Dover Beach, a philosopher, blogs at The Ordeal of Consciousness.
In case you haven’t heard, Australia is currently in the grip of postal plebiscite on same-sex ‘marriage’ (SS’M’ herein).
The vote is being held under these unusual conditions because the Senate has repeatedly rejected government legislation to authorize a plebiscite. This is somewhat unusual because the Opposition, currently opposed to a national vote, appeared to be in favor of a national vote. This was certainly true of the current Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. For some background on the repeated defeats of 18 private member’s bills introduced into the Parliament since 2004, changes in the positions of the political parties, and, and the proposal to have a plebiscite, see here, here, and here, respectively.
The main reasons given to forgo the plebiscite and simply have the Parliament decide the issue have been the plebiscite’s cost and the claim that a public debate about the redefinition of marriage would traumatize the LGBTIQ community.
However, the real reason why SS’M” supporters support the Parliament deciding the issue rather than the People, is the change in the current Opposition party, the ALP. It has moved from treating SS’M’ as a conscience vote to now support for SS’M’ as a matter of policy, which guarantees the support of all ALP MPs, if they are to retain the party’s support. For a good overview of the changing positions on SS”M” of leading members of the ALP see here. This makes the passage of any private member’s bill highly likely to be successful because the current LNP government, which maintains a conscience vote, is split, with many supporters of SS’M’ in the Cabinet also, including the PM and A-G. Nevertheless, the most recent count of returns shows that 57.5% of eligible voters have now voted with a month of voting to go. This suggests that about 80-90% of eligible voters will have actually voted by the final deadline on Nov 7.
This will give great weight to whoever wins the postal plebiscite. A vote either Yes or No, 53% or above, will give the victor’s representatives tremendous authority in Parliament. For the No camp, it will effectively kill any proposal to redefine marriage for the rest of this Parliamentary term, and the next as well, whoever is elected. Of course, if the upcoming election sees a change of government, the ALP may attempt to simply push it through in spite of the result, but I cannot see the current government, if reelected, attempting to introduce an SS’M’ bill, or supporting a private member’s bill attempting the same. For the Yes camp, Turnbull, the current PM, has promised to allow a private member’s bill on SS’M’ to be considered by the Parliament before the end of this year, which would very likely be successful.
What is puzzling, however, is how such a result would be used when considering related issues that the Yes side have consistently argued are red herrings. Here, I have in mind, the issues of religious freedom/conscientious objection and sex orientation/gender ideology (SOGI).
If the vote is No, I think the status quo with respect to these issues will continue. However, if the vote is Yes, and if it is a resounding victory, above 60%, then I can’t see how any robust religious/conscience protections will be afforded to those who voted No, and it is likely to overturn recent reversals of ‘Safe Schools’ programs that are effectively SOGI programs under the guise of anti-bullying.
One can already see how little concern is given to these issues by the current Attorney-General, George Brandis, the Opposition, Greens, and the media, to gauge how this will play out in the aftermath; that is, religious protections will be narrowly defined, and will largely depend upon the good favor of the Parliament in the future, while individuals and businesses will be left unprotected, putatively, in the name of the common good.
Alternatively, what occurs if the result is somewhere between a bare majority, 50.1% and 53%? Well, here, in the case of a Yes victory, the current government will allow a private member’s bill to be submitted to the Parliament and a conscience vote to be allowed for members of the Liberal Party.
I think the situation for a narrow No victory is the most interesting. So far as the current LNP government is concerned, it would mean no vote in the Parliament for this term of government, and potentially none in the next, at least, if the current government is reelected. If, however, there is a change in government, I think the ALP would be under considerable pressure to simply ignore the vote and table a SS’M’ bill in the House, and then everything will depend upon the composition of the Senate, post-election.
Such a decision would be provided considerable cover by the political elite, and by leading businesses and organisations that have been very vocal in their support of the Yes campaign even to the point of bullying organisations that were or remained neutral. These instances could be multiplied.
The potential bulwark, as it where, is the recent development of the Australian Conservatives in the last year. They are likely to receive a strong following in the Senate on their first outing, but what will be interesting to see in the wash, following the election, is which parties suffer the most from its appearance. If they manage to obtain the balance of power they would be able to prevent the passage of such legislation if No win the plebiscite below 53% and any vote occurs after the next election. This assumes that a narrow No victory makes the LNP reconsider their position re marriage in order to differentiate themselves from the ALP, as well as reflect the clear misgivings of the Australian people viz-a-vis SS’M”. Of course, they may remain tin-eared and completely ignore the lesson of the plebiscite.
Interestingly, the most recent poll suggests that support for Yes is plummeting, from highs of 70% four weeks ago, to 51%, and No support rising to 37%, when the poll was taken two weekends ago, on September 25.
This portends the possibility that neither side may obtain a bare majority. If this situation obtains, the status quo position becomes even stronger, although the elites that have largely driven this campaign over the last decade might be emboldened to simply crash through and damn the consequences. Of course, the civil and political consequences of such a brazen act would I think be profound and long-lasting, marking as it would, not only disdain for the political process, but utter contempt for the polity itself.