Marriage equality: Malcolm Turnbull, New Show Bag, Same Contents

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By The Hon Michael Danby MP


Mean Port Melbourne landlords who won’t allow a local gay couple to hang a gay pride flag outside their property are narrow minded. But the bigger issue of the difference between the two sides of national politics on this issue have, unfortunately, become clearer with the elevation of a new Prime Minister.

When Bill Shorten introduced a bill that would legalise marriage equality in June this year, he reignited the debate about marriage equality in this country. The dramatic picture of the Government benches in Parliament almost entirely devoid of people was worth a thousand words about their attitude to marriage equality.

Before the bloodless coup that put the current PM in power, Tony Abbott and the Coalition reaffirmed their hostility to marriage equality by denying their members the opportunity of a free vote. Without the support of at least 16 Government MPs, any marriage equality legislation is doomed to failure.

An expensive, needless ‘plebiscite’ on the issue was Abbott’s compromise offer. But the reason we have an elected Parliament is so your representatives can make decisions on behalf of the people they represent (and answer to those people at election time). It’s called leadership. But calling a plebiscite is a way of shirking the responsibility of leadership—and in doing so wasting close to $160 million that could be better spent on public health, for instance. This waste is especially noteworthy given we already know what the outcome of the plebiscite would be—over two-thirds of Australians support marriage equality.

Some Liberal MPs— notably Queensland MP Warren Entsch, who co-sponsored a cross-party bill for marriage equality that is still before the Parliament—are trying to put pressure on the PM to act, but only to set the date of the plebiscite. This is not good enough.

Unfortunately, when Malcolm Turnbull took the reins of power, he back-peddled from his previously principled stance of being in favour of legislating for marriage equality, to backing the plebiscite option (which he had previously disparaged). The issue would then have to come back to Parliament anyhow.

Speaking recently to LGBTI friends and constituents has made clear that one of their main concerns is that a plebiscite on marriage equality would give the scaremongers a platform they don’t deserve. Worse, it will serve to spread fear and hate towards the vulnerable. Carl Katter, the Labor candidate for the neighbouring electorate of Higgins for the next election, has spoken to me at length about his concerns of an American-style extreme right-wing campaign if the plebiscite goes ahead, as well as the potential damage, especially to young LGBTI people, that such an ugly and acrimonious debate would wreak.

Prior to the last election, I pledged my support for any future marriage equality bill at the first opportunity to my friend David McCarthy on Joy Radio 94.9. A touch under 80,000 people have already signed a petition stating that it’s time for marriage equality. If you agree, you can sign it to, at Let me state publicly that when Labor forms Government, it will vote, within the first hundred days, to legislate for marriage equality.

It’s been 11 years now since the marriage act was changed to exclude same-sex couples. Marriage equality’s time has come. It’s inevitable. Let’s just get on with it.

Michael Danby is the Member for Melbourne Ports


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