AUSTRALIA: Liberal Party MP Warren Entsch Defies PM Tony Abbott, Introduces Marriage Equality Bill [VIDEO]

A member of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s own Liberal Party yesterday introduced a marriage equality bill in defiance of Abbott’s mandate that all government MPs vote against any such attempt. The BBC reports:

The bill was introduced by government backbencher Warren Entsch, one of several government backbenchers who plan to defy Mr Abbott by crossing the floor of the parliament to vote in favour of marriage equality. Mr Abbott has said the matter should be “put to the people” in a non-binding plebiscite after the next general election, due in 2016. Meanwhile, cross bench senators have backed an Australian Greens bill calling for a gay marriage plebiscite before the election. In an impassioned speech, Mr Entsch spoke of how his bill, which has cross-party support, was designed to promote a more inclusive Australia. “Being gay is not a lifestyle choice,” the Queensland MP told the parliament. “This bill does not create different classes of marriage,” he said. “A divided nation is what we will be if we continue to allow discrimination in relation to marriage on the basis of a person’s sexuality.”

Abbott has threatened to fire any Coalition frontbenchers who defy him on gay marriage, but that threat apparently does not extend to backbenchers like Entsch. It appears unlikely that Entsch’s bill would be approved. Via ABC News:

Mr Entsch’s plans to introduce the bill triggered close to six hours of Coalition debate last week to thrash out the party’s position on a free vote. A clear majority — two thirds — of government MPs and senators voted to keep the existing position against a conscience vote, effectively confirming a bill would be defeated if it went to the floor of parliament. Before delivering his speech today, Mr Entsch embraced Labor co-sponsor Terri Butler and thanked her for providing support. The bill was also backed by another Labor MP Laurie Ferguson, Government backbencher Teresa Gambaro, Greens MP Adam Bandt and crossbenchers Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan. “We live in a modern society where women and Indigenous people have equal rights to vote, mixed-race marriages are acceptable and being gay is something not to be ashamed of,” Mr Entsch said.

Also yesterday, Abbott’s lesbian sister Christine Forster denounced her brother’s stand against marriage equality.

ChristineForsterForster, an elected Liberal party Councilor for the City of Sydney in NSW and vocal advocate for marriage reform, told CNN, it had been an “extremely emotional” week. “At a personal level it is disappointing because I am engaged to get married to my partner Virginia and I would like to be able to do that here in Australia and I would like to be able to do that sooner rather than later.” Forster, who was previously married to a man is now raising her four children with her partner Virginia, said she disagreed with the approach her brother had taken. She said she believed that a decision on whether or not to vote for gay marriage should be up to an individual, not a political party. “I have had some debates with some of my liberal colleagues who argue it’s (marriage equality) a civil right, not a human right, but my own view is that the right to be married goes very much to one’s humanity and I think that we all should be entitled to be equal before the law,” she added.

Watch Entsch’s excellent speech.

  • David L. Caster

    Even if the show-down is short lived, the net result will be a widening debate and a further shift in the political dynamics of Austrailia. This is how profound change begins: somebody stands up to authority and demands it.

    • RoFaWh

      What I see happening in many places is outright defiance of bad laws. It’s not a law that Entsch is pissing on, it’s a sort of parliamentary rule, but it’s the same phenomenon.

      Here in Canada, our cute (but truly disgusting) neo-fascist leader has been busy strengthening the laws against recreational intoxicants, but at least in BC, dispensaries (one on every block, it seems) openly flout the law in the knowledge that the cops won’t bother them and even if arrested, they almost certainly won’t be prosecuted. An interesting consequence of making laws a Federal responsibility but enforcement a provincial one.

  • GeoffreyPS

    Can someone please elaborate on what is meant by this: “Abbott has threatened to fire any Coalition frontbenchers who defies [sic] him on gay marriage”? Since they are elected, I assume he cannot remove them from office.

