Marriage Equality – The Political Take on a social issue

Marriage Equality has been a policy topic that has been in the news for a while now and I’ve been reluctant to cover it due to the divisiveness of the issue with proponents on both sides of the debate taking stances that cross the line of civil debate. However with the move of several Liberal backbenchers moving to support a private members bill and before that a suspension of standing orders to bring on discussion on the issue I think it’s worth discussing the political manoeuvrings behind this issue.

In 2004 John Howard changed the marriage act to ensure that the definition of marriage was between 1 man and 1 woman. This was moved through Parliament in order to ensure that if a debate was to be had in the future on whether Gay marriage should be allowed then it would have to involve a law change. Now in a way that fact has been used by many to advocate Parliament being the vehicle to bring in marriage equality. Indeed that is the view of John Howard (1) who believes it should be the Parliament and not the public who changes a law like this. Now I will elaborate below the political issues with that but (2) shows that since the 2004 marriage definition change there have been 22 bills introduced into Parliament debating changes to the marriage act and none of them have even passed through the lower house let alone reach the upper house. This then acts as a big reasoning for a Plebiscite, if the Parliament can’t reach an agreement on the issue but the public want action on the issue then a Plebiscite can be used to vote on the issue and assuming it passes it would be a brave Parliament that rejects the voice of the public especially with the cost involved in running a Plebiscite.

I think the first point to make is where the major parties stand on the issue. The Greens and the Democrats Party when they were in Parliament are known supporters of Gay marriage and indeed a lot of earlier post 2004 moves for marriage equality have come from these members. The Labor Party are an interesting case for marriage equality because they have flown the Political stances on the issue. Before 2010 the Labor Parties stance on marriage equality was to oppose any bill that came into Parliament which ensured that any bill by the cross bench had no chance of passing. As of 2010 Julia Gillard announced that she would allow a conscious vote in Parliament on the matter despite personally being against the issue. Now she has changed her mind on the issue of Gay marriage since then but the number one argument I hear on Gay marriage is that only Christians and people of religion disagree with marriage equality and that clearly isn’t the case. (3) I think Julia Gillard and other people’s argument on marriage is that the act of two people getting married has a symbolic meaning to it that doesn’t blend with modern society as much, indeed there are a lot of Atheists who are moving away from being married and are instead opting for civil services outside of the church setting. It is with these positions and in attacking the Coalition’s policy on a forced vote that I found their conference position (4) reached in their 2015 Labor conference perplexing. Until the end of the current term of Parliament the Labor Party advocate a conscious vote on the issue but from next term onwards any MP or Senator must vote in favour of Marriage Equality, a rather hypocritical position if they continue to attack the Liberal Party on not having a free vote. Indeed this change in policy has already seen a Western Australian Labor Senator resign due to the policy position change (5).

The Liberal Party until 2015 had a straight binding vote on Marriage Equality that said they had to vote down any attempts to introduce legislation on Marriage Equality. Now in the Liberal Party there are supposed leniencies to voting against party policy so there has been the odd senator who has crossed the floor on marriage equality but not enough to influence any results. Now I’ll come back to the specifics on crossing the floor for Liberal Parties members on any upcoming policy but 2015 saw an important policy shift on marriage equality. In 2015 to placate more moderate Liberal MPS Tony Abbott suggested a Plebiscite(6). The idea behind a plebiscite was for the Liberal Party to hold their policy line on marriage equality until the 2016 election and then push for a public vote on Marriage Equality post election. If as many polls suggested the plebiscite passed then MPS would vote in the lower house and senate to pass a marriage equality act into law and as I commented above a free vote for both parties would ensure that marriage equality passed into law as I don’t believe enough members would want to vote against public opinion. When Malcolm Turnbull took the role of PM from Tony Abbott in 2015 this remained the policy much to the disappointment of some in the community who had hoped Malcolm Turnbull’s personal view of support would see a change in policy. This simple narrative that gets parroted a lot by supporters of marriage equality ignores two basic realities that I will touch on now and elaborate further later on. If Malcolm Turnbull changed policy then conservative would pull support from Turnbull and seek Peter Dutton out as leader in a leadership spill. Alternatively if as is widely reported Turnbull made a pledge to keep a plebiscite as party policy in part of the deal with the National Party to maintain their support post leadership change then them pulling their support would also see the Liberal Party lose the balance of power on the floor of the house which would lead them open to a vote of No Confidence.

