Supporters Sudenly Want A National Vote On Marriage Equality


    Campaigners are facing down Tony Abbott's call for a national vote on marriage equality by reversing its position and issuing a simple call: "well, ok bring it on."

    Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

    The group from Australian Marriage Equality has set-up a "war room" within the offices of the Canberra-branch of consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (who have donated the space), within eye shot of parliament house.

    Inside, BuzzFeed News met with long-time campaigner and independent NSW MP Alex Greenwich and asked why, after so many years of pushing back against the idea of a national vote, were they now in favour of taking the issue to the people.

    "The prime minister has said there'll be no free vote in this term of parliament... so he doesn't think the parliament needs to deal with this soon. The Coalition has set a way forward with it, with a plebiscite or referendum down the track," he said.

    "So what we are saying is, let's not wait. We're calling Tony's bluff. Let's have it at the next election and let's get this done."

    The PM raised the possibility of a referendum or a plebiscite after the next election on marriage equality after facing an epic six hour Coalition meeting on the issue.

    Stefan Postles / Getty Images

    "We have supported the traditional position. I think that is a good thing. But there is the prospect of change. In the next term of Parliament, if that is the way of the Australian people," he said last night.

    An "advisory plebiscite" would see a huge national campaign on both sides of the issue, then all Australians asked to go to the ballot box and vote yes or no.

    There's been three advisory plebiscites in Australian history, one of them chose "Advance Australia Fair" as the national anthem back in the 1970s. Two were about conscription and failed.

    Greenwich argued the most important thing then becomes who drafts the plebiscite.

    Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

    "A plebiscite has always been the least favoured option. What is worse is a plebiscite on Tony Abbott's terms. That would mean he drafts the question, he sets the date and it's done without any parliamentary oversight."

    BuzzFeed News asked what would be considered a "good" and "bad" scenario for the plebiscite. Here's what he suggested:

    Should the Marriage Act be amended to allow same sex couples to marry?
    Should the Marriage Act remain unchanged?

    The haggling over the wording of the plebiscite question now becomes the central battleground for people like Greenwich, with each side probably wanting to become the "YES" campaign.

    He also pushed back against the idea the plebiscite would unleash a national anti-gay campaign over many months.

    "They're already running that hate campaign. We've seen full page ads, we've seen commercials everywhere," said Greenwich.

    "As long as the issue of marriage equality is a live issue there's going to be people running these types of campaigns."

    While Bill Shorten rejects the idea of the plebiscite (he argued that Australians should just vote for Labor at the next election), moves are now definitely afoot to shift the debate away from parliament and towards the people.

    Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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