Senator Cory Bernardi will vote against same-sex marriage no matter what the Australian public says. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Warren Entsch describes the Abetz and Bernardi stance as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘bizarre’. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Same-sex marriage reform advocates within the Turnbull government have reacted angrily to the plans of some hardline conservatives to vote “no change” in Parliament even if a future plebiscite votes “yes”.
Arrangements for the plebiscite are being worked through with a view to a final set of options within weeks.
Opponents, including Abbott loyalist Eric Abetz and conservative strongman Cory Bernardi, have begun speaking out, declaring they will not back the change, regardless of public opinion. One MP said he expected others would also vote against reform, “come what may”.
The move represents a direct challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has publicly stated that the decision of voters, in a yet-to-be-finalised plebiscite, would be reflected absolutely by the government and the Parliament.
Senator Abetz has said he would not necessarily vote with the majority while Senator Bernardi revealed he would definitely not vote in favour of same-sex marriage, regardless of the public’s verdict.
Liberal National MP Warren Entsch, a leading advocate of same-sex marriage, slammed his colleagues’ stance as “bizarre” and “extraordinary”. He pointed out that Senator Abetz had been a part of the very (Abbott) cabinet that had set the plebiscite timetable, in order to forestall a faster parliamentary vote, and that he had expressed no complaints.
He said the Tasmanian backbencher would get the same opportunity to vote against marriage equality as everyone else: “in the plebiscite”.
A national vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage after the next election, is expected to cost about $160 million. Government sources confirmed the “mechanics” of the plebiscite, including its timing, and the question to be put, could go to Cabinet as early as February or March. Mr Entsch also dismissed fears on the party’s right, that the pro-change advocates were hijacking the process, arguing any formula would be taken to the party room first.
Mr Turnbull told Parliament last year that “the consequence of a ‘yes’ vote in the plebiscite will be that same-sex marriage will be legal in Australia”.
“When the Australian people make their decision, that decision will stick,” he said in October. “It will be decisive. It will be respected by this government and by this Parliament and this nation.”
But Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media on Wednesday: “Even if the public voted for [same-sex marriage], I wouldn’t vote for it.
“It goes against what I believe in. This is a substantial issue and, in the annals of public policy, you want to be on the record about your views.”
Senator Bernardi said he still expected Parliament would “respect the views of the Australian people” because not all parliamentarians were as passionate about the issue as he and they would be guided by the plebiscite result.
Senator Abetz, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, earlier said he would reserve his judgment following the plebiscite result.
When asked about Senator Abetz’s comments, Mr Entsch told Fairfax Media: “Given he was part of the decision-making process [on a plebiscite], I find it rather extraordinary.
“It makes you wonder why we would spend millions of dollars on a plebiscite if you’re not going to respect the result. I find it rather bizarre.
“If people make a decision either way we should respect that.
“It will be a very brave individual – either in the House of Representatives or the Senate – who seeks to challenge the views of the Australian people.”
Senator Abetz’s comments come as Mr Abbott prepares to address US anti-gay marriage group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, in New York.
Mr Turnbull has defended his right to speak at the event, saying there were “fellow members of the Coalition who have different views, and they are . . . entitled to express them”.
Mr Entsch has been working on the wording for a plebiscite question with Attorney-General George Brandis to be presented to the Coalition party room early this year.
Coalition frontbencher Steve Ciobo said it would be “passing strange” for politicians to defy the will of the Australian people.
“I think any politician, any member of Parliament, would have to think twice about snubbing their nose at the views of Australians,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
Another conservative Liberal MP said he would expect many Coalition MPs, including himself, who oppose same-sex marriage to abstain from a vote if a plebiscite proved successful. This would respect the public’s verdict while not forcing MPs to vote against their conscience, he said.
The MP, who asked not to be named, said he was concerned about the process leading up to a plebiscite.
“I hope this isn’t just something being cooked up by Warren Entsch and George Brandis,” he said. “There needs to be broad consultation.”
Mr Entsch said “many colleagues” may have voted “no” last year but agreed to the compromise put forward by Mr Abbott. He said Mr Turnbull was doing no more or less than honouring that commitment.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said: “Eric Abetz has let the cat out of the bag, admitting the Liberals are not planning to take any notice of the expressed will of the Australian people. This absurd notion makes a complete joke of our democratic process and renders a $160 million national plebiscite totally pointless.”
Other opponents of same-sex marriage have previously vowed to vote according to the plebiscite.
“Certainly I, as somebody who has advocated for all Australians to have a say, clearly I’ll be bound by what all Australians have to say,” Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said last year.
“I don’t believe that the majority view will support [change], but if that’s not the case then, of course, I would support that.”
Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos appeared to add to the confusion telling Sky News initially that MPs “owe” it to voters to respect their will if they express one, but later stating: “My view on that is if you as a parliamentarian very strongly feel you can’t vote for something based on your conscience, in the Liberal Party we respect that.”
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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.