So with the policy positions now established I will return to the issues of the last week. Gay Liberal MPs and Senators as well as Warren Entsch have looked to resolve the issue of marriage equality before the next election (7). In their views the Plebiscite is a failed policy that will not pass the Parliament and so isn’t a viable solution to resolve the matter, with that in mind a free vote where members can vote on their conscious is the only way to get marriage equality through. In their minds and it’s a sound argument marriage equality is clearly going to eventually pass into law and while it’s not the most important issue to most people it’s an issue that generates a lot of public debate and so it distracts from other issues being discussed. A clear example of this came this week when Tim Wilson was questioned on the marriage equality debate and when he tried to sidestep to another issue the interview was promptly ended. As a result of this renewed push Conservative MPs have tried to seek another vote in Parliament on the issue of a Plebiscite and in the case of that failing again they would then seek to have a postal vote on the issue (8). There are many issues with a postal vote and indeed the strongest argument against postal plebiscites came from Malcolm Turnbull when he was leading the case for the country to become a Republic. A postal plebiscite can be held with Parliamentary approval because it can use money set aside for Government assigned surveying, however it is not binding so MPS can vote against the result and it is not compulsory which I believe would mean it would be voted down as the largest demographic in favour of marriage equality tend to be the most disengaged in voting in elections. It would also be up for legal challenges about appropriate use of Government money akin to what occurred when a parent challenged the Government funding of chaplains in public schools. So that leaves the prospects of either staying put or having a vote on marriage equality in the Parliament however that has it’s own wrinkles. Firstly the Leader of the House is in control of what legislation goes before the house and so they can effectively push any marriage equality to the bottom of Government Business where it would then expire at the end of the current term of Parliament. The way around that is to suspend standing orders which then allows government business to be suspended in order to debate a motion that is not currently next on the notice paper. For instance parliament is flowing with it’s usual robustness and then at 2:45 AEST Bill Shorten gets up and goes I seek to suspend the standing orders to censure the PM for being a Toffee Nosed Tory (not far off an actual suspension order :P). The problem with this passing the Parliament is an unknown constitutional section. (9) suggests that a lost vote on the floor of Parliament could be considered as a vote in loss of confidence in the Parliament. This would then lead to the government potentially resigning and if Labor then couldn’t elect a speaker an election to resolve the impasse. Now the wording suggests that it has to be considered an important issue and the Government could spin that it isn’t, indeed both the Labor Party in minority and the Liberal Party already in this term have lost votes on the floor of the house and that hasn’t led to a change of Government, it does however mark a significant dent on the standing of the Liberal Parties grasp of Parliament and that could lead to recriminations against those who crossed the floor. Now that last part might cause confusion because didn’t you say that the Liberal Party allowed members to cross the floor. Well the truth appears to be mixed, certainly (10) suggests that because this issue is so divisive crossing the floor on this issue seems to be no go with threats of challenges to the preselections of said members at the next election. The other issue is would a vote on marriage equality then pass the lower house and senate? The analysis on the impact of a passing of the policy on Turnbull’s leadership has already been largely commented on and there appears to be an assumption the policy would pass both houses with a passing of the suspension orders. However even if no Labor MP in the lower house voted against marriage equality the Senate appears to be a different can of worms. Indeed (11) shows that both in the Lower and Upper House there are members of the Labor Party opposed to marriage equality and when combined with Jacquie Lambie, Pauline Hanson and One Nation and Bob Katter in the lower house it cannot be assumed that marriage equality would just seemingly pass if the rest of the Liberal Party vote against marriage equality.


I have gotten to the end of this post and my final thought is that marriage equality is still a way off because as I have mentioned above there are still a lot of hurdles to climb. To those who want to use this as a stick to smack the Liberal Party sure go ahead however as I’ve elaborated above it ignores a lot of grey areas on this political issue and also ignores that other parties are also divided on this issue. In my mind that’s normal with social issues, I think we need to be more ok with disagreeing on some issues and not be so quick to bash those who don’t agree with them on everything.














