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Prime Minister Plans To Introduce Plebiscite Bill On Wednesday

If the Coalition partyroom approves plebiscite legislation, the PM and attorney general will bring it forward.

Originally posted on
Updated on

What We Know So Far

  • Malcolm Turnbull will personally introduce the bill to parliament this week, alongside attorney general George Brandis.
  • Cabinet signed off on a proposal for a marriage equality plebiscite to be held on February 11, 2017, on Monday night.
  • Australians will be asked "Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?"
  • The proposal also includes $7.5 million in public funding for each campaign.
  • The government will establish two 10-person committees for each campaign to decide how the public funds are spent.
  • Labor is yet to declare if it will vote down the bill.

Updates

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The government appears to have 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 bill.

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

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The $1,500 cap on tax deductible donations to the “yes” and “no” campaigns in the marriage equality plebiscite could give an unfair advantage to the “no” camp, according to sources within the Coalition.

A moderate Liberal MP told BuzzFeed News that some in the party are concerned that churches could be used to to collect large donations for the "no" campaign.

To avoid the cap, people could donate large sums to churches who then donate to the "no" campaign, tax-free.

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The prime minister has spent Question Time talking about the plebiscite. He was asked to justify the vote to 13-year-old Eddie, who has two mums.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek asked Turnbull to explain why Eddie should have to "put up with" a $7.5 million "no" campaign.

"He said to me and I quote, 'Why should people who barely know us make an assumption on our families and vote on how we can live?'," Plibersek told the parliament.

"Eddie will understand that everything we do here in this Parliament is designed to ensure that Australia becomes an even better place for him to grow up in and realise his dreams," said Turnbull.

"We have a great, respectful, political tradition, despite some fireworks in the chamber, by and large we debate big issues, respectfully and civilly, and we will do the same on the issue of same-sex marriage."

Greens MP Adam Bandt criticised the PM for providing public funding.

Turnbull defended the decision, saying it was a "well-established precedent" and that the plebiscite model reflects the 1999 referendum on the republic.

"What is being proposed is a conventional approach, it has a precedent in the Republic referendum, it is thoroughly fair," he said.

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"I call on Bill Shorten to get out of the way to allow the plebiscite bill passage through the Senate to allow the Australian people to have their say," said Brandis.

"If Mr Shorten could stop playing politics with the lives of gay people and put the interests of a cause he claims to believe in first, then he would support the plebiscite bill."

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Government MPs Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson have confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they will vote in support of the marriage equality plebiscite.

Both MPs have previously said the plebiscite is not their first choice for reform, but it is the best and fastest way to achieve marriage equality in the current parliament.

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It was always going to come down to just a few votes for the plebiscite enabling legislation to pass the senate, so the government really can't afford to lose any votes from its own side - but that's exactly what just happened.

Liberal senator Dean Smith has described the plebiscite as "abhorrent", telling Fairfax media he will not vote for it.

"As a lifelong parliamentary and constitutional conservative, I cannot countenance a proposition that threatens to undermine the democratic compact that has seen Australia emerge as one of the most stable parliamentary democracies in the world," he said.

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BuzzFeed News understands the government is proposing the $7.5 million allocated to each campaign will go to a committee of 10 MPs and citizens.

The funding committee would be bipartisan, with two government, two opposition and one cross bench MP, and five citizens appointed by attorney general George Brandis.

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Greenwich and Phelps told their personal stories, and answered questions from the rural and regional MPs. He said there was a "respectful tone" in the discussion and a "great deal of interest" by the politicians present.

"We reached across the aisle," Greenwich said.

"I think what was clear from our meeting with the Nationals is that there are a number of new members of this parliament who are unsure about the level of community support for marriage equality and who know their communities have questions about this reform," he said.

"We'll support them and help them in any way we can. And we made the point that we understand that people may need a bit of time to learn about this reform, to learn why it's important and to learn that this is going to be a really proud accomplishment for Australia once we finally achieve marriage equality."

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and attorney general George Brandis will introduce the plebiscite proposal into the parliament on Wednesday, pending approval from the Coalition partyroom.

The PM's decision to personally introduce the bill, instead of another minister or more junior MP, is seen by campaigners as a sign of his commitment to ensuring the legislation passes the parliament.

The proposal passed by Cabinet includes a compulsory national vote on February 11, 2017, with $7.5 million of funding provided for each campaign.

BuzzFeed News understands the government is considering a funding model whereby the funding for each side will go to a committee comprised of MPs and citizens, who will determine how it is spent.

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Senator David Leyonhjelm has issued a press release saying attorney general George Brandis should consider allowing businesses to deny service to gay couples in marriage legislation.

"I believe that these kinds of tweaks help to make the legislation more acceptable to politicians in the Coalition and thus more likely to succeed," he sad.

Leyonhjelm – who will reintroduce his own marriage bill to the Senate this week, making a total of three in the parliament – hit out at other parties for "marking their territory" and endangering the reform.

"Same sex marriage is like a little seedling, and all the interest groups that want to claim it are like dogs marking their territory by cocking their leg on it," he said.

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Labor senator Penny Wong slammed the government's proposal on Tuesday morning, saying Turnbull had "rolled over again" to the right wing of his party.

However, Wong wouldn't be drawn on whether Labor will ultimately vote down the legislation, saying the party would wait to see the bill.

"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," she said.

Wong criticised the decision to provide public funds, saying Turnbull did not have a mandate to "shovel money at people who have said some pretty horrible things".

"Let's remember the ACL have described children of same sex couples as The Stolen Generation. These are not people who engage in respectful and civil debate," she said.

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Managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, told ABC Radio the $7.5 million slated for the "no" campaign would be used to campaign against things other than same-sex marriage.

Shelton confirmed that the "no" camp plans to use public funds to campaign against issues other than marriage, including the LGBTI anti-bullying program, the Safe Schools Coalition

"It will go towards the airing the concerns of a whole range of consequences that flow from taking gender out of marriage," he said.

He also described the $7.5 million provided to each campaign as "on the low side".

Shelton has previously advocated for public funding that matches the amounts provided in the 1999 referendum on the republic adjusted for inflation, which would amount to around $11 million today.