    • RemusL

      I assume he’s referring to frontbenchers having cabinet positions in the government.

    • richard

      Abbott said that any frontbenchers would have to be sacked or resign from their positions which means they dont lose their jobs but they do lose their portfolio. example would be if the minister for education crossed the floor they would no longer be the minister for education but have to move to the backbench as a regular mp

    • ben-andy

      So, in British and Australian Parliamentary government [and probably others in the Commonwealth], after an election, the majority party “forms a government”. Where in both the US and AU we have a civil service that is NOT elected but the heads of Cabinet level departments of the gov’t are approved by the Senate in the US and put in place by the “party in power [or coalition]” in theirs. Elected MP’s take on those roles. We have “divided” government and they have “unitary” government, as in the “ruling party” and the “opposition party” [or parties].

      Abbott needs a coalition to govern. Since the elections of Sept 2013, his coalition [actually made up of 4 parties] has 90 seats out of 150. Notice how few votes need to be peeled off to cause that coalition to lose any vote. Labour has 55 seats and there are 5 what is called “crossbench”. If you assume all 5 of those would vote w/ Labour and all Labour would vote for ME, then it would take 16 coalition members to pass the bill.

      Abbott is holding his coalition’s toes to the fire. He can take away their front bench status [cabinet position, similar to our committee chairs], but they can vote any way they please. If they’d made it a “conscience vote” then there would have been no repercussions of not doing what Tony wants.

      However, if they turn on him, it will show his weakness and the government might fall and that means new elections. There have been elections about every 33.5 months since Dec 1984 [368 months/11 elections]. We’re at 23 2/3 months. There is no specified time for elections [for the lower House, their Senate also has 6 year terms w/ 1/2 of the terms coming up every 3 years]. There was one in just less than 17 months [that one in 1984].

      Labour lost the 2013 election, before that, they’d been “the government” for just less than 6 years. It does go back and forth somewhat like Presidential and off year elections change the US gov’t and just because there is an election doesn’t mean there will be a change in PM, as long as his party or his coalition retains the majority.

      So, the Liberals [the name of the party doesn’t necessarily have relevance to any other nation’s politics] are trying to AVOID a vote that will break the current coalition. If they don’t, perhaps they’ll lose the election and there will be a new Labour gov’t or coalition which Labour heads. The Liberals only have 3 more seats than Labour so they need their coalition to govern.

      Interestingly, the PM is NOT a constitutional office in AU, though he ends up being the Chief Executive of the gov’t. He’s [or she’s, naturally] generally the leader, head, president, chairman/woman, whatever they call it, of the party ruling party. So, if the US had this type of gov’t and the Thugs win in 2016, Reince Priebus would be our PM. It would be Debbie Wasserman Schultz if it were the Dems. And, oddly to the max, it is possible for the PM to LOSE their seat and be FORCED to resign as PM, even if their PARTY retains a majority. They have to have a SEAT to serve, unlike Reince or Debbie.

      • Yes, and your last paragraph is especially pertinent. Unlike the President of the US, the PM is not directly elected by the people. He is the member of Parliament (Mr Abbott is the Member for Warringah) who has been chosen as their leader by his fellow members who belong to the party or coalition which holds a majority of seats in the House of Representatives.

        But the positions of Mr Priebus or Ms Schultz are not analogous, as they aren’t members of Congress. The closest equivalent in Washington is Kevin McCarthy, who as House Majority Leader would be PM if the US had a Westminster-type Parliament. And the equivalent to Mr Obama in Oz is of course Her Majesty the Queen, who, at least in theory, delegates her executive power to the Prime Minister through her representative the Governor-General.

