The view from Billinudgel

Time to vote and move along
Tony Abbott is more pig-headed than prime-ministerial on marriage equality

Tony Abbott wants parliament to own the debate over marriage equality. What a good idea, and so simple! Just bring it on.

Once the motion has been introduced, it becomes the property of parliament, exclusively and absolutely – parliament will own it. The only catch is that a majority – which means the government, which means Abbott – has to allow the debate, and this is what our prime minister steadfastly refuses to do.

There has been no shortage of possible starters – the Greens, the cross-bencher David Leyonhjelm, and now Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek working in at least temporary unison. But Abbott says nope; he does not want to politicise the issue, he says.

What he actually means is that he doesn’t want anyone else to get the credit for making the first move; he wants his government to politicise it, not some other bastard. This is clear from the enthusiastic support of his gay sister, Christine Forster, who says it will be one of the proudest moments of her life when the reform takes place under the prime ministership of Tony Abbott.

He is happy to accept the applause, but he is still not willing to do the job himself; the buck has to stop somewhere else, probably with the joint sponsorship of the Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch and the Labor backbencher Graham Perrett – but not yet. First the Liberals will have to resolve the issue of the question of whether there is to be a conscience vote.

Abbott insists that this is a matter for the party room; once again, he is not taking the responsibility. But this is sophistry; it was Abbott’s captain’s pick that imposed the binding vote in the first place. He bullied the party room into accepting it by claiming that it had to stay, because it was an election promise.

He could, if he wished, get rid of it just as easily, but is waiting until the mounting pressure for change makes it inevitable. That will free them, and him, to vote – and he assures his constituents, and of course George Pell, that he will maintain the conservative stance of a lifetime and resist change until the end.

The current timetable is apparently sometime in August, and in the meantime the whole thing will continue to fester in the workings of both the major parties. This will ensure that it remains a major political a distraction from what Abbott says is his main agenda – ramming through the budget measures while they are still seen as popular, before the public wakes up to what they really involve.

It is not particularly smart politics, and it certainly is not good policy; as the Irish referendum clearly demonstrates, the public is ready and prepared for a resolution. The argy-bargy has been well and truly played out. and there is really no need for a debate at all, just for a vote to set the whole thing to rest and, as Abbott would say, move along.

His procrastination is not only silly, it is damaging the whole process. Once again, he is being more pig-headed than prime-ministerial. But what else is new?

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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