Australia: Liberal leader Tony Abbott says no to equal marriage referendum at election

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Australia’s opposition leader Tony Abbott, has said he does not agree with MP Tony Windsor, who proposed that the issue of equal marriage be put to a vote by Australians on election day in September.

Independent MP Tony Windsor announced at the weekend that he is to call on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to take the issue of marriage equality “out of the hands of politicians”, and to let the public decide on election day on 14 September.

Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott said he thought that any public vote on equal marriage should not be held during September’s federal election.

Speaking on Monday, Abbot said: “I think the government and now the independents will want to muddy the waters with other things but the election in September should be a referendum on the carbon tax; it should be a referendum on the current government.”

He said that if a referendum were to be arranged, “it should be held quite separate from a federal election”.

Christine Milne, leader of the Green Party at the weekend said she was “clearly in favour” of a referendum, but the party has also said MPs should be given a conscience vote on legislation ahead of September’s election.

Earlier in April, Abbot said his party would decide its position on equal marriage after the election. He prevented his MPs from having a conscience vote on the issue, and said he remains opposed to marriage equality because he said it should be “between a man and a woman”.

The referendum would require a majority of people in a majority of states to allow the measure, could be inserted into the constitution, noting that same-sex marriage is recognised.

Gay rights campaigners in Australia have praised New Zealand after it became the 13th country to legalise equal marriage.

Despite this, Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said she wouldn’t be dropping her opposition to marriage equality.

Efforts to legalise the measure failed in the Australian Parliament last year.