Sunday, September 4, 2016

Don't abandon the plebiscite

I am not LGBTI, but I am an ally. I strongly believe that all Australians are better-off with marriage equality, and I hope for a future that is more inclusive and less judgemental. I realise that I can’t understand the discrimination that LGBTI people suffer, but have had a few thoughts about the “debate” and how LGBTI people might strategise to get the outcomes they want.
I’m certainly not arguing that a plebiscite is a good outcome (John Howard's government changed the Marriage Act without a plebiscite -- there's no reason this government can't change it too), but it might be the only way of getting marriage equality during this term of parliament. If that’s the case, I think it should be pursued.
Note that I’m only thinking about the politics here, not whether a plebiscite on marriage equality would actually succeed, or any nastiness it might raise – I’m not very knowledgable on either of those things (and it's not for me to glibly talk about LGBTI people tolerating extra abuse for the greater good).

Thoughts in brief:

Marriage equality is a wedge-issue for the Coalition. The (small-l) liberal (progressives) like Turnbull support marriage equality, while the conservatives oppose it. Therefore, there are internal politics at play within the Coalition, with both the (small-l) liberals and conservatives hoping to use the issue to strengthen their power within the party. Turnbull wants to strengthen his prime-ministership, the conservatives want to replace him with someone like Abbott.

Labor is happy that they have found an issue on which to wedge the Coalition. The Coalition successfully wedged Labor on asylum seekers for two decades, and Labor are happy to pay them back. Because of this, politically, Labor are not in a hurry to resolve this. The longer they can prolong this issue, the more political mileage they get from it. The ideal outcome for Labor would be for this to drag on over several electoral cycles. Labor can keep ineffectively “trying” to get marriage equality to happen, and paint the Coalition as the breakers. If this continued, people for whom this is a big issue (ie. The LGBTI community) could become a captive constituency – they are forced to support Labor as the lesser-evil: they know the Coalition will never do it, so they can’t vote for them, but Labor is therefore not in a rush to do anything either. This would be a disaster for the LGBTI community.

For this reason, I think Labor are only too happy to vote against the plebiscite, especially if they can blame the Coalition and not expend political capital. Given the internal politics of the Coalition, the plebiscite might be the only realistic mechanism to get marriage equality – perhaps Labor don’t really want that, and would rather keep this as a hot-button issue that keeps votes coming to them.

There are people in the Coalition who support marriage equality. Since it is not coalition policy, they can’t vote for it (it would require that they cross the floor, and they would be kicked out of the party). But if there was a plebiscite and voting afterwards, perhaps they could. Labor and Greens defeating the plebiscite will weaken Turnbull’s leadership, and make it likely that he will be replaced by a more conservative leader. Is that what progressives really want?

Imagine that a plebiscite is the only option. It might pass or it might fail. If it fails, little is lost and another attempt can be made in a few years. If it passes and goes to parliamentary vote, a few conservatives in the Coalition might oppose it, but most of Labor will support it, as will many other Coalition politicians. It would easily pass. For this reason, if the lower-house fails to do its job and pass legislation on its own, the plebiscite should stay on the table as a fall-back option.

If it comes to a plebiscite, I think the question could be:
Should the government be able to prevent two adults from marrying?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Angus,

    A thoughtful essay. I'm not LGBTI either but I do have some gay friends and I asked them about how they felt about the whole marriage thing and just started trying to be cool and quickly dropped the subject as if it was a non discussable issue. When people ask my opinion on this matter I just tell them that if marriage was such a sacred institution how come half of them end up in divorce? People get angry about that comment though.

    You're right about it being a wedge issue. The other thing that you may have missed is that there are some labour backed unions that have some apparently very strange views about the world as I read recently in an article in the Good Weekend last week about the SDA (the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association). Their views are so far out and don't appear to have their members interests at heart.

    Anyway, when I was a kid, my mum was a single mum. As a single mum she was unable to get a mortgage to buy a house without her father providing a guarantee. Mate, discrimination for whatever reason is an old game which gives people someone or something to express their anger against.

    Me, I'm just really troubled we are letting the car manufacturing industry go for what appear to me to be ideological reasons. This is not going to end well.

    Did you get much rain? Apparenly 50mm to 100mm may fall here over the next 24 hours!!!!




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