Bill Shorten is acting to force the Liberals’ hand on gay marriage by giving notice he will move a private member’s bill in the House of Representatives on Monday.
The opposition leader said in a statement: “I believe the time has well and truly come for the parliament to debate marriage equality”.
Labor wants a debate to start in the House as soon as possible, although it would not seek to hasten a vote. It would want to be confident of the numbers.
Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek told the ABC: “Some time later a bill can be brought on for a vote.
"We are very keen to make sure that during that … intervening period, the community has the opportunity to tell their members of parliament about their support for marriage equality.
"We know from recent surveys, almost three-quarters of Australians are supporters of marriage equality, so having a few weeks intervening period certainly allows that period of community consultation.”
A looming debate would mean the Liberals would have to resolve the question of whether the issue should be a conscience one.
The timing of a debate and a vote in the house would be in the government’s hands but it would face a backlash if it refused to let the bill move through the normal processes.
Liberal minister Simon Birmingham and backbencher Warren Entsch have spoken out strongly this week in favour of a conscience vote.
The Greens on Tuesday said its same-sex marriage bill would be brought on in the Senate for debate on June 18 with a vote on November 12.
Shorten said his bill would not have the universal support of Labor colleagues. “It will challenge the deeply held personal beliefs of MPs and senators on both sides of politics. That is why Labor members have the freedom to vote their conscience – a freedom Tony Abbott is currently denying his party.”
Shorten said that for marriage equality to happen, “Tony Abbott has to give his MPs a free vote”.
The same-sex marriage issue has picked up momentum in Australia after the big yes vote in the Irish referendum.
Abbott has said that it will be up to the Liberal party room as to whether Liberals will have a conscience vote. At present Liberal policy is against gay marriage.
The Shorten bill is being seconded by Plibersek. It is based on the bill she earlier had prepared, but had not introduced into the parliament.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a strong supporter of gay marriage, indicated this week that he thought “it becomes more likely all the time” that a free vote would get up in the Liberal Party. “I’ve never seen a social issue on which public opinion has changed so quickly.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Abbott “continues to be lost in a time warp as Bill Shorten follows the Greens’ lead in bringing the marriage equality debate to the forefront of Australian politics.
"Wonderful to see more MP’s pushing for marriage equality. We don’t actually need more bills in the parliament, but we do need more votes.”