24 September 2015

Why is it so hard to just say Yes?

In a solemn address at the defeat of the 1999 Republican referendum, Malcolm Turnbull lamented that history would remember John Howard, who campaigned relentlessly against abandoning the monarchy, as "the Prime Minister who broke this nation's heart". 

We all got behind that "Yes" campaign out of a shared conviction and commitment to an Australian republic. To allow Australia to have its own head of state and stand equal with other nations. 

Today we are faced with a similar campaign for equality, for recognition and to stand globally as a modern, progressive nation that supports marriage equality. 

Until last week Malcolm Turnbull and I were, as with the republic, on the same page. We both said Australia didn't need a plebiscite sometime in the future but instead a vote in this term of the Parliament to make marriage equality a reality now. 

Prior to his elevation to Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull spoke often to the LGBTIQ community promoting support for marriage equality. Unfortunately now, that all looks like a cynical attempt to present himself as a moderate alternative to Mr Abbott and to gain the support of progressive voters. 

Mr Turnbull was so committed to achieving marriage equality through a free vote of the Parliament that he expressed dismay at his predecessor Mr Abbott for trying to impose a plebiscite on Australians. At the time he said "it really is Parliament's responsibility to deal with [marriage equality] and we have the means to do so". 

Sadly now, in one of his first acts as the new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull has renounced his support for marriage equality legislation, abandoned his commitment to a free vote in the Parliament and embraced Tony Abbott's plan for a plebiscite. 

We all know this is not only an expensive delaying tactic, funded by Australian taxpayers to the tune  of around $150 million, but a cynical attempt by marriage equality opponents to sink reform. 

Mr Turnbull has long been seen as a champion of marriage equality. We know he believed in it, he's said so hundreds of times. But now as Prime Minister he has reversed his view and in doing so has sold out supporters of marriage equality as a sop to the conservatives in his Coalition. 

When it comes to marriage equality, the right wing of the Coalition are now pulling Mr Turnbull's strings. Malcolm Turnbull's capitulation to his conservative backers fails the test of leadership, and every Australian who wants an end to discrimination has a right to be angry at him. 

There is now a very clear difference between myself and Malcolm Turnbull on marriage equality. 

Labor is committed to making marriage equality law before the next election through a vote of the Parliament. Failing that, a Shorten Labor Government will introduce a Marriage Equality Bill within the first 100 days of being elected to office. 

It's time for Malcolm Turnbull to stop delaying marriage equality. To stop embracing the policies of Tony Abbott and pandering to the ultra-conservative elements of the Liberal/National parties. 

It's time for Malcolm Turnbull to act, not just talk. To follow his oft-stated convictions, not the politics of a conservative rump in his party room. 

The cause of marriage equality does not need more political gamesmanship; it needs action. 

It's time to simply say "Yes" to marriage equality. 

To deliver the same rights we all enjoy for our brothers and sisters in the LGBTIQ community. To improve our nation, to stand for equality for all.

This opinion piece was first published today on Fairfax websites.