Turnbull picks sides in same-sex divide
Malcolm Turnbull has set up a showdown with conservative MPs over same-sex marriage after endorsing a bill co-signed by Labor and the Greens and leaving religious protections to the mercy of the Senate.
The Prime Minister, who returns to Australia this morning ahead of the result of the same-sex marriage postal survey being announced at 10am (AEDT), will face pressure from conservatives, including Treasurer Scott Morrison, who are advocating for stronger religious protections.
A gay marriage bill proposed by West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith came under attack yesterday after it received the written endorsement of Labor Senate leader Penny Wong and Greens leader Richard Di Natale under a process approved by Mr Turnbull.
Speaking in Manila, Mr Turnbull said it was “up to the parlia- ment” to resolve the shape of any same-sex marriage legislation and repudiated stronger protections for service providers with conscientious objections to gay wed- dings as having “virtually no prospect” of passing the parliament.
Senator Smith gave notice yesterday he would introduce his bill for consideration in the upper house this afternoon, after the Australian Bureau of Statistics announces the result of the contentious $122 million survey.
Conservative Liberals and the No campaign are standing by a rival same-sex marriage bill proposed by Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson, saying it provides stronger religious protections that will better satisfy the Coalition’s support base. There was also a growing number of Labor MPs last night, including factional heavyweight Don Farrell, who confirmed they would vote against same-sex marriage.
The Australian understands leading conservative and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann led negotiations with Senator Wong on the tactical approach in the
Senate to facilitate the Smith bill.
Several key conservatives have privately vented their anger at leading conservative cabinet colleagues Senator Cormann and Peter Dutton in a sign of emerging divisions in centre-right ranks over the issue. Senator Cormann has maintained a consistent position that if a Yes vote is returned it would be up to parliament to determine the shape of the bill.
Colleagues have told The Australian they believed his support of the Smith bill as a “good starting point” was a betrayal. It is expected Senator Paterson’s bill would likely be used by conservatives, to “bolt-on” amendments to the Smith bill. “He has left us hanging in the breeze,” one MP said.
Mr Dutton was accused of having gone “missing in action” and leaving junior ministers and backbenchers to argue the case for a harder position in support for the Paterson bill. “This is a disaster,” one MP told The Australian. “If the Smith bill goes to the house unchanged, it will be chaos. The PM has obviously given up, it’s all become too hard.”
In response to the Paterson bill, the Prime Minister said any proposals which allowed businesses to decline services to gay weddings had “virtually no prospect of getting through the parliament”.
“I don’t believe Australians would welcome, and certainly the government does not, would not countenance making legal discrimination that is illegal,” he said. “There will be a private member’s bill and amendments can be moved and if people want to move an amendment of that kind, well you know they can.”
Former prime minister John Howard said he adhered to his clear views on the need for religious freedoms in any legislation implementing same-sex marriage but would refrain from making any comment until the result of the survey was known.
Mr Morrison, who is against same-sex marriage, said he supported “strong religious protections” in the event of a Yes vote, arguing this was in line with the government’s commitment.
“I do think there needs to be strong protections,” he said. “I’m aware of the Smith bill and I think there would need to be ... additional protections to those provided in the Dean Smith bill.”
Liberal senators Linda Reynolds and Jane Hume came under fire from colleagues for putting their names to the notice of motion for the Smith bill. Senator Reynolds said she reserved her “position to support amendments that seek to further increase religious protections”.
Victorian Liberal MP Michael Sukkar, assistant to the Treasurer, took aim at the Smith bill by saying that the “signatories on the notice of motion prove that this essentially a Labor-Greens bill”.
WA Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said the Smith bill contained no protections to ensure children were taught in line with the religious convictions of parents.
A number of Labor MPs said they would exercise their conscience vote — which expires at the next election — to vote against any same-sex marriage legislation, including Senator Farrell and Tasmanian senator Helen Polley. South Australian Liberal David Fawcett — who chaired the Senate committee examining a draft bill proposed by the govern- ment earlier this year — said the Paterson bill better reflected the concerns raised in the committee process. Australian Conservatives founder Cory Bernardi made clear he would seek to win the support of disillusioned Liberal Party voters who — in the event of a Yes vote — could feel abandoned if the government failed to provide adequate religious protections.
Kate Wildermuth, left, and Kristen Watt, in Brisbane yesterday, are eagerly anticipating the results of the same-sex-marriage postal survey