Sometimes you just have to marvel at the workings of the world. There we were, ambling quietly along, a rally here, a conference there, admiring the little Marriage Equality Bills that kept popping up like early spring flowers.
The Prime Minister didn’t like any of them, of course. Not the Green one – ugh, what a terrible colour. Not the white one. And definitely not the Red Bill. Truth be told, he didn’t want a Bill at all. So he tried to be clever. He tried once more to kick the can down the road. “The issue” wasn’t that urgent, but if parliament really had to do something about “this issue”, it should be done on a bipartisan basis. It should be owned by all of parliament.
Amazingly, Bill Shorten gave the PM a lesson in bipartisanship. Come on down and put your name on it, he said. Put anyone’s name on it. I’ll even take my name off it, if it helps, he said. What matters isn’t whose name is on there. What matters is getting the job done. Of course, that’s the last thing Mr Abbott wants.
On May 27 the Sydney morning Herald reported:
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has set the conditions for a conscience vote in the Liberal party room on same sex marriage, clearing the way for a parliamentary vote as early as August on the proviso that any legislation must be lifted above party politics to be successful.
That means not allowing a Bill Shorten-sponsored private member’s bill to debated in favour of a new cross-party approach, to be led by a government backbench MP with Labor backing.
The move has dramatically increased the prospects of achieving full marriage equality for same-sex relationships in Australia within the calendar year . . .”
Abbott laid out the conditions: principally, that any decision must be owned by the whole Parliament, not by any particular party.
The SMH again:
“To that end, he has given his imprimatur to former government whip Liberal MP Warren Entsch to seek a suitable backbencher on the Labor side to co-sponsor a new private member’s bill.”
Entsch told the paper he wanted to get the private member’s bill into the Parliament soon, so as to bring on a party room vote in August to secure a free vote. Christopher Pyne was delegated by Abbott as the liaison between himself and Entsch. Totally out in the open. So everyone knew: the plan was to bring “this issue” on in August in a bi- or even tri-partisan bill. At the Melbourne AME rally, where Bill Shorten and Penny Wong spoke, the rather limp chant of “What do we want, A free vote, When do we want it, August”, was heard. And again in Sydney and elsewhere. It was on TV and radio. It was in the papers.
So quite why everyone on the extra-terrestrial right of the Liberal Party – notably Erica Betz, Conchita Ferravanti-Wells, and Kevin Andrews – have been running around this week spewing ash and lava and screaming “Ambush!” is anyone’s guess.
They can’t say they didn’t know this was coming, or what it was, or when. It was never a secret. There was no “ambush.” It’s a complete furphy, and the outrage is totally manufactured.
Tony Abbott, spooked by this trio of Venusian volcanoes, is now scuttling away from the arrangement he himself proposed, like a Queensland mud crab that’s just realised it’s Christmas. Even though it conforms to his every requirement: a ‘whole of house’ bill, with Liberals, Independent, Labor and Green members all on board.
Having opened the door and set the conditions which he indicated would lead to a discussion in the party room, and a probable free vote in August, he now offhandedly opines that most Private Members Bills fail; that it’s up to the Parliamentary Selection Committee (stuffed to the brim with homophobes) to decide if “this issue” will get any time; and if it doesn’t, the party room won’t be discussing “the issue”. Period. In short, he reverted to the immature student bully-boy politician he once was, and has not yet grown out of, and smugly moved the goalposts again. As he has been doing since before the last election.
Like the Princess in the fairy story who dreams up ever more impossible tasks to avoid getting married to any of her suitor Princes, our PM continues to pretend that if only this, or that, or the other condition is met, then, and only then, might something happen. This cock-teasing and coquetry ill becomes our most senior elected public servant.
By the way, what’s the issue with ‘this issue’? Why, whenever marriage equality comes up, does he never say ‘equal marriage’, or ‘marriage equality’, or ‘gay marriage’, or even, like his fellow extra-terrestrials, ‘homosexual marriage’? Why instead does he narrow his lips and serpently hiss “this issue, this issue, this issue”? Is it distaste at even referring to homosexuality, however obliquely? Does he fear he might get to like the sound of it? Does he think they are some sort of charm? What is his issue with “this issue”? I think we should be told. Or at the very least, someone should make a YouTube video.
Anyway, to get back to “the issue”: having coyly led us all on, including members of his own cabinet and party (especially Warren Entsch, who has been dudded by a leader before on “this issue”), he now whips out the knife concealed behind his fan and tries to stab us in the back. Reaction was swift.
Actually, it wasn’t. The extra-terrestrials had a day or two to spread their filth across the land before there was any push back. Eventually the manufactured interplanetary outrage was hosed down with equally unconvincing reassurances that all is well. After a short pause, and after some coy twaddle about not wanting to disagree with their colleagues in public, we are now told, “Marriage is coming”.
Why do I get the impression that all this has been choreographed in advance?
Anyway, Christopher Pyne told Erica Betz to shut up, the free vote is happening, and no-one is resigning, so there. “A senior front bencher”, widely imagined to be Malcolm Turnbull, apparently threw back his head and laughingly assured reporters “of course there’ll be a free vote.”
Clearly, Abbott himself would prefer to stick his fingers in his ears and sing “La La La I’m Not Listening” all the way to the next poll. But that isn’t going to work. What can he do now?
If he makes common cause with the Members for Mars, Venus and Uranus, he invites a coup from the moderates, or at the very least, a distinct lack of enthusiasm on the campaigning and fundraising front. Chequebooks will close, including many belonging to substantial business donors.
If he grants a party room discussion, a free vote, allows the bill to come to the floor of the house, if, God Forbid, the bill actually passes, War Of The Worlds breaks out and Scott Morrison’s smile gets even creepier. Marge and the girls, including his sister, will make life at home hell, which is no doubt why he prefers to spend his time with men in uniform somewhere else. And the chequebooks of other denominations will snap shut. Either way, he loses.
This is his first real test of leadership. By which I mean, none of the old tricks will help. He now has to rise above himself and find a way to be a leader, instead of just being Tony Abbott. If he wants a bounce in the polls, a chance at a second term, the only possible way now is to grow up, and grow into the office he holds.
He could announce that, after much thought and prayer, he has decided, despite his own personal beliefs, for the good of all the citizens of this the country, he must give way to the great Australian values of respect for all, equality and a fair go for everyone.
He should say that notwithstanding his faith, he is first and foremost an Australian, elected to govern not just for religious Australians, but for all Australians. Regardless of race, creed colour, gender or sexual orientation. The office of Prime Minster is greater than the occupant. A Prime Minister must strive to include all Australians, not divide them. Accordingly, he must set his personal convictions aside and support the multi-party bill for marriage equality.
A “grown up” Prime Minister, as he once aspired to be, could and would dig deep and find the breadth, the depth, the magnanimity, and the guts. I wonder if Abbott can do it? Grow up, and join the real “Team Australia”, as laid out on the banner above from the March In August 2014, and embrace “Compassion – Diversity – Opportunity – Integrity”?
Because we are not going away, ever. If the bill is kept out of parliament, if a free vote is not granted, if the bill fails to pass this year, we are going to hound this government all the way through to the next election. He will have no peace. Failure will not settle the issue or get it off the agenda. Because with him or without him, Marriage is Coming.
My belief? The free vote will happen. Before the end of the year, #LGBTI people will marry in Australia. We will have #MarriageEquality4Xmas. And then the real work begins.