The government's same-sex marriage plebiscite appears once again doomed to fail on the floor of parliament, after crossbench senators confirmed to BuzzFeed News they would "absolutely" be voting against it.
The Liberal Party overwhelmingly chose to retain its policy of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage in an emergency party room meeting on Monday afternoon.
The government will now once again try to pass legislation in the Senate for a plebiscite, and, if that fails, will hold a postal plebiscite on the issue.
It took less than one hour after the meeting dispersed for BuzzFeed News to confirm the government doesn't currently have the numbers it needs to pass the bill.
Nick Xenophon, who controls three of the crucial votes on the Senate crossbench, told BuzzFeed News his senators would "absolutely" be voting against any form of the reintroduced plebiscite.
The government needs 10 of the 12 Senate crossbenchers to pass the reintroduced plebiscite legislation.
With the Nick Xenophon Team and independent senator Derryn Hinch vowing to vote against the bill, it will be unable to pass the upper house, and will be defeated for a second time.
Labor and the Greens will also oppose the bill.
The plebiscite policy initially came out of a six-hour emergency joint party room meeting called by then-prime minister Tony Abbott in Aug 2015.
Although current PM Malcolm Turnbull argued against the plebiscite at the time — instead advocating a free vote — he was forced to adopt the policy when he became prime minister in September that year.
The government took the plebiscite to the 2016 election and attempted to pass it through the parliament, but it was defeated in the Senate in November 2016.
The reasons for voting it down included the $160 million price tag, the fact the vote would not be binding on the parliament, the negative effects on LGBT people of an ugly debate, and the question of why Australia would have a national vote on same-sex marriage but no other contentious piece of policy.
The postal plebiscite idea has been roundly criticised by same-sex marriage advocates as being worse than the original plebiscite. Last month, election experts told BuzzFeed News it would likely overstate the opposition to same-sex marriage in the electorate.
Speaking after the meeting on Monday afternoon, finance minister Mathias Cormann said the government hoped to put the plebiscite bill back to a vote before parliament this week.
Cormann said it was up to the Senate crossbench what form the plebiscite would take – a compulsory attendance national vote or a non-compulsory postal plebiscite.
"The government is absolutely committed to keep faith with the commitment that we made to the Australian people and that is to give Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed," Cormann said.
"Our preference is to do that through a compulsory attendance plebiscite and legislation to that effect ... If that were to fail, the government believes that we have a legal and constitutional way forward to give the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed through a non-legislated, voluntary postal plebiscite."
Cormann added that the outcome of a plebiscite would not be binding, and that government MPs would have "a free vote informed by the plebiscite outcome".
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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