Cabinet minister Peter Dutton has strongly renewed his push to have same-sex marriage settled this term via a postal vote on the issue.
But his view was immediately challenged by Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch, a supporter of a parliamentary vote, who said a postal ballot was a “backdoor way” of trying to deal with the issue and would be “fraught with conflict”.
And a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reiterated that the government’s position – for a plebiscite – had not changed. What the Coalition took to the election “is what we stand by”, she said.
Dutton said he was “working on the assumption” that same-sex marriage would be dealt with in this parliamentary term. “I think that there is a momentum in relation to having the matter resolved one way or the other.”
He said the “next-best option” to the plebiscite, which the government had not been able to get through the Senate, was “a postal plebiscite which allows the public to have their say”.
“And if the majority of the Australian people have their say in favour of change, my view is that, having advocated a democratic process, as a plebiscite is, or a postal plebiscite is, then the government of the day is bound by the outcome,” he told Sky.
While Dutton, regarded as the de-facto leader of the conservatives, has supported a postal vote before, this new intervention is notable as it comes when Liberal backbench senator Dean Smith is putting up a private member’s bill to try to settle the issue by a parliamentary vote.
Dutton said the postal vote was “a much cleaner process than people running off to support private members’ motions, or a Labor stunt within the House of Representatives”.
He said same-sex marriage was a vexed issue in terms of the Liberal Party membership and the parliamentary wing as well.
The Queensland LNP’s state convention this month passed a motion calling on the government “to conduct a plebiscite on the question of changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage by way of a postal vote”.
The marriage equality lobby has opposed both a plebiscite and a postal vote. But the Australian Christian Lobby has said that under the right conditions a voluntary postal vote had merit and would be consistent with the government’s election promise to allow all Australians a say.
A postal vote could be held without having to get Senate approval. Dutton said that “there’s no doubt in my mind that a postal plebiscite delivers the same policy intent as a plebiscite proper”.
Entsch said he himself had at one stage suggested the postal vote in the context of discussion about the cost of the plebiscite. “It didn’t get any traction then and it won’t now,” he said.
He had discussed the matter with Dutton, “and I disagree with him”. He warned it would lead to calls for similar votes on other issues, such as euthanasia.