MPs to have free vote on gay marriage: PM

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have differing views on same-sex marriage but say they will vote in accordance with the plebiscite. Photo: Andrew Meares Labor senator Penny Wong Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Coalition MPs will be free to ignore the result of the public vote on same-sex marriage and follow their consciences after the national plebiscite.

Mr Turnbull said that when it comes to legislating change he would not bind his cabinet colleagues to vote according to the will of the people, but that he expected most MPs – including those opposed to same-sex marriage – to accept the public’s verdict.

The details of the proposed plebiscite, including the exact question to be asked, have yet to be resolved even though a vote is expected by the end of the year. It has been unclear whether Coalition MPs, particularly cabinet members, would be forced to accept the plebiscite verdict.

Asked on Friday if cabinet members would be bound to support the plebiscite result, Mr Turnbull said: “The tradition in the Liberal Party is that on matters of this kind it is a free vote.”

But he said: “I have no doubt that if the plebiscite is carried, as I believe it will be, that you will see an overwhelming majority of MPs and senators voting for it.”

Mr Turnbull named Treasurer Scott Morrison as one cabinet member who is opposed to same-sex marriage but has said he would vote “yes” if that is what the people decide. Former prime minister Tony Abbott, also against same-sex marriage, has said the same thing.

But conservative MPs such as Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi, who fought against a conscience vote in the last term of Parliament, have indicated they may vote no regardless of the plebiscite result.

Labor Senator Penny Wong responded on Twitter, saying: “Malcolm Turnbull didn’t give supporters of marriage equality a free vote before the election, but will give opponents of marriage equality a free vote after the election.

“Traded his principles for the leadership.”

The Greens say the Prime Minister’s position indicate the pointlessness of the plebiscite.

“I think most Australians would be scratching their heads this morning. How exactly can the Prime Minister justify spending $160 million on what is in effect a giant opinion poll that isn’t even binding on his own members,” Greens marriage equality spokesperson senator Robert Simms said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has described the plebiscite as “a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia”, but Mr Turnbull has said he believes Australia is capable of having a respectful debate on same-sex marriage.

A poll released by Griffith University last week showed that seven in 10 of voters, including most Labor voters, support a plebsicite on the issue.

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