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Marriage Plebiscite Talks "Went Nowhere", Stalemate Continues

"It went for a really long time and went nowhere."

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The Australian government is in a stalemate with the Labor opposition over marriage equality, after high-level talks in Brisbane on Monday morning led to naught.

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BuzzFeed News understands the meeting was unsuccessful, with neither side giving any ground on their preferred options for marriage equality.

Attendees included attorney general George Brandis, special minister of state Scott Ryan, shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus and shadow minister for equality Terri Butler.

A source who attended the meeting told BuzzFeed News the government had "no offer" to make the plebiscite more palatable to Labor, and the two sides had a long discussion with no result.

The source said the government asked what it would take for Labor to support the plebiscite.

"Instead, we asked what it would take to have a free vote in parliament. They said they won’t agree to a free vote," the source said.

Both sides are so entrenched it appears unlikely a compromise can be brokered.

In a press conference following the meeting, Dreyfus said he was surprised Brandis and Ryan had not come with a proposal in hand.

"It was disappointing to see that they in fact seemed to be holding the meeting for the sake of holding the meeting," he said.

"[We] came to meet with George Brandis but at times it felt we were talking to George Christensen because no indication was given of any preparedness to change any aspect of the plebiscite package the government has brought forward," he said.

Brandis said he had asked Labor numerous times to outline its position on the plebiscite.

"By my count, on some nine occasions, I said to them, what do you want?" he said.

"I can't hide my disappointment every time there was refusal to state the Labor Party's position. You can't have a negotiation unless one side acquaints the other side of what its conditions are."

Labor is coming under increasing pressure to clarify whether it would accept a plebiscite on any terms.

Speaking to Sky News, Butler was asked several times by presenter David Speers if Labor would support a plebiscite if concessions were made, such as a binding vote or no public funding.

"They put their detailed bill into the parliament. Is Labor willing to offer support for any sort of plebiscite?" asked presenter David Speers.

"It's completely hypothetical," said Butler. "None of that is on the table from the government."

Butler added that Brandis told her and Dreyfus they would only know the "core provisions" of the proposed changes to the Marriage Act, but not see the actual amendments.

"What would the parliament vote on in a substantive way? We don't know what George Brandis's bill would look like," she said.

The proposed amendments will set out the exact change in law that would bring about same-sex marriage, as well as outlining any anti-discrimination exemptions afforded to people who do not support same-sex marriage on a religious basis.

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Labor leader Bill Shorten said earlier today that conservative members of the Coalition (Barnaby Joyce, Eric Abetz and George Christensen) had taken away the ability of the government to negotiate before Monday's meeting.

"What the government ministers have said this morning, even before discussion, is that they are demanding that we waste taxpayer money on the 'yes' and 'no' cases. What a shocking waste of money," he said.

"It is a very unusual style for the Turnbull government to say they want to compromise, yet we have the deputy prime minister, we have senator Abetz, out there ruling out items of negotiation even before the negotiations have started."

Senators from the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team have ruled out supporting the legislation, and Liberal backbencher Dean Smith has indicated he'll cross the floor against the bill, meaning the government must find support for the proposal from Labor or face the legislation failing in the senate.

Attorney general George Brandis has warned that if Labor blocks the plebiscite, marriage equality could be delayed until as late as 2020.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

Earlier on Monday, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told a press conference the ball was in Labor's court on marriage equality.

"I'm not going to canvass possibilities," he said when asked what the government would compromise on.

"If the Labor party want to propose changes, they should put them to us."

Ryan said he had received "no complaints and only compliments" about the plebiscite bill since it was released two weeks ago.

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

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

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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