Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has said that a marriage equality plebiscite is the “only way” forward for the reform after the federal election.
“There is going to be a plebiscite and the only way that in this Parliament this issue can be progressed is through a plebiscite,” he told the ABC.
Senator Brandis said he’d prefer the vote be held before the end of the year.
“If it can’t be done before the end of this year, it will certainly be done in the early part of next year,” he said.
Senator Brandis said he’ll begin talks with the Australian Electoral Commission this week and take the plebiscite plans to the federal cabinet “in the coming weeks.” The plebiscite would be a compulsory vote and the question would be “as simple and as self-explanatory as possible,” he said.
Legislation to enable the plebiscite would first have to pass through the parliament. Senators from Labor, The Greens and Nick Xenophon Team, who all support a free vote in parliament, haven’t said whether or not they’d vote for the plebiscite legislation.
Labor shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the ongoing debate about marriage equality was crowding out the issue of Indigenous recognition in the constitution.
“The parliament should be deciding marriage equality, the people should be deciding Indigenous recognition in the constitution,” he told Sky News.
“While we’re having this debate about a plebiscite we’re not progressing the matter of Indigenous recognition … and I think that’s a shame.”
A recent Galaxy opinion poll commissioned by Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Australia found 48% of voters support the plebiscite but that number drops to as low as 25% when voters are made aware that the vote will cost $160 million and won’t be binding on MPs.
Australian Marriage Equality said the parliament had more supportive MPs than ever before and called for a free vote.
“It’s important that the cross party support that now exists transcends party politics and is harnessed to achieve this reform,” spokesperson Shirleene Robinson said.
“We believe marriage equality can be achieved through a simple vote in the parliament, however if a plebiscite is imposed upon us, we need to work together to run a positive, inclusive and respectful campaign that unites Australians.”
Meanwhile, PFLAG and new LGBTI advocacy group just.equal have called on LGBTI Australians to have their say in a new survey to chart the way forward for marriage equality.
The short survey asks participants whether they support a plebiscite or free parliamentary vote, to “provide a comprehensive picture of how the LGBTI community wants to progress the issue.”
“Australian decision-makers have a duty to listen carefully to the LGBTI community when making decisions that affect us,” Just.Equal spokesperson Ivan Hinton Teoh said.
To take part in the survey, click here.