The Australian Labor party has officially decided to block the government's proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite, putting the final nail into the coffin of the controversial policy.
After months of speculation the Labor caucus voted unanimously on Tuesday morning to block the plebiscite, ensuring the legislation will die in the Senate.
Labor leader Bill Shorten, shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus, and shadow equality spokesperson Terri Butler all recommended that Labor block the plebiscite. No one in the Labor caucus spoke in favour of the national vote.
Shorten said he, Dreyfus, Butler, and deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek spent the last three weeks travelling the country and meeting mental health groups and LGBT advocates about the possible impacts of a plebiscite and that no one had supported it.
Speaking following the decision, Shorten argued that the $200 million poll is a waste of taxpayers' money when the issue could be settled quickly by a free vote in parliament.
"Children do not need to go to school in the climate of a plebiscite and have the integrity of their parents' relationship challenged," he said.
"I could not look at these loving families – the parents of gay people, people in committed same-sex relationships, young people whose parents are gay – and say to them that this plebiscite was good for them."
The opposition leader challenged prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to bring on a free vote on marriage equality in the parliament.
"The prime minister and I both support marriage equality," Shorten said. "The majority of the parliament supports marriage equality. The people of Australia, I think, significantly support marriage equality.
"So the message that thousands of Australians have given to me I now relay to Malcolm Turnbull: Marriage equality, let's make it a reality, let's just get on with it."
Attorney general George Brandis released a draft bill of the proposed changes to the Marriage Act on Monday evening in order to “form the basis for ongoing consultation should the same-sex marriage plebiscite go ahead”.
Brandis attacked Labor for its opposition to the plebiscite, accusing the party of "playing politics" with the lives of gay people and "stalling progress".
"The government offered to work with the Labor party to bring about a public vote ... In response, the Labor party rejected the wishes of the Australian people to resolve this issue by plebiscite, and refused to deal with the government in good faith," he said on Tuesday.
"Their cynical decision this morning will ensure this debate will continue for years to come."
The government maintains the only way forward for marriage equality in the 45th parliament is a plebiscite, and there are strong indications any move by the government to drop the plebiscite and allow a free vote could cause fractures in the coalition agreement.
Nationals MP Andrew Broad has signalled he would withdraw support for the government if there is an attempt to legislate marriage equality without a national plebiscite. This would leave the government without a "working majority" in the House of Representatives.
The prime minister wasn't phased by Labor's decision, saying he expects the lower house to pass the plebiscite bill this week.
"Our position is: the plebiscite bill is before the house," Turnbull said.
"I’m not going to entertain or follow Bill Shorten down his highly political road of trying to subvert a straightforward democratic process, trying to say the Australian people shouldn’t have a say."
Turnbull rejected assertions the bill is doomed in the Senate and insisted the plebiscite wasn't dead yet.
"It's all very well to say you know the Senate won’t vote for it, you know the senators won’t support it," he said.
"We respect the Senate. The bill isn’t even in the Senate yet. The Senate has to deal with the bill. I’m very confident it will pass the house, then it will come to the Senate and the Senate has to deal with the bill."
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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