Section 44 – Otherwise known as the Australian Senator career destroyer

Yesterday with the resignation of Larissa Waters due to an negligent oversight of having dual citizenship of Canada; Section 44 of the Constitution claimed it’s 4th victim since the 2016 election and 2nd victim in the last week with the resignation of Scott Ludlum due to his dual citizenship of New Zealand. The loss of two highly respected and competent Greens senators in a week has seen for an overhaul of the section in the constitution by many in the public. Before I return to the specific cases of the senators who have been caught out by Section 44 of the Constitution it is worth looking at what the relevant section says.

(1) essentially states that to stand for parliament a Senator has to ensure they don’t do any of the following:
(i) Have dual citizenship or no citizenship of Australia and that where dual citizenship is present they do not make sufficient efforts to renounce their citizenship to a foreign allegiance.

(ii) That the member of parliament has committed treason or if you are current serving time for a criminal offence or are in the middle of criminal proceedings that is longer than one year in length.

(iii) Is currently bankrupt or insolvent

(iv) Is currently working and making a profit from the crown (i.e working in the public service).

(v) That the Parliamentarian is making a monetary arrangement in a Public Service of the Commonwealth of Australia, so for example in (2) Dr Gillespie has faced questions about his eligibility due to the fact that he leased out one of his owned businesses to Australia Post which is a Government owned entity.

So the first element of section 44 of the constitution is what has caused the resignation of Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters. The reasoning for this part of the constitution is that it is a conflict of interest whether real or perceived to be voting on laws that are passing into land while also having citizenship of another nation. A fictitious example of this would be say we wanted to impose a tariff on the importation of lamb to New Zealand then it could be a conflict of interest to someone who still holds dual citizenship of New Zealand to be debating such a law. I also think that due to the public scrutiny that an elected member of parliament holds any perceived issues of conflict are as bad as if an actual conflict did exist.

Bob Day’s case which interestingly did not receive the same outrage for his removal from the Senate came under two sections of the constitution. Before (3) became an extra constitutional issue Bob Day had already resigned from the senate because of having to claim bankruptcy. However it was later discovered that Bob Day had been leased a building for his electoral office that was already privately owned which is in clear breach of line (v) of section 44 of the Constitution.

Rod Culleton one of the 4 One Nation Senators elected also fell foul of section 44 of the Constitution and his case again did not receive the same outrage that was levelled to the Greens Senators. Again (4) shows that Rod Culleton lost his seat in the senate due to two elements of section 44, firstly he was facing charges of larceny which carried a penalty of over 1 year penalty. He also was declared to be bankrupt when he failed to pay back an outstanding loan.

Line (iv) of the section is something that has not recently been tested. However in 1993 (5) Phil Cleary was ruled ineligible to stand in the by election of Wills which was caused by the retirement of Bob Hawke. Phil won the by election as an independent however because he was public school teacher at the time he was technically a paid member of the crown and therefore was ineligible, this is despite him being on unpaid leave at the time. This could trip up a number of potential parliamentarians although this part of the constitution has been worked around by public servants being allowed to quit their jobs, stand for election and if unsuccessful then be able to automatically reenter their jobs upon the completion of the election.

There are a few added points for me to make on this constitution given the public reaction to the Greens resignations. A lot of people have called for section 44(i) to be scrapped in the wake of the resignations, the biggest issue with that is that because it is part of the Australian Constitution then to change the section we would need a referendum. This of course brings a hefty cost of running the referendum as well as any advertising delegated to prosecuting the cases of a yes or no vote for the question. I have also seen a lot of fingers pointed at relevant Labor or Liberal members who were born overseas by the same people who are upset at the resignations of Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters, the most noted example being Tony Abbott. I think that is hypocritical and points out that one of the big differences between major parties and smaller parties is that the major parties do a much better job of vetting potential candidates for potential issues that could preclude eligibility of election in comparison to smaller parties. There has also been questions raised as to whether votes taken by members should be excluded and if salary paid to the senator should be repaid. (6) which is another excellent post by the Psephologist Yoda Antony Green points out that the high court has previously ruled that votes taken by ineligible members can not be retrospectively discounted and that the practice of the government is not to push for salary to be chased from ineligible members. The reason for this I suspect is self preservation in that if you chase one senator for returned salary you open the pandoras box of having that come back to bite you if one of your pack are found to be ineligible. I think my last point would be that the Greens are facing some real issues at the moment. Now a lot of the attention has been on the infighting between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, however if the Greens were a major party they’d be getting the coverage of a party in crisis. They have now lost two deputy leaders and senators in a week and have a member in Lee Rhiannon who has been excluded from attending contentious party room discussions. This same senator has responded by pulling on her state branch pushing back against that decision and by her calling the current leader a real disappointment. Now the two senators who will replace Ludlum and Waters will still be.Greens members due to the recount of the senate ballots flowing their votes onto the next eligible Greens ticket member but to lose roughly 15 years of parliamentary experience in a group of 10 senators/MPS is a real loss!









