An offer he can’t accept

Now that the Greens and Xenophon group have rejected the idea of a plebiscite, the only chance of getting one through is if Bill Shorten agrees. Turnbull obviously hopes to wedge Labor on this, by saying that this is the only way of getting equal marriage through the Parliament, and that there is no way he will allow a free vote on the issue. What should Shorten do?

In my (not original) view, Shorten should announce support for a binding plebiscite beginning with a bound vote of both parties. That is, the Parliament should pass legislation stating that equal marriage will come into effect immediately on receiving majority support in a plebiscite. Labor’s support should be conditional on all Coalition MPs voting for the legislation.

It’s obviously unlikely that Turnbull would accept such an offer or that he could deliver on it if he did. So, the primary effect would be to point up the bogus nature of the proposed plebiscite. But, supposing he did accept, I don’t see that this would be a disaster. There’s no fundamental principle that plebiscites are a bad way of deciding things. And the whole idea of a splecial “free vote” makes it clear that this set of issues has always been regarded as exceptional,

It’s true that the campaign over a plebiscite would be divisive. But this has been a divisive issue ever since Howard ramped it up more than a decade ago. An outright win at a plebiscite might be a good way of silencing the haters.

To repeat, though, there’s almost zero chance of a plebiscite happening on these terms. For Turnbull, it’s an offer he can’t accept.

41 thoughts on “An offer he can’t accept

  1. @John Goss

    I am doing this, so as to enable rapid passage of SSM laws

    It’s not going to be rapid, it’s too late for that. The far right want to drag it out for as long as possible. The least tedious option would be Turnbull throwing himself on the grenade, saying “it’s a free vote, bring it on” and watching the private members bill sail through. Shorten can’t make that happen.

  2. @Apocalypse4

    Actually, that’s not true, I can come up with an example of a referendum that failed only for the law to change 8 years later. In 1955, Sweden voted not to switch to driving on the right hand side of the road by 83-15. Then, in 1963 the parliament changed it, so one night in 1967 everyone changed from driving on the left to driving on the right.,_1955

    But on this occasion, I’d call the bluff and have the plebiscite if I were Shorten. You’re going to win so why not?

  3. @Moz of Yarramulla

    The least tedious option would be Turnbull throwing himself on the grenade, saying “it’s a free vote, bring it on”

    If he does that, Tony Abbott will be PM again within a week.

  4. Moz, am I missing something? This seems pretty clear cut to me:

    I’m happy to be corrected, but I’m not sure where the idea that Greens only support a ‘watered down policy’ has crept in? “SSM” or “Same-sex marriage” might be shorthand for the issue, but even Turnbull regularly uses the phrase LGBTI, not LGB.

    I’d be surprised if words very similar to ‘any two people, irrespective of gender’ weren’t included in amendments to the Marriage Act.

    But again, am I missing something?

  5. If I was Malcolm (that is, a sniveling greedy fool) I would wait for a SSM bill to come from the Senate and then encourage a few MPs to cross the floor and vote in favour of the suspension of standing orders so it can be voted on in the House. There are at least three known gay Liberal MHRs. Shouldn’t be too hard. I think there is a good chance that will happen (and Malcolm will stuff it up in some way). Then it will be open warfare

  6. Ivor :

    It is not up to the majority to decide whether a minority has equal rights.
    It is up to Parliament.

    If you mean that our system does, as a matter of fact, enable Parliament to grant rights and to deny them (to majorities as well as to minorities), that is obviously true.
    Whether that is a good system is less clear.

  7. My opposition to the plebiscite (as proposed) is mainly based on the fact that it is a hypocritical dodge that shouldn’t be rewarded.

  8. @Ernestine Gross
    Your #1 of 29 Aug.

    You said: “There is a budget repair job at hand.” and is that ever a mouthful – or perhaps a mindful. There’s nothing I’d like better than a long, slow discourse on just what this all means and why a bunch of not-very-bright economic ignoramuses (such as Turnbull, Morrison and the Chris Richardsons of the world) get to set the agenda.

    But I guess that might be a marathon like ProfQ’s periodic resuscitation of the nuclear power nonsense, and this particular post and it’s presenting topic isn’t the place for it.

