Tanya Plibersek wants to bind Labor MPs to a party position on gay marriage, but the tactics are all wrong, writes Barrie Cassidy.
No matter how fatigued and cynical seasoned political journalists become, they line up enthusiastically to hear debates in the Parliament set aside for a conscience vote.
Such debates are refreshingly honest and passionate, allowing members of Parliament on all sides to shed stringent party allegiances and follow their heartfelt convictions.
That the issue is not just restricted to religious beliefs make the debates even more compelling.
Now Labor’s Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, wants to bind MPs to a party position on gay marriage, rather than allow a free vote based on personal beliefs.
Related content: Tanya Plibersek writes about marriage equality for Mamamia.
Plibersek has been accused of raising the issue only because her electorate has a high proportion of gay people, and the Greens, as a party committed, driven and united behind marriage equality, present as the only danger to her re-election.
More than that, her motives have been linked with the leadership, especially because Bill Shorten went on the record last year in a speech to the Australian Christian Lobby, locking himself into a conscience vote.
However, beyond that, her frustration is understandable. Despite a succession of opinion polls showing majority support for the move, the issue has been allowed to drift for years. Plibersek obviously believes that locking in Labor’s numbers will guarantee change.
But the party’s national conference will resist the call for a host of sound reasons.
Undeniably the community wants change, but a conscience vote on both sides would be the best expression – and endorsement – of that attitude; an opinion freely expressed rather than one driven by party discipline.
The tactics are wrong as well; and that was best underlined by openly gay Liberal Senator, Dean Smith, who supports gay marriage.
He recently said that “if the ALP was to adopt a binding vote … then the issue of a conscience vote in the Liberal Party is dead”.