Turnbull Needs Marriage Equality

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Veni/Flickr CC

We finally have an Australian Prime Minister who supports marriage equality.

This is a milestone in of itself, but in politics nothing is simple. Turnbull owes his ascension to some very unpleasant people who are not down with equality.

And so, rather than having a conscience vote as is the way for Liberals with matters of rights and equality, a plebiscite has been promised after the election.

This is a mistake. And not just for all the reasons you would expect to hear from a gay Labor member who believes in equality, but for political strategy reasons.

Changing the narrative

The Coalition Government is in trouble and needs to quickly change the narrative. There was a collective sigh of relief with the knifing of Abbott, but that will not necessarily translate into electability.

The trouble is that Abbott has wasted two years either trying to be evil or doing nothing.

Reforming the tax system or industrial relations will take time to do properly. The new cabinet is new, but good policy does take time.

What would quickly create the perception of a change in narrative and at the same time not require lengthy white papers, budget modeling or a sustained campaign to win over the electorate?

I can think of something.

In one conscience vote, Turnbull would have the whole country talking about that achievement and not the missed opportunities of the previous two years.

Personal legacy

Turnbull’s ego is legendary, but it remains to be seen if his leadership of Australia will be.

One way to secure his place in Australian history is to champion marriage equality. Even if he doesn’t so much ‘champion’ as allow a vote.

Every leader wants a legacy. This could be Turnbull’s, and it could be done in his first few months.

Electoral positioning

Turnbull becoming Prime Minister is a real problem for the Labor Party. Turnbull is well liked, can speak in complete sentences and is thought of as a progressive.

But despite all this, a weak position on marriage equality is going to be a problem for a centrist Turnbull Coalition government.

Labor is going to campaign hard at the next election for marriage equality. And so are the Greens.

If a conscience vote were held now, the issue is gone from the election campaign, no matter the outcome.

If the vote gets up, Turnbull’s ego wins (see above) and the Labor Party loses another point of difference in a difficult campaign.

If the vote is lost, the right wing of both major parties remain happy, and Turnbull doesn’t have to deal with the issue at the upcoming election or for some time afterward.

The progressive conservative

Bringing on a conscience vote would cement the view in most of Australia that Turnbull is a moderate pseudo-progressive.

The validity of this is irrelevant, we’re talking perception, not reality.

Turnbull wants a republic, actual climate change policy and he most definitely wants marriage equality.

These views and a conscience vote on marriage equality would be swing voter gold for a new Turnbull led government.

Risks

The hard right of the Liberal Party are unlikely to shift their view, but the electoral benefits are clear, and Turnbull does like playing risky games, so who knows?

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