The Week that was in Politics – What were the Liberal Party thinking (Again!)

In last weeks blog I was rather scathing of the Labor and the Green Party, one week on and it’s the Liberal Party who have had a bad week. They say nothing good happens after drinking at midnight and Christopher Pyne may do well to heed that advice. Tony Abbott has been continuing to attack Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership openly and not so openly; and so Christopher Pyne’s late night admission that he wants to see marriage equality pass through the house sooner than later and that he never voted for Tony Abbott was just the opportunity Tony Abbott needed to come and attack the Liberal Party and it’s leadership under Turnbull again.

Earlier this year Scott Morrison would appear on Ray Hadley’s conservative radio program weekly to discuss politics however that appearance ended due to Scott Morrison appearing on a seperate ABC program to discuss the budget rather than to appear on his show. This opened up a slot for a Liberal MP to appear on the weekly spot and Tony Abbott happily accepted the opportunity to appear on the show. In a similar fashion to Kevin Rudd after the 2010 election Tony Abbott can now use that radio spot to advance his views on policy issues that are shaping the country and show how that differentiates from the leader, in this case Malcom Turnbull. The big difference between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd is that Kevin Rudd held public support in the period between his first leadership loss and regaining the leadership whereas Tony Abbott has not had that public support. So when Tony Abbott came out this week with a new manifesto a lot of the political issues he raised are popular with his political base however they don’t have broad public support besides a tougher stance on national security and that already is a policy shift that Malcolm Turnbull has been making this year. You don’t fix national security issues however by getting up on a national platform surrounded by flags lecturing people, it requires a delicate nuanced approach.

One big claim by right wing commentators and Corey Bernadi/ Tony Abbott is that by moving to the centre on issues the Liberal Party have lost votes to the One Nation and Conservatives Party. As (1) shows this is a valid claim however it’s use is exaggerated in it’s impact on the Liberal Party vote share. I think it’s clear that Liberal are leaking votes to right wing parties like the One Nation Party and other conservative parties however if the Liberal’s move to far to the right then they risk losing votes to the Labor Party or the Greens particularly in more metropolitan seats. At first glance Wentworth, Bennelong, Higgins, Brisbane, Sturt and Reid are all potential greens targets longer term that the Liberal Party risk losing if they were to move to far too the right. The One Nation threat shouldn’t be an issue in a preferential voting system because most of the lost votes should come back to the Liberal Party through preferences, however this didn’t happen in 2016, the preferences split closer to 50-50 between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. This is the real problem for the Liberal Party, that unlike the Labor Party who receive about 80 percent of Greens preferences when disenfranchised voters are voting away from the Liberal Party they aren’t getting those votes back. This means you can’t just assume that taking on a more right wing approach will get you all of these votes back, because you are essentially chasing protest votes and they don’t split as logically to one particular party. I think it’s important to look at the polls going into Tony Abbott’s demise as PM; The Liberal Party were anywhere from 55-45 to 58-42 behind in two party preferred votes and were in real danger of losing all South Australian seats to match the wipeout that eventuated in NT and Tasmania. With this in mind it’s a bit disingenuous of right wing commentators to attack Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in the face of 53-47 polls because he won the 2016 election despite that looking impossible before the 2015 leadership spill and a lot of Malcolm Turnbull’s issues have come from needing to placate the party to avoid losing his leadership again. I know speaking to voters they say well Turnbull show just muscle up and show some leadership but this would then lead to captains calls and this was something that the public despised Tony Abbott for. There’s also no point taking a position on an issue that can’t pass the party room because all that will do is leave you without the leadership and with the issue then reversed to an even less favourable position. I also think the public share some blame for the paralysis on big policy issues. I remember when Mike Baird introduced the greyhound ban there was not much of a whimper from those who supported the decision but the opposition groups were very loud and manifested a strong opposition to the policy. As a result of this and an Orange By Election loss Mike Baird reversed his policy decision and only then did animal rights groups speak up about what a horrible decision this was from Mike Baird. Well if you had spoken up with your views earlier Mike Baird might of had a stronger position to defend his decision.

