A six-hour Coalition party room meeting delivered the verdict. Opposition to same sex marriage remains party policy; there will be no conscience vote.
By calling the snap meeting, the Prime Minister angered many frontbench colleagues with both a lack of formal warning and by including the very conservative National Party in the meeting. It is reported that Christopher Pyne described the inclusion of the Nationals as akin to ‘branch stacking’. The policy of the party room now means that those front bench members who wish to vote according to their conscience will need to resign from the front bench. With Abbott Government policy reaffirmed, a vote for same sex marriage cannot be successful in the life of the current parliament.
The party room did, however, decide that it might recommend a greater voice for the Australian people through a plebiscite or a constitutional referendum, sometime after the next election.
The High Court has previously ruled that it is up to the parliament to decide on the state of marriage – whether it is between a man and a woman, so such a plebiscite is likely to merely take the pulse of the nation, with a bill through the both Houses the required next step.
Listen on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program as PM Abbott, Senator Penny Wong and Treasurer Joe Hockey share their views on yesterday’s meeting and what it means for same-sex marriage in Australia.
Party politics no longer works. Here we have both major parties trying to force individuals to vote against their conscience. First up the Liberal NP Coalition has confirmed that members must stick to the party line that opposes same sex marriage. The Labor Party currently has a free vote, but based on its recent decisions at the ALP National Conference in July, after the next term members will be forced to agree with the Labor Party line of supporting same sex marriage. This leaves no wriggle room for politicians from either side.
How juvenile is this? Yes we have a Westminster Party system, and stability is always a concern. But in matters of conscience, such as same sex marriage or euthanasia, it seems our politicians must march in lock step – backwards. The issue of same sex marriage just won’t go away. Why should it? It’s a fundamental human right to be treated equally.
The electorate wants same sex marriage – about 70 per cent according to the most recent polls. But 30 per cent don’t. As with many difficult societal issues, there has to be room for those of different faiths and beliefs to follow their hearts as well as their heads. Party politics works well on matters of national security, the economy and building infrastructure – big-ticket policy. But when it comes to matters of conscience, it is simply wrong for a group of men in blue ties or women in red jackets to hold sway over their colleagues’ right to follow their conscience.
Around the world we are seeing a dismantling of old-style politics. The really important debates are shifting from parliaments to online fora and activism. If our current masters wish to remain relevant, they need to understand that rigid party policy is simply out of step and out of touch with modern-day, mainstream Australia.
What do you think? Is yesterday’s party room vote evidence that party politics has had its day? Or is it good process to consider same sex marriage policy through a joint party room vote?