Turn­bull picks sides in same-sex di­vide

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - JOE KELLY SI­MON BEN­SON

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.

LYN­DON MECHIELSEN

Kate Wil­der­muth, left, and Kris­ten Watt, in Bris­bane yes­ter­day, are ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing the re­sults of the same-sex-mar­riage postal sur­vey

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