Australian PM meets with opposition leader in bid to shore up support for public vote on equal marriage

The Australian PM has met with the country’s opposition leader – amid fears that plans for a public vote on same-sex marriage will be blocked.

The country’s right-wing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly blocked free Parliamentary votes on equal marriage, instead making plans to take the issue to the public in a plebiscite (public vote) to avoid a rift with his own conservative anti-LGBT MPs.

Having already agreed to stall the issue until after last month’s federal election, Turnbull – who now holds a wafer-thin majority – has promised to bring forward the plebiscite plan as soon as possible, later this year.

But the move is contentious due to the lack of public opposition to equal marriage, with every major poll on the issue finding the plebiscite result a foregone conclusion.

The opposition Labor Party has attacked the plebiscite is a costly stalling tactic from Turnbull’s Coalition, bringing a human rights issue to a public vote for political reasons. Labor plans to bring a rival private members’ bill on equal marriage, to secure the reform through a simple vote in Parliament.

Amid growing fears that opposition from Labor, fringe parties and the right of the Coalition could lead to the plebiscite being blocked, Turnbull met with Labor leader Bill Shorten today, in a bid to ensure the party wouldn’t vote down a plebiscite-enabling bill.

But Mr Shorten remains unconvinced, and says it will be up to his partyroom to decide their stance on the government’s eventual plebiscite bill, which is yet to be drafted.

He told press: “Mr Turnbull clearly pressed his case for the value of the plebiscite.

“I certainly expressed my support for a more direct route of a vote in Parliament.

“But I’ve undertaken to listen to what Mr Turnbull has said and I will talk to my colleagues.”

“Why is it some Australians have to have their relationships undergo a public opinion poll and many others don’t?

“The next practical step is to hear what the Referendum Council comes back with to both Mr Turnbull and I in terms of recommendations.”

The Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team have both also signalled opposition to a plebiscite, which means Labor could need to win over just one or two extra MPs to shoot down the legislation.

Australian Marriage Equality Chair, Alex Greenwich said: “We believe this is the first time leaders of both political parties have ever sat down to discuss the issue, and we hope there is continued dialogue to ensure marriage equality is achieved in this parliament.

“The final senate numbers provide both challenges and opportunities for the issue, with many supporters of marriage equality elected, but not enough to achieve the reform without a free vote from the coalition.

“As the various parties continue to assess their positions on the way forward, we will continue to remind them that this is a reform about people, not politics.

“We believe all political parties should work together to achieve marriage equality and it’s an issue that should rise above party politics.