The Australian – 30 June 2016
Paul Kelly (Editor-At-Large, Sydney) & Dennis Shanahan (Political Editor, Canberra)
Malcolm Turnbull has demanded that Bill Shorten pass legislation allowing a plebiscite on same-sex marriage if the Coalition is re-elected because it would be “untenable” for Labor to defy the wish of the Australian people and deny such a clear mandate.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian, the Prime Minister also attacked the Opposition Leader’s claims a plebiscite would be hateful, ugly and homophobic, saying Mr Shorten showed “scant respect” for the public and the ability to conduct a civil debate.
As the question of a plebiscite becomes a central issue in the last days of the campaign, Mr Turnbull has fully committed to a national vote on same-sex marriage and accused Mr Shorten of disrespecting the public.
While Mr Turnbull believes a change to the Marriage Act would “sail through parliament” if the public voted for such change, the Coalition faces a roadblock because the plebiscite can’t be held unless the Senate passes the legislation to allow a national vote.
Mr Shorten does not support a plebiscite, which he described as a “taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia”, and has predicted “civil war” within the Liberal Party over the plebiscite legislation.
But The Australian revealed yesterday that, in the final days of the 2013 election campaign, Mr Shorten told religious leaders and Christian voters he was “perfectly relaxed” about the idea of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
In his strongest support for such a plebiscite, Mr Turnbull said yesterday a national vote on same-sex marriage was a clear Coalition policy, was overwhelmingly supported by the people, and was part of the tradition of solving contentious social issues.
“Our commitment is part of our policy; it will be put, and I have no doubt it will be passed by the parliament,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Shorten said yesterday: “Why should we have our taxes paid so Malcolm Turnbull can have a deal with the right wing of the Liberal Party and unleash … there will be ugly elements in this debate.’’
In the election-eve interview in Sydney, Mr Turnbull also said a Coalition victory would be a mandate for the entire 2016 budget to pass the Senate, and strong border protection was essential to sustain the “most successful multicultural nation” and avoid the “anxiety over immigration” that had occurred in Britain with the Brexit vote. The Prime Minister said the other national vote proposed for next year, the referendum on recognising indigenous Australians in the Constitution, was a challenge and had not been helped by Mr Shorten’s raising of the idea of a treaty as part of the discussion.
Since the ALP campaign launch in Penrith 11 days ago, Mr Shorten has launched a Medicare scare, raised the importance of the issue of same-sex marriage and said it was his intention to introduce same-sex marriage legislation as his first act in parliament if Labor is elected.
The Opposition Leader has also accused Mr Turnbull of doing a “grubby deal” with the conservatives of the Liberal Party to hold a plebiscite as a means of securing his leadership.
Mr Turnbull said a plebiscite, which would be funded for a “yes” and “no” case, was “our policy, and we have taken it to the election, and if we are returned, we will hold a plebiscite”.
“I know there are hypothetical questions but I am very confident a plebiscite bill will be passed by the parliament,” he said.
“I think it would be very rash of any political party to deny the Australian people a say on this issue when it is clear a majority do want a say, and particularly when a government is returned on the very clear mandate to do it.”
Mr Turnbull said it was “untenable” for Labor to block legislation to set up the national vote because “they are in a position where their leader supported it personally just three years ago and you know that whenever there is a poll, most people want to have a say”.
“It is extremely democratic,’’ the Prime Minister said.
“If you say to people, ‘Who do you want to decide this, you or the politicians?’ they say ‘us’.”
Mr Turnbull said a national vote would settle the issue of same-sex marriage, although he was confident a plebiscite would approve of a change to the Marriage Act.
“There is strong support for the plebiscite from people of both persuasions, and I think the argument that the Australian people can’t be trusted to have a civil discussion really pays very scant respect for the maturity of our democracy,” he said.
“You have to remember a plebiscite of this kind is not part of our tradition.
“Referendums are absolutely part of our political life and constitutional processes, so Australians are very familiar with determining controversial issues by a national vote, not the least of which was the republic.”
Mr Turnbull said it was feasible to have a plebiscite before the end of the year, and he wanted it sooner rather than later, but there were processes to be gone through, including requirements for the Australian Electoral Commission.
It is understood the plebiscite would pass on a simple majority of the vote, unlike a referendum, which requires a majority of people in a majority of states to succeed. Voting will be compulsory.
On holding a referendum for recognition in the Constitution of indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister said the “chances are good but everything does depend on getting a recommendation from the referendum council which parliament can agree to, which is both meaningful and supported by indigenous Australians and can carry the day at the referendum”.
“I am confident we can hold it before the end of the year,” he said. “As far as the plebiscite is concerned, the expectation is that there will be some funding, to be determined, similar to a referendum for both a yes and no case.”