Australian Parliament House

The Senate to Parliament: Do your job!

Tony AbbottThe pitiful anti-marriage equality manoeuverings and double-dealings of our illustrious former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, culminated on 11 August in the defeat of a much-anticipated conscience vote on marriage equality being afforded to the members of the Coalition government.

That defeat was promptly followed by vague and confused suggestions of a plebiscite on the issue sometime after the next federal election.

These events didn’t come as huge surprise to many, given the Coalition’s tortured track-record on marriage equality, and LGBTI rights generally.

How the matter is being handled in Canberra is particularly appalling since Parliament has the power to pass the required legislation, as confirmed by the High Court of Australia.

Malcolm TurnbullWhen earlier this week Malcolm Turnbull unseated Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, everyone anticipated an immediate change in Coalition policy on marriage equality, given Malcolm Turnbull’s repeated assurances of his personal support for marriage equality.

Sadly it became immediately apparent that the deal which secured Malcolm Turnbull the numbers required to challenge Tony Abbott, also included an undertaking that he would not move on the Coalition’s existing policies, including climate change and marriage equality.

Enter the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee.

Following the defeat of a conscience vote for Coalition members on 11 August, and the subsequent talks of a plebiscite, the Senate referred the matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia to an inquiry on 20 August.

After considering the written submissions, undertaking a public hearing, and deliberating on the idea of a plebiscite of referendum on marriage equality, the Committee delivered its report on 16 September.

The Committee’s report unequivocally rejected the idea of a plebiscite or referendum on marriage equality, and the majority recommended the Parliament pass the required legislation as a matter of urgency:

The committee recommends that a bill to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for the marriage between two people regardless of their sex is introduced into the Parliament as a matter of urgency, with all parliamentarians being allowed a conscience vote.
Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, The Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (September 2015)

The Committee’s report provides an exhaustive summary of the various options available to achieve marriage equality in Australia, and the diverging views on the appropriateness of each of those options.

In arriving at its recommendation for a Parliamentary vote, the Committee observed that:

4.1 On the basis of the evidence before the committee and the experience, concerns and expertise of submitters and witnesses, the committee does not support a plebiscite or a referendum on the matter of marriage in Australia. The High Court’s decision in The Commonwealth v The Australian Capital Territory renders a referendum redundant. Further, as the evidence to this committee emphasised, the matter of marriage is not one which should be decided by a popular vote. Whether the definition of marriage should be changed to encompass the union of two people, regardless of sex, is a matter which is squarely within the Parliament’s power to legislate.

4.2 In the committee’s view a bill to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to provide for the marriage between two people regardless of sex should be introduced into the Parliament as a matter of urgency.

4.3 The committee strongly supports a conscience vote for all members of the Parliament on any bill to amend the definition of marriage.
Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, The Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (September 2015)

Not surprisingly, the minority Coalition members of the Committee delivered a dissenting report at the end of the Committee’s conclusions:

The Government Senators do not support the recommendation of the Labor, Green Independent majority. We recommend that the matter of amending the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for the marriage between two people regardless of their sex be addressed by a compulsory national plebiscite.
Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, The Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (September 2015)

That dissent, together with the comments made by Coalition Senator Ian Macdonald, sums up the contempt the government has for the LGBTI community.

Regardless, the majority of the Senate Committee had spoken clearly, so over to you Prime Minister …


The full Senate report:

2 Comments

  1. Brian Jones

    Commission is stacked with Leftards and you expect us to tick off on a 100% biased report. Question: Why didn’t the Leftards when they had majority power in government pass this ever so important YAWN gay marriage bill? If the majority want it then it will pass no worries through a plebiscite, Oh maybe we’ve be feed an exaggeration on the polls you Leftards have been pushing down our throats how the majority want it. Did the Irish gay community suffer a terrible back lash in the lead up to a popular cant argue with that vote on the issue? Why are Australians so different we can’t as citizens have our individual say? When did politicians represent 100% of there electorate? Biggest Bigots of all are the Leftards. They know best for everyone.

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    1. The Vue Post

      Thank you for your comment Brian.

      At the outset we must note we find your choice of language, especially the repeated use of the word ‘Leftards,’ curious given you are complaining of a perceived bias in the report.

      First, we would like to point out that the Senate’s composition represents the will of the people. Voters could have handed control of the Senate to the government, but they chose not to do so. Consequently, you may need to consider that the Senate may be more representative of the views of all Australians than you are willing to give them credit for.

      May we also point out that Ireland had to have a referendum to amend their Constitution, because the Irish Constitution prevented their Parliament from passing the required legislation.

      That’s not the case in Australia. Our Parliament has the power to make the necessary legislative changes, as already confirmed by the High Court of Australia, the arbiter of constitutional questions in this country.

      In fact, marriage equality was passed through legislative action in most nations where it is now legal, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, Spain and Denmark, just to mention a few.

      Finally, we would like to remind you that the referendum campaign in Ireland was quite divisive, and did have some pretty nasty elements. See for example: Homosexuality causes cancer, says Irish anti-gay marriage group (Newsweek, 25 February 2015) and The Irish battle over gay marriage has gotten ugly (Vice, 19 May 2015).

      Closer to home, some recent anti-marriage equality campaigns in Australia were already riddled with irrelevant, misleading and just plain untrue information, some of which verged on the malicious, even before the likelihood of a plebiscite was publicly flagged.

      Like

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