New Australian PM insists on public vote for same-sex marriage

The newly appointed Australian Prime Minister has announced that he plans to go ahead with a public vote on same-sex marriage.

Malcolm Turnbull responded to a question on Tuesday on whether he planned to handle the issue of marriage equality differently to his predecessor Tony Abbott, who was ousted in a leadership ballot yesterday.

Abbott was criticised for being a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, and for blocking coalition MPs from a free vote on the issue.

Tanya Plibersek asked the new Prime Minister if he would allow the marriage bill to go to debate in the House, saying it would take half an hour’s debate to go ahead, and calling for a free vote on the issue.

The Prime Minister responded, suggesting he would go ahead with a plebiscite, or public vote, on marriage equality, a measure which has been criticised due to its great cost, long timescales, and the fact that it is not legally binding.

Mr Turnbull said: “Historically this issue has been resolved, issues of this type has been resolved, in parliament by free vote and the honourable member is correct in referring to that. Another way of dealing with this – another way of dealing with this is by a vote of the people. And the Coalition, our government, has decided that the resolution of this matter will be determined by a vote of the people, all the people, via a plebiscite, to be held after the next election.

“There is no greater virtue in a free vote here or a plebiscite. They are each means of resolving the matter – one, I grant you is more expensive but, nonetheless, it is a very legitimate and democratic way of dealing with it.”

Mr Abbott, who is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, lost out in the hastily arranged ballot with 44 votes to Malcolm Turnbull’s 54.

Just hours before, Mr Abbott said: “There will be a Party Room ballot for both the leadership and deputy leadership positions later this evening. I will be a candidate and I expect to win.”

Julie Bishop remains deputy leader of the party.

Mr Abbott, who is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, threatened to sack any ministers who voted for same-sex marriage when it was set to come to a vote last month.

He later moved to avert a showdown with his own MPs over the issue, by proposing a plebiscite (public vote) instead and avoiding a Parliamentary debate.

After Mr Abbott writes to the Governor General to resign, Mr Turnbull will be sworn in.

Despite reports that Mr Turnbull would still insist on a plebiscite for same-sex marriage, he has in the past said Australia is falling behind on the issue.

He also predicted that the coalition government would eventually allow a free vote on the issue.