Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is playing his cards close to his chest.
But as far as the proposed legislation to enable a same-sex marriage plebiscite is concerned, he holds all the aces.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who went to the polls promising a public vote on the issue before year’s end, has been left with a dead man’s hand.
It’s a complex political issue.
But with the Nick Xenophon Team confirming they will not support a plebiscite, along with the Greens and Senator Derryn Hinch, it is dead in the water.
That is assuming, of course, that Labor goes through with its threat to block the bill – by no means guaranteed.
One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson, whose party holds four crossbench positions, wants a plebiscite but has specified it should be pushed back to the next election due to cost.
So, without the Nick Xenophon Team’s support, the Government cannot rely on the crossbench, leaving the casting vote up to Labor in the Senate.
Xenophon says his team will advocate for a free vote on directly legalising same-sex marriage through an act of Parliament.
“This is a matter that the Parliament can and should decide on as a free vote of all members and senators,” he said.
“The plebiscite, which in any event could be disregarded by the Parliament, could be in the order of $160 million or more.
“We believe this money could be better spent.”
Labor Senator Penny Wong told the ABC that Labor still had “deep concerns” over the plebiscite, saying pressure needed to be applied to the Coalition.
“The plebiscite is a political deceit imposed upon the Coalition by Tony Abbott and the conservatives,” she said.
A survey of 5500 LGBTI Australians recently found 85% opposition to a plebiscite.
A national spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Sharyn Faulkner, said they were grateful that more and more politicians were seeing a plebiscite for what it really is – a platform for hate and a delaying tactic.
“It’s now up to Labor to join Nick Xenophon and the Greens by declaring they will veto a plebiscite,” she said.
Right now, Bill Shorten holds the key – not to the Lodge but to if and when Australians get to vote on marriage equality.