SEPTEMBER 13 2016 – 12:36PM
The Turnbull government’s plans to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage have fallen into deeper disarray, with a Liberal senator revealing he will refuse to vote with his party on the issue.
West Australian senator Dean Smith, the Liberal Party’s first openly gay federal politician, said the idea of a plebiscite was so “abhorrent” to him that he could not support it.
Senator Smith told Fairfax Media he would either cross the floor or abstain from any vote when the plebiscite-enabling legislation arrives in the Senate.
Cabinet’s decision on Monday night to allocate $15 million in taxpayer funding for the yes and no cases had only added “insult to injury”, he said.
Senator Smith informed his colleagues of his position at a joint party room meeting on Tuesday, saying it was a difficult decision and had not been taken lightly.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s inability to convince all his colleagues to vote for the plebiscite is likely to further harden Labor’s opposition to a national vote. With the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team opposed to a plebiscite, the government will need Labor’s support to enact it.
Senator Smith said his stance was driven by a commitment to Australia’s tradition of representative democracy rather than his sexuality.
“As a lifelong parliamentary and constitutional conservative, I cannot countenance a proposition that threatens to undermine the democratic compact that has seen Australia emerge as one of the most stable parliamentary democracies in the world,” he said.
“I have never heard a candidate standing for election say they want to represent their community – except on issues where it’s all too difficult, in which case they will contract-out their responsibilities as a legislator.
“Yet, this is effectively what the plebiscite proposal is – a willing admission by some that an institution which has served the nation well for 115 years is suddenly, on one issue alone, not up to the job.”
Senator Smith said a plebiscite on same-sex marriage would set a dangerous precedent for other controversial issues such as euthanasia to be decided by a popular vote rather than the Parliament.
His stance is especially significant given he is the government’s deputy whip in the Senate, meaning he is responsible for enforcing party discipline.
Senator Smith first explained his deep doubts about the “democratic experiment” of a plebiscite in an opinion article for Fairfax Media last year.
A passionate monarchist and cultural traditionalist, Senator Smith was initially opposed to same-sex marriage but changed his mind last year – in part because of the death of gay man Tory Johnson in the Sydney siege.
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong said the opposition had always been wary of a plebiscite but recent developments had only “exacerbated” its concerns.
Labor is strongly opposed to public funding on the grounds that taxpayer money could be used to promote homophobia and bigotry in an anti-same sex marriage campaign.
Source : The Canberra Times