Labor Set to Kill Off Plebiscite Legislation
Tuesday, 11th October 2016 at 11:24 am
The opposition is set to vote against the government’s controversial marriage equality plebiscite bill in parliament on Tuesday, claiming proposed amendments to the Marriage Act, released overnight by Senator George Brandis, would introduce new forms of legal discrimination.
Labor said the exposure draft would exempt civil celebrants as well as ministers of religion from having to conduct same-sex marriages, on the grounds of conscientious or religious objections.
As well religious bodies and organisations could refuse to provide facilities, goods or services for same-sex weddings.
Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said the proposed amendments would introduce new forms of legal discrimination against Australia’s LGBTI community and deepen Labor’s concerns about “the government’s wasteful, hurtful, $200 million plebiscite”.
“This isn’t a bill that delivers equality, it’s a bill that entrenches discrimination,” Dreyfus said.
“From the beginning, the plebiscite has been a project of the right wing of the Liberal Party. These amendments confirm that Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, George Christensen and their ilk are continuing to dictate to the government frontbench, using the plebiscite process to drive their conservative ideological agenda.
“If the government’s only objective was to achieve marriage equality, these amendments would stop at removing the words ‘man and woman’ from the Marriage Act. But they go much further.
“This exposure draft also includes exemptions to discrimination law for civil celebrants, to permit them to refuse to marry same-sex couples. This government needs to explain why it believes it is necessary to allow this exemption to civil celebrants, who are authorised by the Commonwealth to perform civil, not religious, ceremonies.”
Dreyfus said if the government “truly wanted marriage equality”, it would drop the plebiscite altogether and allow a free vote on the floor of parliament.
The coalition government has offered to suspend the public funding of the “yes” and “no” plebiscite campaigns as an inducement to the opposition to support the legislation in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said the government’s last minute offer of suspending the public funding of campaigns was “absurd”.
“Public funding is only a very small part of the cost of running the plebiscite. We saw in the explanatory memorandum that the plebiscite that we thought was going to cost about $175 million in fact will cost $200 million,” Plibersek said.
“So if we take away $15 million from around $200 million, we’ve still got a huge wasteful exercise for something that really should be determined by the parliament.”
It comes as Senator George Brandis said the government went to the 2016 federal election with a commitment to hold a plebiscite as soon as practicable.
“By introducing the Plebiscite Bill and this Exposure Draft, we are honouring the commitment we made to the Australian people,” he said.
“This is the quickest way towards achieving same-sex marriage in this Parliament. For those who believe in same-sex marriage this is the most immediate and only feasible opportunity to achieve this in the foreseeable future.
“The Labor Party did nothing to progress same-sex marriage during their six years in government. They should not get in the way in opposition. The government calls on Bill Shorten and the Labor Party to get out of the way, stop the delay and make same-sex marriage a reality.”