How do I think the latest Abbott vs Turnbull dispute will end. Well I think Malcolm Turnbull will continue to spin the line that he is only focussed on policy outcomes and not the distractions of the personal politics, this is evidenced by (2) however the last 7 years suggests that the media will continue to chase the sound bite and there are going to be a lot of these sound bites still to come. I don’t think Tony Abbott will return to the leadership, I think he only gets 10-15 votes now in a leadership spill however I don’t think this concerns Abbott. He has such a personal vengeance against Malcolm Turnbull that he would rather lose the next election than let Turnbull implement his chosen policy platform. The problem this has then is who leads the Liberal Party should they lose the next election, Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to leave Parliament if the Liberal Party lose the next election and Scott Morrison has lost a lot of his shine from his not so effective stint now as Treasurer. That leaves Peter Dutton who is a popular base candidate but who is very divisive in the public and holds a marginal seat, there is a possibility he loses his Queensland seat at the next election. After that your next candidates are probably still a few years off with Christian Porter probably the most likely to be the next Liberal Prime Minister when Liberal re take office.

Elsewhere in Politics the Greens have had another difficult internal week and would indeed be in some crisis if they were a major party with the increased media criticism. Senator Lee Rhiannon has been suspended from attending contentious party room meetings for the foreseeable future although has not been expelled from the Greens as some sources were expecting. This has led to an Insiders appearance by Lee Rhiannon this morning to reiterate her criticism on Richard Di Natale as party leader and an insistence that the Greens are a party for the members and not for the MPs. This statement is essentially why the Greens have split at the moment. As I have alluded to in previous posts Di Natale seeks to make the Greens more electable and be able to win seats from both the Labor and Liberals in metropolitan seats. This is opposed to Lee Rhiannon and the more left wing of the New South Wales division particularly who want to see the party reach it’s members and let policy be influenced by their base. This split became public when Lee Rhiannon supported the Greens Base members for their opposition to the Liberal’s Gonski policy while Di Natale and Sarah Hanson Young were working on amendments to support the governments policy. The fact that 9 MPs were in favour of this approach and 1 Senator opposing the deal stops any progress on the matter suggests to me that the Greens have some issues to deal with going forward.





Education – I hope I spelt that right

This week in parliament the government were finally able to pass their school funding reform through the senate and then the lower house. For the government this helps alleviate an area of concern with the public being that Liberal governments look to cut funding in public services, particularly education and health. In order to pass the legislation through the senate the Government needed to do a deal with the senate cross bench/ the Greens and the backbench to ensure it’s passage. This essentially boiled down to the amount of money pledged to schools increasing by 5 billion dollars from the 18.9 billion dollars which helped get the independents on board particularly with the money being spent over 6 years rather than 10 years which meant the money would be spent sooner. To placate the backbench and the Catholic schools sector they were then promised to have their current arrangement of funding kept for an extra year. This was needed as the Catholic sector were unhappy with losing money from some of the richer schools which by nature of the needs based funding arrangement meant for schools to receive money some schools needed to lose money.

