Federal Parliament is almost falling over itself to try to pass marriage equality into law, while failing to pass marriage equality into law.
This morning, one after the other, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens MP Adam Bandt both introduced bills that would amend the Marriage Act to unwind John Howard’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage. Bandt’s bill is a crossbench bill with Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan.
The almost identical bills are being introduced ahead of both cabinet and the Coalition party room considering the details of the plebiscite legislation. There is also a third piece of legislation from the last Parliament and reintroduced last week by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young — which would also bring about marriage equality — set for debate on Thursday in the Senate.
Both Shorten and Bandt in their speeches for their own bills insisted that it wasn’t about which party finally got their own bill made into law, while both insisting on having their own bill.
[Five ways to make the marriage equality plebiscite suck less]
Because the government controls the numbers in the House of Representatives — at least most of the time — it is unlikely that either bill will be brought on for a vote. In a press conference today, Wilkie said that it would only need three government MPs to cross the floor to vote with Labor and the crossbench in the House of Representatives to pass the bill into law. But both the Greens and Labor are setting out their positions as Labor begins to negotiate whether it would support a plebiscite after the plebiscite legislation gets to the Senate.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing a roadblock with the legislation, after tax-free-status-loving church groups complained over the weekend that he had promised them at least $10 million in taxpayer funding to run campaigns against marriage equality. Liberal backbencher and spokesperson for the far right of his party Eric Abetz then claimed that the public funding was a condition of the plebiscite as discussed in the party room meeting in August last year — a specific detail for the same party room meeting that reportedly did not decide on whether it should be a plebiscite or a referendum.
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This claim was rejected by Liberal MP Warren Entsch this morning, and Entsch, along with Trent Zimmerman and Senator Dean Smith are indicating that they are opposed to public funding for the Yes and No campaigns.
Labor, too, has said that in addition to making the plebiscite auto-enabling (that is, passing the change and ensuring it takes effect if a majority of Australians vote “yes”), one of the bare minimum requirements for the party to support the legislation would be no public funding for the Yes and No campaigns.
Turnbull’s awkward marriage between the right of his party and the need to actually achieve something through pragmatism rears its head again.