By Jamie Gardiner
National Conference made a historic decision for equality. By a large majority on the voices it agreed to align the platform with the aspiration for equality of Labor members, Labor supporters and the general public, as expressed in numerous opinion polls and an increasing number of newspaper leaders and opinion pieces.
Moving the Australian Rainbow Labor amendments, Andrew Barr and Senator Penny Wong spoke powerfully for equality. Several others spoke movingly in support, while Joe De Bruyn and others spoke against. Both sides heeded the PM’s call for respectful process. As readers will doubtless be aware, the night before the marriage equality debate the PM acknowledged that Conference was going to support the platform change. Leaders from the major factions wanted the rule change to give MPs a conscience vote to pass on the voices with no call for a count. The factional negotiations did not invite the Independents Group to participate. It is unsurprising that the Independents’ convenor called for the count on the conscience vote anyway. This showed it did carry, but not by much. There was no count on the platform change, but estimates range around 280 vs 120.
The vote to endorse equality is the big news. Opponents of equality have crowed about the conscience vote as a victory for their unpopular, outdated position, and many equality advocates have been deeply disappointed by it. In my view, however, it will probably bring the real outcome, namely amending the Marriage Act, much quicker than otherwise. A binding policy would have seen the PM, hobbled by her unfortunate election promise to the so-called Australian Christian Lobby, block a Government bill. And if one was introduced several MPs would probably cross the floor, daring the Party to expel them, under the Rules. Or the National Executive would grant the conscience vote anyway, rendering the Conference vote pointless.
With a conscience vote adopted, however, a Labor Private Member’s Bill will be introduced when Parliament resumes in February, and pressure is already mounting on Coalition MPs to vote for equality, and on Abbott to let them do so. Platform change was a big win, carrying a new challenge: to minimize Labor votes against the Equal Marriage Bill that Stephen Jones MP will introduce, and to maximise Coalition and Independent MPs’ votes for it.
Marriage equality was the headline victory for LGBTI human rights, but not the only one. Conference also adopted significant amendments that I moved in the Health Chapter, the Chapter on Open and Accountable Government and the foreign affairs chapter to make LGBTI human rights explicit, both in consultation and community engagement, and in recognition, acknowledgement and service delivery. These included changing policy on Certificates of No Impediment to Marriage. Attorney-General McClelland has announced this will soon be done. These amendments were developed through Victoria’s GLBTI Affairs Policy Committee (I am Secretary), and were subject to mostly minor editing by ministerial offices before uncontested adoption by Conference.