The Australian government is playing down threats of a rebellion from backbench rebels who want to push forward with equal marriage.
The country’s right-wing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly blocked a free vote in Parliament on equal marriage, despite overwhelming public support.
Turnbull allegedly gave private assurances to conservatives within his own party on the issue during his 2015 leadership bid, in order to shore up support.
However, the leader is facing a challenge to his authority from rebels within his party who support equal marriage.
Senator Dean Smith, an openly gay member of Turnbull’s Liberal Party, is bringing forward a private member’s bill on the issue, in a clear challenge to Turnbull and the party leadership.
Equal marriage would likely become law if Senator Smith’s bill is allowed to go ahead and Liberals are allowed a conscience vote on the issue.
However, in an interview today, a government official claimed that there is little chance of a rebellion.
The Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, said: “I’m not aware of anyone even contemplating [rebelling].”
The official told Sky News that the party would not be budging from its policy of opposing a free vote – favouring plans for a plebiscite (public vote) that have been derided as costly and divisive.
Mr Pyne said: “We have a policy. It’s the policy to have a national vote, and the only person standing between marriage equality and Australians is Bill Shorten.
“If he decided to support a national vote, he could do it tomorrow.
“If he had decided to support it last year, we would have had a national vote in February, we would well have had marriage equality by now.
“There is no proposal to change that policy.”
Smith said previously: “I’m of the view that the plebiscite lacks community support and a conscience vote is the tried and tested mechanism to deal with these issues in the Liberal Party.”
The opposition Labor Party signalled their support, with leader Bill Shorten telling The Australian: “We support having a vote in parliament.
“Australians know that a plebiscite is just a waste of money, they know it’ll have harmful outcomes in terms of some of the public debate.
“We’re going to be in parliament for a number of weeks for the rest of this year. We can just get on and have the vote.
“Quite frankly this issue’s been talked to death. I think many Australians are now sick and tired of it.
“The Prime Minister knows what should be done but he doesn’t have the ticker to do it.”
However, Turnbull appeared frosty when asked about the bill.
He said: “The government’s policy is very clear: we support a plebiscite where all Australians would be given a vote on the matter and that remains our policy.”
Turnbull had favoured holding a costly plebiscite (public vote) on the issue, but his plans were blocked.
Despite the impasse, the leader continues to insist that a plebiscite is the only way he will permit same-sex marriage to become law.
A recent poll found that the government is now in jeopardy of losing voters if it continues to block progress on the issue.
The Galaxy poll revealed that over a quarter of Coalition voters will consider voting for a new Government that commits to a marriage equality free vote, if marriage equality isn’t dealt with in this term.
The poll found that support for a free vote in Parliament stands at 73% across Australia, while just 27% support Turnbull’s plebiscite plan.
60% of voters believe the delay entailed by having a plebiscite at the next election would be “unreasonable”, including 50% of Coalition voters.
40% of Australians will be more likely to vote for a Government that commits to a free vote should the current Government fail to make such a commitment, including 26% of Coalition voters.
PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent, said: “This poll shows Australians want action now on marriage equality and the Turnbull Government will lose government if it continues to delay on an issue that people just wish was over and dealt with.
“Mr Turnbull doesn’t seem to understand voters are tired of the political games relating to marriage equality.”
“Our sons and daughters deserve better than the endless delays and indifference we are seeing at the moment and it seems from this poll that most Australians agree.”
Just.equal activist Rodney Croome added: “If the Government doesn’t allow a free vote very soon it will be out on its ear at the next election.
“The continued high support for a free vote and the overwhelming opposition to a plebiscite are all the mandates this Government needs to get on with it.”
“I call on marriage equality supporters within the Coalition to push for a free vote or cross the floor, if they are to avoid a backlash that could cost them their seats.”