Tony Abbott and the conscience vote killed marriage equality

This is infuriating.

Last night, Kevin Rudd promised that if re-elected he would bring on a vote on marriage equality within the first hundred days of his government. That is good, and it's fantastic to see that the ALP believes marriage equality is a vote-winner worth making a campaign issue out of.

Rudd remains committed to a conscience vote. The result of the last vote was a 42-98 defeat, with ALP members voting their conscience and the Coalition voting in a bloc against. So the contours are fairly clear: if the Coalition doesn't give its MPs a conscience vote, there will be no marriage equality; if it does, the odds are somewhere round even.

Why didn't Tony Abbott give his members a conscience vote? Well, we know he is a devout Catholic who opposes marriage equality himself. But the reason he gives is this: the issue wasn't on the radar before the 2010 election, and to the extent that it was, the Coalition's position was to oppose marriage equality, so it's not going to change midstream:
On gay marriage he says both sides went to the last election committed to supporting the traditional definition of marriage. Labor changed its position mid-term, but he thinks parties should not do that.
Understandable, I guess. But now it's just before a new election, so the Coalition can announce its position on having a conscience vote and take it to the voters without changing mid-term. Thank goodness!


Tony Abbott is studiously avoiding the question. It's "an important issue ... but it isn't the only issue", and he says his government will focus on "bread and butter" issues - the old this-isn't-a-priority-for-voters backstop for an unpopular position. The closest he gets to saying anything is: "I don't expect that this will necessarily come up in the next parliament."

Abbott is trying his hardest not to commit to a conscience vote now, before the election. He insists that it's "a matter for a future party room." And at that future party room, he can maintain that the Coalition can't have a conscience vote because they didn't commit to one before the previous election, and after all, they don't want to be flakes! Fantastic.

Meanwhile Mathias Cormann, for the Abbott campaign, sinks to incoherent lows on the same issue. He reckons the ALP is just "playing politics" by proposing this, since they know deep down it won't be passed in the next Parliament. They must know this because it was "comprehensively defeated" in this Parliament. That vote, of course, was characterised by the Coalition voting in a bloc against, while Rudd has asked Abbott to grant a conscience vote in the next Parliament.

Just think about this for a minute. It's true, sort of: if Kevin assumes the request he's making will be rejected, then obviously making the request is just playing politics. On the other hand, that is a monumentally stupid way of approaching the question. Boil it down:
FERGUS: Mathias, Kevin Rudd has asked Tony Abbott to give the Coalition a conscience vote on gay marriage. Will he do that, and if not why not?
CORMANN: Well, Fergus, we won't do that, and asking us to is just playing politics.
FERGUS: Why is it playing politics?
CORMANN: Because we're not going to say yes.
FERGUS: But why?
CORMANN: This is just playing politics.
FERGUS: But--
CORMANN: Hope. Reward. Opportunity.
That exchange did not happen.

Anyway. If Tony Abbott wins this election, Australia will not have equal marriage for at least three years. If Kevin Rudd wins it, Australia will still not have equal marriage unless (a) Abbott is replaced as Opposition Leader and (b) the Coalition decides it would rather legislate something which is fundamentally decent and supported by a majority of Australians than cling to a nonsensical principle that "this is the position we took to the last election". Slow clap, Australia.

At this point, it's probably worth reminding everyone of the reason the Catholic Opposition Leader has a veto on marriage equality. Which is this: the ALP has idiotically decided that having a policy in its party platform is not a good enough reason to bind the members of that party to vote for it, and is clinging to the absurd myth of the conscience vote. So we beat on, boats against the current . . .


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