The federal government has given the strongest signal yet that it is willing to negotiate the structure of a same-sex marriage plebiscite in order for it to pass the parliament.
Speaking on Sky News on Sunday morning, attorney general George Brandis acknowledged that on the current numbers the enabling legislation for the plebiscite won't pass the senate without Labor's support.
As it stands, the plebiscite has the support of the Coalition, as well as crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm, Jacquie Lambie, Bob Day and One Nation, but is opposed by the Greens, Derryn Hinch, the Nick Xenophon team and Liberal senator Dean Smith.
Labor has not formed its official position but has strongly indicated it will oppose the legislation, meaning the government is several votes short of passing the legislation.
Brandis said that without a plebiscite, same-sex marriage would be delayed for at least three years, and that would be on Labor's head.
"It is up to the Labor party now to enable this plebiscite to happen, because if they don't, they will be saying no to marriage equality," he said.
But the attorney general also signalled that he is willing to negotiate the structure of the plebiscite - including the proposed question and the levels of public funding - with Labor in order to gain the opposition's support.
“We are prepared to talk to the opposition and deal with them in good faith if Labor is willing to deal with us in good faith," he said.
"We have a package which was developed after extensive consultation with people who favour change in the LGBTI community and people who oppose change in the religious community," he said. "[But] the theme of this parliament has to be compromise".
It's the strongest signal yet from the government that it is willing to compromise on the plebsicite package it announced during the week.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced legislation for the plebiscite on Wednesday, proposing that it be held on February 11 next year and provide $7.5 million each in public funding for the "yes" and "no" campaigns.
The proposed question to be put to the Australian people is: “Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
On Friday, Turnbull said he is open to compromise in the senate, but a spokesperson for the PM told Fairfax there would be no changes to the plebiscite policy, its question or public funding.
Brandis also ruled out holding a plebiscite without legislation, saying the result of any such vote would be illegitimate, because the government would not be able to compel people to vote.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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