        • ben-andy

          I usually manage to get to the point at the end. lol. Thanks for all of your clarifications, Roger. I would also think that Boehner would be “nearly” equivalent to PM as Speaker of the House because he publicly leads the majority in that body which has the power of the purse and the PM also has that authority] and is even in line of succession should the Prez and VP suddenly not be able to serve. In fact, he’s right after the VP. The Speaker lacks Executive authority, utterly. Which they kinda don’t like, until they are elected President

          However, there has only been ONE man in the US who’s gone directly from the House [and he wasn’t yet Speaker, but he was about to be elected so] into the Presidency. Gerald Ford was nominated by Richard Nixon to be VP when Spiro Agnew resigned and then became President. He was never elected by the people to be anything other than a Representative from Michigan and his original name was Leslie Lynch King, Jr. He was approved as VP by both Houses of Congress. He automatically became President under the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution when Nixon resigned.

      • Stev84

        >”cabinet position, similar to our committee chairs”

        A cabinet position means a minister/secretary. In parliamentary systems, ministers are generally also sitting MPs. They from the government and are thus part of the executive branch. Committees are part of the legislature.

        It’s similar regarding the level of punishment though. In the US, a party can’t fire a secretary, because they aren’t part of the legislature. If a party want to take away someone’s status and power, it takes away their committee assignments.

      • fuow

        So, if I’ve understood your excellent explanation correctly, the PM is more or less primus inter pares, as is the Kanzler in Germany?

    • The Parliamentary Education Office explains here: and I quote:

      “Ministers and shadow ministers sit on the front row of the seats in
      either the House of Representatives or the Senate. That is why they are
      referred to as frontbenchers. Backbenchers are members of Parliament who are not ministers or shadow ministers; they sit in the rows of seats
      behind the front bench.

      “Government frontbenchers are ministers who have been allocated a portfolio – an area of responsibility for how Australia is run. In the chamber, the role of a Minister includes introducing bills (proposed laws) and answering questions about their portfolio during Question Time.

      “Opposition frontbenchers are Shadow Ministers who have been given the
      responsibility of scrutinising (closely examining) the work of a
      particular minister and their portfolio. In the chamber, the role of a
      shadow minister includes speaking about opposition policies and asking
      questions to relevant ministers during Question Time.”

      To elaborate: Ministers are appointed (and may be dismissed) by the Prime Minister and are collectively known as the Cabinet; shadow ministers are appointed (and may be dismissed) by the Leader of the Opposition.

      (Notice that all members of the Cabinet — and indeed the shadow ministry — must be sitting members of Parliament, whereas in the US they need not be members of Congress.)

      What the Mad Monk is threatening to do is dismiss any Minister who votes against government policy in this matter and send him back to the backbench. That is his prerogative; but he cannot dismiss them from Parliament, much as he might like to. Like all members, they hold their seats by virtue of having been elected by the voters of their electorate.

      Any member, front- or backbencher, who votes against his/her party’s policy is said “to cross the floor”.

      • olandp

        Kind of like committee chairmen.

    • JT

      Members of Parliament are directly elected. The PM is elected by Parliament. The PM chooses his ministers to make up the government. They are like the President’s cabinet in the U.S. The ministers are the frontbenchers because of where they sit. The PM can fire them from their ministries just as the President can have his cabinet members removed. They would then become backbenchers as ordinary members of Parliament. But the PM cannot remove MPs from their positions as MPs.

      • Yes; but not by the entire Parliament, only by those MPs and Senators who belong to his own party or coalition, who vote not for him/her as Prime Minister but to lead their party in Parliament and thus PM. Should that party lose its majority in the House of Representatives (assuming that the PM himself doesn’t lose his seat as Mr Howard did in 2007) he would then become the new Leader of the Opposition — but that is not automatic. His party can, and often does, chose someone else who they think more
        capable of leading them to victory next time.

        Even while his party holds government, if he loses the confidence of his fellow members they can depose him and choose a new leader to become PM, as happened in 2010 when the Labor members replaced Mr Rudd with the odious Miss Gillard. Whom in turn they voted out 2013 in favour of Mr Rudd (again) in the vain hope he might do the impossible and win the upcoming election. As we know, Labor lost badly, which is how we have to suffer the Mad Monk as PM.

