makes.
Federal Labor is claiming that the ACT’s inclusion of a ceremony in the bill is the big difference between now and last June. Maybe. Or maybe the political sensitivity of upsetting religious groups is gnawing at Labor strategists. The Government will find itself the target of vigorous lobbying from the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby, which has been quick to rev up its homophobic rhetoric, demanding that the Government overturn any ACT bill establishing any “marriage-like” unions. Islamic groups, too, have criticised the bill.
Unlike the Liberals, the ALP, of course, has rather strict rules against crossing the floor. Kate Lundy’s office confirmed to Crikey today that, in the event that the Government decides to overturn the ACT laws, she will not cross the floor as she will be bound by Caucus’s decision, although ostensibly that leaves open the possibility of abstention. We contacted Penny Wong’s office but had not received a response by deadline – but as a Cabinet Minister, she would have little choice but to support overturning the bill.
Meanwhile, between this and McClelland revealing how limited the powers of the Haneef Inquiry would be, the Government’s laudable and overdue removal of discriminatory legislation has vanished from the news cycle. Sometimes you can’t win, eh Bob?
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