If the cabinet’s conservative power-brokers play ball, the vote means Malcolm Turnbull can turn a fragile situation into a show of leadership
You might have thought the hard part for marriage equality advocates was winning a voluntary participation opinion poll conducted on the human rights of LGBTI Australians, but unfortunately the harder part looms.
The hard yards will involve turning Wednesday’s national aspiration into legislation. The will of the majority now needs to be delivered, and the greatest obstacle to that delivery is a riven government.
The Coalition actually has significant political opportunity with this result. The government has an opportunity to prove it is something other than a rabble obsessed with intrigues and toxic paybacks.
It has the opportunity to demonstrate to voters that it can function productively, and has not, collectively, lost the plot.
Demonstrating that would involve government MPs getting on with turning the will of the people into the law of the land, without delay, without posturing, without new threats and arm twisting and standover tactics, without unctuous gestures of obedience to conservative power brokers and preselectors.
Given the parlous political circumstances the Turnbull government currently faces, this is a significant test that people might like to consider meeting. A bit of sober reflection is seriously in order. But whether people can rise to the occasion, can rise above their inclination to plot, remains moot.
The crash-through strategy now among Liberal supporters of same-sex marriage is to grab the momentum from the result and play a simple numbers game.
If yes supporters hold their nerve, the numbers (with cross-party support) carry Dean Smith’s bill to the floor, not the risible bill produced by James Paterson.
How much the conservatives can extract now through the parliamentary debate – whether it is something substantial, something cosmetic, or nothing at all – depends on a couple of things.
It depends on whether the rightwing power brokers who matter – Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann and Scott Morrison – run dead and allow the numbers game, or whether pressure inside their faction prompts them into more active management.
Apart from engineering the plebiscite experiment, and expressing in principle support for religious freedom whenever Ray Hadley asks them, the trio have, thus far, given the conservative pot stirrers no public comfort for spoiling activity.
If this hands-off disposition changes, the parliamentary battle ahead will become much more complex for a prime minister who relies on their patronage.
Turnbull has now, at the last possible minute, the day before the result, nailed his own colours to the mast. He said on Tuesday his government was not looking to entrench discrimination against LGBTI people if Australians vote yes.
Having drawn a public line, it would be difficult in the extreme if his own people now proceeded to make a liar of him.
So the next few weeks are critical. Success will require a combination of Turnbull holding the line, moderates holding the line, and the conservatives who matter playing ball.
If all that sounds fragile, and uncertain, it is. Proceeding on those parameters requires reason and functionality, and in Canberra, we’ve almost forgotten what that looks like.
But if people in the government are thinking rationally, they will know that getting a cross-party outcome on same-sex marriage by year’s end is important for two reasons.
Firstly, it delivers what a clear majority of Australians have asked for. Yes, democracy: that old thing.
And secondly it settles same-sex marriage as a political issue ahead of what could be an earlier and more brutal start to the federal election season than anyone bargained for.Read more at theguardian.com