Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has called a Monday meeting of just the Liberal party room to discuss the thorny issue of marriage equality, BuzzFeed News has learnt.
Parliament returns next week from a long winter break, with tensions running high among government MPs about the future of its controversial plebiscite on marriage equality.
BuzzFeed News can reveal chief government whip David Bushby emailed MPs and their staff on Thursday afternoon, telling them all Liberal MPs would need to be in Canberra to meet on Monday at 4pm next week.
Three Liberal Party sources confirmed the special Monday meeting to deal with the issue of marriage equality.
News of the meeting raised eyebrows among Coalition MPs and staffers because the Coalition joint party room, which includes both Liberal and National MPs, is due to meet on Tuesday morning.
Monday's meeting is only scheduled to run for two hours, with the full ministry due to meet at 6:30pm and cabinet at 7:30pm. But Liberals sources have told BuzzFeed News they are preparing for a lengthy debate and ballot.
Foreign minister Julie Bishop's office confirmed to BuzzFeed News the minister won't be returning from the Philippines until Monday night, which means she'll likely miss the meeting.
The foreign minister's office said previous reports that she was rushing back to the country for a vote were incorrect.
The plebiscite policy came out of a six-hour emergency joint party room meeting called by then prime minister Tony Abbott in August of 2015.
Although Turnbull, the current PM, argued against the plebiscite at the time — instead advocating a free vote on the vexed issue — 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 by a coalition of Labor, Greens and crossbench senators.
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 of an ugly debate on LGBTI people, and the question of why Australia would have a national vote on same-sex marriage, but no other contentious piece of policy.
Since the bill failed in the Senate, same-sex marriage has plagued the government, with several moderate Liberal MPs pushing for the doomed plebiscite to be dropped from the platform and a free vote be held.
The stalemate looks increasingly untenable, but there are a few potential outcomes to Monday night's meeting: a reiteration of the current plebiscite policy; the switch to a free vote on the issue; or the adoption of a a non-compulsory plebiscite, potentially held via post, that does not require legislation to be held.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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