    Is there a place for this in a sandpit (or is that really a ‘snakepit’) and does anybody have the stomach, and the lifetime, for it ? Again.

  9. John Goss :
    I think Shorten would get credit for such a cooperative approach, but he has chosen instead to go the ‘attack the government as much as possible’ route.

    The plebiscite seems like a false choice to me because so many Coalition MPs have said that they will not vote according to the result. So, if it’s non-binding, we might as well skip it and go straight to a free vote.

  10. @Nick

    I’d be surprised if words very similar to ‘any two people, irrespective of gender’ weren’t included in amendments to the Marriage Act.

    I doubt it. The conservatives who are upset at two men or two women marrying will be even more upset at someone slipping legal recognition of gender diversity in. I would love to see that part. But I think the current process is designed to fail in a nasty way so no-one wants to repeat it.

    Dropping gender restrictions is not equality. I expect the other restrictions on marriage to remain, meaning that the change will be “fewer people are unable to marry now” and when marriage equality activists keep pushing after SSM they’re going to face push-back from well-meaning folk who’ve fallen for the idea that what’s being discussed now *is* equality. It’s no more equality than “let’s count aborigines in the census, but they still can’t get their stolen land back” is racial equality.

    Marriage equality is when any two people who wish to, can marry. Not “any two citizens not already married, imprisoned, incompetent or subject to a detention order, may marry”. As Cory Bernadi would put it ‘I want to be able to marry both my sisters, and my dog'”.

  11. FWIW, if you want to really set The Greens off, ask them what their position is on marriage for intellectually disabled people.

    The NZ Greens spent some tense time discussing that, before deciding that they didn’t want to have a policy (they do at least support a ban on involuntary sterilisation, unlike the Australians). But at least they *have* a decent policy on disability rights. Mojo Mathers is largely a symptom, not a cause, of their approach. The Ozzies want to “support cripples better”, rather than dealing with disabled people as if they are actually people too (and no, I’m not disabled, except in the sense of being rendered speechless by the bigoted idiocy I see in politics).

    Rights-based approaches can lead you into unexpected territory very quickly. I quite like them for that reason. But unfortunately sheltered members of the privileged majority recoil in horror when faced with the prospect of the changes that result. Loss of privilege feels like oppression, as the SJWs like to say.

  12. One problem is, of course, that the plebiscite cannot be made binding. (I’ve seen arguments from Constitutional lawyers pointing this out in tedious detail.)

  13. @Moz of Yarramulla

    Forget the Greens, I don’t know what my position is on marriage for intellectually disabled people. Should marriage, like one of the activities that happens after marriage (and before marriage come to think of it), require informed consent? Of what meaning is a wish to marry if one can form no adequate concept of marriage or what it might entail? I am no fan of contractual thinking in general but marriage is contractual both ethically and legally. A person needs to be able to understand the contractual aspects. But I admit intellectually able people can be ethically or empathically disabled so to speak, so being intellectually able is no guarantee of being fit for marriage (of the de jure or de facto kind) either.

  14. The main argumnt against a plebiscite is that it would create an insufferable culture of abuse towards the LGBTI community and one that would probably last long into the future. Very vulnerable young LGBTI people, it has been predicted, may suicide. At the very least we will have a toxic debate especially with the fascists seeking to weaken 18c and the ACL campaigning for State laws that protect people from comments that offend, vilify or ridicule someone on the basis of sexuality to be repealed or suspended prior to a plebiscite. That shows how they intend to play their cards.

    Both my kids are queer and I don’t us to have to go through this.

    Notwithstanding all that, my substantial opposition to a plebiscite is that rights are either inherent and implicit and waiting to be discovered in the process of the extension of recognition of various previously unknown rights or they are privileges. Having a popularity poll on whether or not human rights ought to be extended to the LGBTI community in the form of equal legal rights and recognition in marriage establishes a disastrous precedent. The corollary of extending rights by popular vote is taking them away from some other group by the same process.

    Besides, imagine taking a popular vote on the civil rights of Jews. Outrageous, right?

    So, no to a plebiscite on all fronts. No-one is entitled to vote on the value of others in our community by any imaginable identifier – sexual preference, religion, “race”, ethnicity, appearance, culture, beliefs.

    This plebiscite will entrench Australian’s right to be a bigot because it is an exercise in bigotry.

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