        • JT

          I think there are two things here: election of party leader and choice of PM, although they are usually effectively collapsed into one. Party members elect their leader. The PM is effectively elected by being able to control the majority of votes, so that includes members of all parties. When there is a majority party, the choice of the PM is generally a foregone conclusion. But it might not be, especially after a successful vote of no confidence. Or is that wrong?

          • No, you’re thinking in American, and confusing the office of Prime Minister with that of President.

            The PM is not elected, and certainly not by Parliament. He is a Minister of the Crown and appointed (like the other Ministers) by the Governor-General acting on behalf of the Sovereign; and, also like the other Ministers, he holds the position “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”.

            What happens is that after an election has been held and all positions in the Parliament are now vacant, the G-G invites the leader of the winning party/coalition to form the new Government. If he/she accepts, the G-G appoints him/her as PM and, on his advice, appoints the other Ministers. This need not happen simultaneously; there is often a delay of several days while the new PM decides whom he wishes to recommend as Ministers.

            As for an individual’s position as parliamentary leader of a particular political party, he gains that by being voted for by the members-in-parliament of that party only, not by the Parliament as a whole. In the case of a coalition, each of the parties involved votes for its own leader independently. Should the coalition win office, it is normally the leader of the senior party in the coalition who becomes PM and the leader of the minor party Deputy PM.

            If his/her party chooses, it can vote for a new leader; but this is a different thing from a vote of no confidence in the government, which is indeed a vote by the whole House. If it succeeds, the government resigns and the G-G dissolves Parliament and orders a fresh election.

            This is all very complicated, but Wikipedia has an article that explains it at some length:

          • JT

            The Governor General invites the person in control of the majority of votes to form a government. That’s why I said “effectively elected by being able to control the majority of votes.” This is usually the leader of the majority party, but presumably it need not be. If there is a vote of no confidence, that would throw it in doubt. In fact, I wasn’t thinking “in American.” I was thinking of the British model where the monarch does the inviting. The Governor General started out being the monarch’s representative.

  • PBGVNinja

    Hear! Hear!… good to see that one of Tony Abbott’s LP backbenchers gets up and states the facts. The MP’s story about growing up in Qld. and knowing someone who had transitioned, and how it made him see life as it is was most evocative. I’m impressed with this gentleman.

  • Robincho

    Entsching along, one classy, productive step at a time!…

  • Flagged as spam.

  • StraightGrandmother

    The Haters can’t stop this train, they can slow it down but they can’t stop this train.
    This was a really impressive speech.
    It is amazing to me how the Rainbow Coalition is beating back religiously based condemnation of LGBT relationships through being true to yourself and standing up.
    Think of Anderson Cooper coming out, and Sally Ride in death through her partner, and Martina, and Ellen, and Tim Cook and yes Caitlyn now, with Chaz Bono before her. You are changing the world.
    Like Evan Wolfson says when interviews mention how fast society has changed, he always says, “Well yes if you think 40 years is fast.”

    Marriage Equality will come for Australia and Northern Ireland. It’s a big world and so much left to do in Eastern Europe, Asia & Africa, and Russia.

  • JT

    Dump Abbott now! Vote no confidence!

  • Cosmo Tupper

    Abbott is not a PM but more like a dictator to the masses. My way or the highway. Like the low-life was appointed god of austrailia as opposed to ELECTED to his self-described anarchistic post. He is more like Hitler than any other leader of the free world and also smacks of North Korean-ism. Treasonous actions to be sure.

    • BobSF_94117

      He’s shooting for a knighthood from the Pope.

