10 October 2016
by Heath Aston

Labor to torpedo same sex marriage plebiscite as new poll finds two-third want vote in Parliament

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and deputy Tanya Plibersek meet representatives of the LGBTI community in Sydney.

Labor is all but certain to kill off the Coalition's same sex marriage plebiscite, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claiming he has "struggled to find anyone who thinks it's a good idea" during weeks of consultation.

Having so far refused to reveal his hand, Mr Shorten will outline his final position on the plebiscite to the ALP caucus on Tuesday before the party adopts a formal stance – almost certainly for a free vote in Parliament as the only way forward.

The likely end of the plebiscite process comes as a new national poll of nearly 3000 people found two-thirds believe it is "important" for the Parliament to legislate for same sex marriage this year.

A ReachTel poll, conducted for Australian Marriage Equality last Thursday, found 46.2 per cent of respondents think a swift resolution on the floor of Parliament is "very important", 19.5 per cent believe it is "somewhat important" while 34.3 per cent think it is "not at all important".

In comments that further lay the groundwork for Labor to oppose a $160 million public vote, Mr Shorten described community opposition to a plebiscite as "quite extraordinary".

"My team and I have taken the time to sit down and listen to experts and individuals and their families who will be affected by it. I've struggled to find anyone who thinks it's a good idea," he said.

"The level of community opposition to the plebiscite is quite extraordinary. The more Australians hear about Malcolm Turnbull's plebiscite, the less they like it.

"Australia has never held a national opinion poll to judge anyone else's relationship, so people are legitimately asking why this should be inflicted on LGBTI Australians and their families."

If Labor does not back the plebiscite it cannot go ahead, with the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch already set against passing facilitating legislation through the Senate.

On Sunday, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen also signalled Labor's lack of will to heed Prime Minister Turnbull's call to back a plebiscite as the only chance to achieve marriage equality, possibly for years.

"There's no secret that we are deeply concerned," Mr Bowen said.

"The reasons are multiple. Whether it's the cost [or] the impact on the wellbeing of young Australians in particular who are same-sex attracted."

A University of Queensland study of the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland, released on Sunday, found gay people suffered serious emotional trauma as the public debated unfolded in 2015.

The university surveyed 1600 LGBTI people in Ireland via interviews conducted over social media and found less than a quarter would be happy to repeat the referendum process.

Nearly three quarters said the ''no" campaign had a highly detrimental impact on young LGBTI people and the children of LGBTI parents.

The Turnbull government is pushing ahead with the plebiscite, with Attorney-General George Brandis exploring extra funding for mental health and measures to protect religious ministers and civil celebrants from anti-discrimination law if they did not wish to officiate at same sex weddings.

He conducted a teleconference with 30 representatives from LGBTI groups on Thursday evening, telling them that service providers such as florists, hoteliers and bakers wishing to refuse service for same sex marriages would not be covered by any enhanced protections.

Senator Brandis will this week outline to the Coalition party room proposed amendments to the Marriage Act that would be enacted if a plebiscite is held and passed.

Commenting on the ReachTel poll, Tiernan Brady, executive director of Australians for Equality, who also assisted the "yes" campaign in Ireland, said if the plebiscite is derailed this week it was more important than ever to use the "momentum and enthusiasm" built up to enact marriage equality.

"Once it happens it ceases to be a political issue because everyone just moves on. In Ireland, no one stood at the recent election on the platform of repealing same sex marriage," he said.