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The Numbers In The Senate Are Looking Really Bad For The Plebiscite

The public vote looks likely to crash in the Senate.

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The government has finally unveiled the details of its proposed marriage equality plebiscite, but the legislation looks likely to crash and burn in the Senate.

The Coalition party room agreed on a proposal that involves a compulsory vote on 11 February 2017, with $7.5 million in public funding granted to each campaign.

But now that the plebiscite has run the gauntlet of the party room, it must pass the parliament – and the numbers in the Senate look dire.

Labor is yet to declare its official position, but has strongly signalled it will vote down the proposal.

“We’ve had concerns about the plebiscite all along and nothing that has come out in these last weeks about the plebiscite has allayed those concerns, in fact they’ve been exacerbated,” said senator Penny Wong on Tuesday.

BuzzFeed News understands Labor’s strategy is to block the plebiscite in the long run, but party leader Bill Shorten wants to make the case in the community before coming out with his position.

"We need to explain to the people that emotional torment of any one young person is not worth the plebiscite," Shorten told the Labor party room on Tuesday morning.

Marriage equality advocates have suggested Labor should block the plebiscite legislation in its current form.

"Should public funding be a part of the plebiscite, I think that the Labor party would struggle to support it," said Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich. "Now that means that without the Labor party’s support a plebiscite is looking increasingly unlikely."

Lobby group GetUp is also calling on Labor to block the plebiscite.

WA Liberal senator Dean Smith told the Coalition party room this morning he would not vote for the plebiscite due to his commitment to representative democracy.

Smith told Fairfax Media he would either cross the floor or abstain from the legislation, labelling it "abhorrent".

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who said she would consider voting for a plebiscite if it was the only option to achieve marriage equality, said she would not support the proposed legislation as it currently stands.

“This isn’t a pathway for delivering marriage equality," she said, "it’s a shameless display of the arrogant game playing that makes so many people hate in politicians."

This leaves the government with just 36 votes for the plebiscite in the senate – 29 government senators, four One Nation, Bob Day, Jacqui Lambie, and David Leyonhjelm. Thirty-nine votes are needed to pass the legislation.

If Labor cannot be enticed across the line, the plebiscite will be dead in the water.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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