  • Cosmo Tupper

    What a scumbag! His own sister is gay for piss sake. There is NO altering of the religious mindset for their god is all-knowing and perfect and what he says, goes. Period. Oh, well maybe not for fornicators, adulterers and idolators for they are allowed to get married contrary to what the bible says about it. Divorcees remarriage is adultery. Divorcees relations are fornication since remarriage is forbidden based on the scriptures. Why don’t these bigots follow ALL of the bibles scriptures? Because of convenience. Once they divorced and found out no sex ever again, that was out the window and the bible was interpreted to meet the sexual demands of hets. Religion cannot exist without hypocrisy for religion is a fallacy full of discrepancies written by man when man thought lightening and thunder were angry gods and not merely cloud-borne static discharging to the ground and splitting the sound waves. The bible was written when humans were IGNORANT of science. I do believe in mother nature, however.

    • fuow

      Any sane person believes in Her. Red of tooth and nail, she owns the bank, manages her own casino and deals to you from a deck so cold you could cut it 10^18 times and it’s would still come out for the House.

  • Ninja0980

    Memo to Tony Abbott, this is a fight you won’t win.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Could anyone explain to this non-Australian what a front-bencher and back-bencher are?

    • billbear1961

      In the parliamentary system, a front-bencher holds a post in the current government–he or she might be Minister for the Environment, for example–a back-bencher is a member of the majority (ruling) party, the party that holds the most seats in parliament–usually a majority, at least 1 more than half the total seats–and therefore forms the current government, but has no official post, no place in Cabinet, in the actual current government the majority party has formed since it was elected to power.

      The current Australian government is a coalition, between the Liberals and the Nationals.

      Together they currently hold a majority and form the government. (I don’t know how many–if any–Nationals sit in Cabinet, but coalitions usually come about when a party that just falls short of a majority after an election works out a deal with a smaller party so they’ll have a majority and be able to form a government. Giving some posts in Cabinet to the smaller party is usually a big part of what’s necessary to cement a deal.)

      • Raising_Rlyeh

        Thanks for clarifying. It looks like a lot of people had a similar question about what front and back bench means.

      • Federally, the Liberal Party and the National Party (formerly known as the Country Party) have been joined at the hip since long before the present government came to power, and the National’s leader traditionally becomes the Deputy PM. The other portfolios are assigned as the PM thinks appropriate, though most of the current 30 Ministers are Libs. The various gov’t/parliament websites that list their names and portfolios don’t give their party affiliations, so without an awful lot of homework I can’t give you a breakdown by party. Still, Abbott is intelligent enough not to risk friction with the Nationals by not giving them what they think is a fair representation in the Ministry.

  • billbear1961

    Thank you, Mr. Entsch, for doing what’s RIGHT, for standing up for JUSTICE!

    If enough members of his party DEFY Abbott, there is nothing the cowardly little dictator can do to exact revenge against them without severely damaging himself and his government.

    DEFY the miserable shit! Why does he so FEAR a free vote on a matter of simple and obvious justice?

    Defy this champion of hateful discrimination who SHAMES you on the world stage!

    Show the world you stand for EQUALITY, Australia!

    Restore the PRIDE of a GREAT NATION!!

    Don’t let that petty little NOBODY, that pathetic CLOWN, cover you in shame yet again!!

    • Que sera, sera, Mr Bear. Patience is a virtue.

      Interesting that yesterday the Senate refused for the second time to pass one of Abbott’s pet bills (to clip the wings of the Trade Unions and thus the Labor Party) which gives him another excuse (IIRC he already has three) to ask the G-G for a double dissolution of Parliament and an early election. Whether he’ll do that while he and his government are tanking in the polls remains to be seen. I think it’s unlikely: calling an election on this issue — and with the hands-in-the-till scandal that led to the Speaker’s resignation last week still very much alive and M.E. refusing to go away — would be hardly prudent.

  • A big thanks to Mr Entsch for introducing this bill!!!! This issue is apparently causing a lot of debate in the party leadership about how best to handle it so keep the pressure up, the bigger an issue it is the better.