Wednesday, 12 August 2015
I thought we were supposed to be talking about climate change today.
Julie Bishop not getting the memo
Well thank goodness that’s been cleared up.
As things stand now Australian voters have the clear choice on same sex marriage between one party that will have a binding vote that may be a conscience vote after the next election, and another party that has a conscience vote that will be binding the election after that. Of course the side that has a binding vote is being attacked for doing so from the other side by those who are, at the same time, arguing for a binding vote on their own side. Meanwhile the side that has the binding vote keeps reminding everyone that the party doesn’t really have binding votes on anything anyway and some are likely to cross the floor if it came to a vote, which they hope it won’t.
Finally, the side that’s not that keen on same sex marriage will likely be proposing a plebiscite, which given the polls, they will probably lose, while the other side that does want same sex marriage (sort of) is less keen on a plebiscite they will probably win.
Is anyone following this? Good.
After yesterday’s fiasco it is safe to say that the political class now has a position almost diametrically opposite to the Australian public it is supposed to represent. While polls indicate the public are overwhelmingly supporting same sex marriage but generally don’t see it as a big issue, we have a political class that doesn’t support it, but after yesterday’s six hour marathon by the party that thinks it the least, we now know considers it very important indeed.
Before unraveling the mess it’s worthwhile making a few basic democratic points against arguments that are unfortunately being most pushed by those lobbying for same sex marriage who, in reflecting what is after all the popular position, are going a rather undemocratic way about it.
The first thing that should be dismissed is the idea that MPs should have a conscience vote on this, or any other issue. It’s rubbish. If it is the case that some issues are so deeply held that they are a matter of conscience (and it is arguable that this is one) and that it is desperately important they are respected, what about the consciences of the voters? Surely they are just as deeply held? So why then should they be subjugated to MPs’ consciences on the issue?
On that basis, at least with the Liberals, who have a party policy on it, any voter who felt strongly on the issue would know who to vote for (or not). Whatever is thought on their stance, having it as a clear policy seems a more honest and democratic way to approach the voter than having to rely on the consistency of the conscience of a Labor MP. Especially, as anyone who has followed Labor’s record on this will know, for such deeply held personal convictions, Labor has gone through a remarkable “journey” in a very short space of time.
It was only back in 2010 that it wasn’t even a matter of conscience at all with Labor reiterating its support for Howard’s 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act as party policy. It was nevertheless reaffirmed by the personal view of the leader at the time, who many have cynically thought owed her deeply held personal conviction to her dependency on conservative unions, but we now realise to be just part of her radical critique of the entire institution of marriage.
Since 2010, Labor has walked away from its support for Howard’s amendment and now left it down to politicians’ deeply held personal convictions, which they will continue to do until five years time, which appears to be the shelf life of such deeply held personal convictions.
Of course at one level, Labor’s hiding behind the superior consciences of its MPs is merely part of the grand tradition of shame-faced liberalism on both sides of politics that stems from the Menzies-Holt period when conscience votes were used to loosen restriction on people’s private lives, like abortion, that were very much party policy when they were applied.
However at another level Labor’s use of same sex marriage has also been used as an internal political football that stemmed from the disaster of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd experience, with Rudd’s own change in his deeply held personal conviction on the matter coinciding with a need to distance himself from the unions and the faction brokers that gave us 2010.
Since then the issue has been code for the modernisers to weaken the influence of the unions and especially used by the current deputy leader as a gentle undermining of the current lacklustre leader which many in Labor are suspecting is part of the same problem. The hash compromise of Conference, where Labor will not have it binding as policy until the Parliament after next while promising to introduce a bill to allow same sex marriage in the Parliament before, sums up the problem of the modernisers who after the failure of the Rudd experiment, have nowhere to go.
If Labor’s expedient deeply held personal convictions have a tinge of irony, they are over-shadowed by the farce on the other side of politics yesterday. Here we have a party that even in the middle of an unprecedented six hour party room doo-dah had some leading figures telling everyone what a marginal issue it was. Furthermore the meeting was called by a leader who has been making more a point than anyone that there were far more important considerations to spend time on.
Such as saving his leadership. Like Shorten, Abbott was seeing the same sex marriage issue in danger of being used as an internal weapon against a weak leader. When LNP MP Warren Enstch told Abbott yesterday morning that he would be bringing the Private Member’s Bill on same sex marriage forward to next week, it was understandable that Abbott had to act quickly to stop this becoming a tool to further undermine his leadership. This would have been especially urgent given the way the election of the Speaker at the start of the week had been used to do exactly that with Abbott’s candidate being over-ridden for the preferred choice of the Prime-Minister-in-waiting Scott Morrison.
In the end it was done so hastily that as one MP commented, “They were literally making it up as they went along.” The main push for same sex marriage reportedly came from Abbott’s own frontbench rather than the back bench that led the challenge in February, and suggests that the next time they do, there will not be an empty chair.
That’s why, like Labor’s solution at conference, the shambolic solution put forward by Abbott made no sense to anyone interested in the matter, but perfect sense to Abbott’s need to survive – by pleasing the right by assuring voters the government was “absolutely on the side” of those against gay marriage and then heading off the threat from Morrison, Turnbull and Bishop by setting out how later it won’t.
At least one good thing has come from the farce, a way to shift the debate away from it, namely through the proposal of a plebiscite. Why not? Incredibly, most of those against the idea come from the pro-same sex marriage side more likely to win it. The opposition to the voters directly expressing their view through a plebiscite seems the flip-side of the tedious need to keep the debate confined to the superior consciences of the MPs.
One argument is that it will mean the out-pouring of damaging views, which can hardly be worse than comparisons to bestiality made in the refined environs of the Senate. Another argument has been that it is not necessary as it doesn’t require constitutional change. Well politics is about more than constitutional niceties just as Ireland’s referendum was more than just constitutional change.
And as for it not being necessary, well the current paralysis and farcical way both sides of politics have treated it would be an argument against that. It sums up a political climate that has become paralysed to the tedium of analysing MPs consciences and bemoaning the dire state of party politics, so having a debate on something conducted outside those confines would surely be a breath of fresh air. And what better issue than one that had so long been denied it?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 12 August 2015.Filed under Society, State of the parties