New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dashed hopes he would take swift action on same-sex marriage.
He is sticking to plans for a public vote on the issue after the next federal election – that election will not be before July or August next year and may be as late as 14 January 2017.
LGBTI campaigners had hoped Turnbull – a supporter of same-sex marriage – would allow a free vote in parliament after he ousted former PM Tony Abbott in a leadership challenge yesterday.
Abbott has stuck with the right-wing of his conservative Liberal Party by being a major block on marriage equality.
Progressives had hoped Turnbull would take a different stance as leader and he was widely predicted to allow his Members of Parliament a free vote on the issue, something Abbott had repeatedly refused.
But Turnbull has pushed off the issue, focusing instead on Australia’s economy – the country has come to the end of a once-in-a-century mining boom and needs to stabilize.
Addressing same-sex marriage in Canberra today (15 September), Turnbull said: ‘The coalition, our government, has decided that the resolution of this matter will be determined by a vote of the people, all the people, via a plebiscite, to be held after the next election.
‘If we are re-elected to government, every single Australian will have a say.’
The intention is to make the plebiscite binding on the government. It will likely result in a win for marriage equality which is supported by around 70% of Australians.
But the vote could cost A$158 million ($112 million €99 million) according to the Australian Electoral Commission.
Australian Marriage Equality national director, Rodney Croome, said: ‘Obviously, many people will be disappointed that Malcolm Turnbull has not seized the opportunity to deliver marriage equality this term.
‘But should Mr Turnbull be Prime Minister after the election, and the Coalition decides to proceed with a plebiscite, we look forward to working with him to ensure a plebiscite is conducted fairly, with a neutral question and that it occurs as quickly as possible.
‘We are confident a majority of Australians will vote “yes” for candidates who support marriage equality at the next election and would also vote “yes” in a fairly-framed plebiscite.’