Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Marriage equality will arrive in Australia—no one seriously doubts that—but by trying to delay or stop it, neither Tony Abbott nor his Liberal/National Coalition Government can survive the looming political battle. Even the opponents of marriage equality in their party know they’re doomed, and they’re starting to lash out in frustration.
Last week, Tony Abbott—a rabidly conservative Roman Catholic and staunch opponent of marriage equality—forced a political move to ensure that he could force his will on his own front bench. Using a rare political trick, he had the question of a conscience vote taken up in a joint caucus meeting of his own Liberal Party MPs in the House, along with MPs of his coalition partners, the rural-based hard-right National Party, as well as Senators. It was meant to pack the room with pro-discrimination folks to ensure he’d get his way.
The Nationals are as staunchly opposed to marriage equality as Abbott is, but his own Liberal Party has large numbers in support of marriage equality—including on his front bench. The only way to ensure that his MPs wouldn’t get a conscious vote was to beef up the anti-gay side, and so he did exactly that, and a conscience vote was rejected, just as Tony demanded it must be.
Tony Abbot is a crass partisan moron on his best days, but his power play is going over like a cup of cold sick, even among his Liberal Party MPs. Over the past week, several Liberal Party MPs announced that they’ll cross the floor and vote for marriage equality if they get the chance, so Tony has retaliated by promising to sack any frontbench MP who defies him.
Liberal Party MPs have continued to speak out, and today Abbott declared there "would be consequences" for any Liberal Party MP who doesn’t shut up about marriage equality. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop scolded colleagues that they should think how their advocacy of marriage equality in defiance of Abbott will effect an upcoming by-election in Western Australia.
The problems of Tony Abbott and his Liberal/National Coalition are far greater than some MPs choosing to stand on principle and not be one of Tony’s obedient serfs. Abbott is very unpopular, and polls show that if the election were held now, the Coalition would be turfed out in a massive swing to the Australian Labor Party.
Obviously, Julie, Tony, and the other pro-discrimination MPs know all that—they can read the headlines in the newspapers. They’re lashing out irrationally because the real problem they have with marriage equality is not that some Liberal MPs have dared to speak out in favour of it, but that the Coalition opposes it and is willing to play silly games to prevent it.
70% of Australians back marriage equality, as do hundreds of major Australian business (with more joining the list every day), so Abbott and his fellow hard-right religionists are running out of options. Denying a conscience vote on marriage equality assures it won’t get through the Australian Parliament.
So, with Liberals openly fighting about marriage equality, Abbot and his closest far-right allies are looking for ways to stop the infighting as well as stop marriage equality. It appears likely that they’ll approve some sort of popular vote, and therein lies the rub.
The government could go with a referendum, which is what the anti-gay far right wants because it’s almost impossible to pass. A referendum would require a majority vote of all Australian voters, AND approval by majority vote in a majority of states—a double majority, as it’s called—which seldom happens. However, a referendum isn’t necessary, since referenda in Australia deal with constitutional change, and none is required.
So, some in the government are talking about a plebiscite in which it’s compulsory to vote, but—and this is significant—the result is advisory only. They’re talking about holding it before the next national election, which would be an expensive stunt that would please no one—not the supporters of marriage equality, who never wanted a popular vote, and certainly not the far-right supporters of discrimination who demand a referendum. (For more details on the differences, see: “Plebiscite or Referendum – What's the Difference”).
I think the most likely outcome is that cabinet will approve a plebiscite and order that it be held at the next national election, because it would be political suicide to hold it at any other time. The second most likely is to vow to hold a vote—plebiscite or referendum—after the next election, if they win.
Meanwhile, Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, has pledged that if the ALP wins the Australian elections next year, they’ll enact marriage equality in their first 100 days. If I bet with real money, I’d place my bet on this as the way Australia will finally get marriage equality.
Because Labor has already staked out it’s pro-equality position, and given that Tony Abbott’s political games have positioned his party in support of discrimination and against the will of the majority, it’s pretty certain that the already unpopular Abbott has sealed his fate.
I think it’s pretty certain that Tony Abbott will be rolled as Prime Minister well before the next election so that the Liberal Party can have at least a slight hope of avoiding a catastrophic landslide defeat next year. At the moment, I don’t think that even sacking Abbott will help the Coalition.
So, by denying a conscience vote on marriage equality in the Australian Parliament, Tony Abbott has pretty much guaranteed that, one way or another, he and his Liberal/National Coalition Government cannot survive the looming political battle that Tony’s launched. They all know it, too.