Ding dong! The plebiscite is (all but) dead.
I don't want to shatter your illusions but Australia is much like most other Western nations these days. It's a country marked by bitter divisions and for some time, has been host to a series of parliaments who haven't been able to play well together. Think minority governments who are constantly sparring with one another and tapping into the handful of independents who often allow the government of the day to hold sway.
Unlike most every Western nation, Australia has not yet seen fit to offer Same Sex Marriage to its citizens. This is despite what polls and the majority of the Australian public know: Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of Same Sex Marriage, and, are tired of the political machine in place aimed at stopping it.
During the Bush era, one of Australia's longest serving prime ministers, John Howard, followed the USA's lead back in 2004 and changed the country's Marriage Act so that it explicitly defined marriage as a union between 'a man' and 'a woman'. This was designed to preempt what politicians saw was coming around the corner: the general public's approval of same sex unions.
Once Howard's government was finally voted out in December 2007, after an eleven year term, Australia swung back towards the left. But public opinion had not quite reached the point it has today and in two divisive terms of government (which included the ousting of a Prime Minister), the left failed to make any progress on the grounds of same sex unions. After the public grew tired of the left's factional fighting, one of the most divisive mainstream political figures of the modern era emerged: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Catholic background and ties, shrewd and ultra conservative, he pushed Australia back to the right and, among his controversial policies (including those of towing back the boats of migrants arriving from Indonesian waters) was a binding policy in which members of his Liberal party were silenced on the issue of same sex unions. Under his leadership, the Liberals could not have a free vote on the issue which by his arrival in parliament in 2013 had become a mainstream issue. To appease the other conservatives in his party (and its coalition partner the National Party), he devised the idea of a non binding Plebiscite, which would buy the government time and allow for the further postponement of debates and any resolution of the matter.
It was a policy that outraged many in the public, and though Abbott was to fall on his sword in a leadership challenge, it's a policy that his replacement, Malcolm Turnbull has chosen to maintain.
Today, the opposition effectively torpedoed the plebiscite citing studies and opinions which pointed to it being a costly, divisive, and ultimately non binding course of action. Public debate in recent months has focused on the Irish example where bitter campaigns financed by the church and other conservative interests led to all kinds of hate speech filling the public arena and spurring threats of violence and discrimination among the LGBT community.
The bill will still go to the senate where it is likely to fail, but the question remains, what will the Current Wizard of Oz do? Will he continue to hide behind the safety jacket of Tony Abbott's policy, shielding him from the wrath of the conservatives within his party, or, will he, as a self professed supporter of Same Sex Marriage actually grow a pair and stand up to his party faction, allowing all of its members a free vote on the issue and an end to what feels like has been an endless debate?
The wisest of all of Australia's political commentators has her thoughts here.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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