Sadly although not completely surprising under the current political environment the Labor and the Greens were both opposed to the measure, although in the case of the Greens this opposition came late. Now the argument the Labor party gave was that they were committed to the spending proposed under Gonski 1.0 and that the government were now walking away from a commitment to match the spending back in the 2013 election. Now that commitment from Tony Abbott was a mistake but the Labor party are also culpable because their plan of funding was over 10 years and what they don’t mention is that the Liberal Party only planned to match the first four years of spending. The other issue with the first Gonski deal was that in the dying days of the second Kevin Rudd government Bill Shorten the then Education minister made special arrangements with individual states to get the policy agreed too, this meant that only 4 states and the ACT agreed to the Gonski arrangements and the other states then had a seperate arrangement. This meant that Christopher Pyne the Education minister under Tony Abbot was able to claim that because the deal done by Bill Shorten was not nationally agreed by the states and territories the Liberal party could pull their support for the deal and implement their own policy that saved the government money to fix the budget issues that they claimed to have inherited. This allowed the Labor party to run the line then as they did with this version of the Gonski deal that the Liberal party were cutting money from Education. From (1) and (2) we see that these claims are slightly misleading, now the Labor can claim they are going to spend more money on Education however that does not mean the Liberal Party are cutting money from the budget, a cut suggests that the current amount of money given to schools will reduce in the next year not increase at a slower rate. The take away line from (2) was that the Labor party wanted to claim that the government had cut 22 million dollars from Education which would cause 22 thousand teachers would lose their jobs, this is not true, the correct phrase would be to say that because of the policy differences 22 thousand teachers could not be hired. The other flaw with the Labor policy is that they continue to offer budget figures for 10 years even though yearly budgets are meant to be forecast over 4 years only which means that funding amounts for 10 years are hard to project past the 4 years officially included in the budget. This is a growing trend by both sides of government on big ticket issues to plan spending over longer year amounts and then push a lot of the money into the latter years of the plan which allows them to save more money immediately and push out the higher spending to later on when the other side of politics might be in Parliament and have to wear the bill. A similar thing appears to have happened on spending on the National Disability Insurance Scheme where the big spending money in the budget was pushed out to the later years of the forecast amount when the Labor Party had a high suspicion they’d be in opposition. The Labor Party also made the strange move in Parliament of asking question after question of why the Liberal Party were cutting money from rich Catholic schools and not allowing parents to choose where they send their kids to school. This line of attack along with the Education Unions attack on this issue is strange because Labor parties tend to be pro public education and always looking to hammer home the attack that Right side of centre parties seek to be anti Public Education. Indeed over in the UK I was following a post 2017 budget attack by Jeremy Corbyn asking why more money was being pledged by Theresa May and the Conservatives on private tuition education instead of public school spending a complete opposite argument to what Labor appeared to be pushing in Australia, I might comment that at least in Australia public school spending is actually mainly done by state governments and then federal governments provide money to the Catholic and Independent schools as states aren’t generally responsible for these sectors. This fact is relevant because the government pledged to introduce an independent umpire to ensure states still provide adequate funding to public schools something that people were concerned might not happen under this Gonski arrangement. The Greens eventual opposition to this deal and I suspect at least part of the Labor’s disagreement with this issue was because of the Education Unions opposition to this deal. Again the Education Union don’t claim to be good friends of the Catholic and Independent schooling system but they seemed to not want to give the Coalition government a win on this issue because the appearance of the government being stuck on this issue allowed the Labor Party to run the line that the Government couldn’t achieve any big policy wins.


It’s that last line that sets up a lot of what I think will determine where this policy heads to now. It was clear watching the Parliament proceedings for the bill passing the lower house that the Labor Party will want to make this an election issue by claiming they plan to spend more money on schools. How effective an attack this will be now that the policy has passed the house will be intriguing to see, the Government remain stuck on 47 or 48 percent 2 party preferred which would see them comfortably lose the next election so if the Labor party attack does not work it might allow the Government to make inroads on those polling numbers (again it is my suspicion voters may have switched off this government despite not viewing Bill Shorten as someone they want to be PM). I am hoping that this issue along with some of the other big policy issues can become settled now because it is not a good thing that over the last 10 years Governments have passed policy through Parliament and then the opposition plays politics and runs a scare campaign on the issue and unwind that policy when they win office. I’ve thought for a while that Bill Shorten will win the next election but if he continues to play the negative politics game that Tony Abbott used from late 2009 to winning office in 2013 then he will find it hard to transition into becoming a Prime Minister that can govern for a longer period of time.