Labor leader Bill Shorten has sent a clear signal that he does not agree with the push by his deputy,Tanya Plibersek, for the ALP to have a binding vote on same-sex marriage, highlighting a clear split in the Labor leadership.
Mr Shorten said that while Australia had waited “too long” for same-sex marriage, “the best way to achieve it … is not to force people to agree with it, but to convince them”.
Earlier this week, when Mr Shorten was overseas for Anzac Day commemorations, Ms Plibersek called for Labor to compel its MPs to vote for same-sex marriage, ending its treatment as a conscience issue for the party.
Ms Plibersek argued that same-sex marriage was an issue of “legal equality” and Labor should change its platform at its national conference in July.
The move has been met with passionate criticism from some quarters of the Labor Party, with some MPs threatening to cross the floor if they are made to support same-sex marriage. Others are angry at what they perceive to be leadership maneuvering by the ALP’s deputy leader.
One Labor Right MP said anger in the party with Ms Plibersek was “unbelievable” and her actions were a “white hot f— you” to Mr Shorten, while Left MPs who support same-sex marriage said she had made a tactical mistake that raised questions about her political judgment.
When asked by reporters if he thought Ms Plibersek had raised the issue while he was overseas to boost her own popularity, Mr Shorten replied “not at all”.
The Labor leader is on the record as supporting a conscience vote and noted again on Thursday that he would like to see a conscience vote rather than a binding one.
While Mr Shorten also noted that Ms Plibersek had previously supported a binding vote (she voted for one at the ALP’s 2011 national conference), his own remarks reinforce the stark contrast between their views on same-sex marriage strategy.
The Labor frontbench is also split on the conscience vote idea.
Members of the Left (Ms Plibersek’s faction), including Penny Wong, Mark Butler, Jenny Macklin and Stephen Jones, support a binding vote.
Members of right factions (which include Mr Shorten), such as Joel Fitzgibbon and David Feeney, support a conscience vote.
Senate crossbencher David Leyonhjelm wants the Parliament to reconsider same-sex marriage after it previously rejected a proposal in 2012, but is waiting to see if the Liberal Party will change its position to give its MPs a free vote.
With James Massola
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