Monday, December 12, 2011

Gay marriage & conscience votes

It's raining again here in Sydney, with further heavy falls forecast. Our swimming pool has gone completely green. Youngest and I had planned to do something about it yesterday afternoon, but after a bright start to the day, the heavens opened again at lunchtime. Sigh!  

In yesterday's post, Sunday Snippets - writing, Naden, shield laws & problems with investment, I mentioned that I had a piece appearing in On Line Opinion. This came up this morning -  Santa's coal, country protest and the patchwork economy. I noticed a few typos that I missed in editing. Never mind.

Early in December I mentioned that the ALP National Conference was to consider the issue of Gay marriage. As people were forecasting at the time, the Conference did agree to support Gay marriage, but also decided to allow MPs a conscience vote.

The latest opinion polls reported in the Sydney Morning Herald shows strong support for the idea of a conscience vote (81%). However, support for Gay marriage itself has dropped to 57%. At the same time, Opposition Leader Abbott has indicated that he is opposed to a conscience vote for the Opposition. That is clearly going to create problems for Malcolm Turnbull.

One of the problems that I had when writing on this issue back in 2007 was a feeling that too overt a push on this issue might end in defeat. I think that's going to happen. A gentler incremental approach was more likely to be successful.

Back in the days when I wanted to be an MP and ran for pre-selection, I found issues based around questions of values and moral beliefs very difficult to handle. Obviously I had my own personal values and views and articulated them in a general sense, but I disliked the way in which strongly felt single issue views could derail the broader things that I and others wanted to achieve.

A core difficulty then and now lies in the intensity of feeling, the extent to which this can have quite variable effects in terms of votes. If we take the Gay marriage question as an example, my feeling is that it won't get up at this point simply because the net vote equation in the electorate is against it. The number of votes to be lost through support is greater than the number of votes to be gained from support.

I actually don't know when the concept of a conscience vote first arose. It's actually quite recent in this country. To my mind, it was a very important development because it allowed certain classes of issues to be effectively taken outside party politics and the normal business of Government.

Mr Abbott's opposition to a conscience vote appears to based on the fact that the Coalition opposed gay marriage during the last election, and so has made a commitment that needs to be honoured. Even so, I think that he would be wise to allow it.


Anonymous said...


Your OLO link doesn't. But the article itself is a good read.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, kvd. I have corrected the OLO link.

Winton Bates said...

I suppose the question is whether the Liberal Party will ensure that any member who votes in favour of same sex marriage will suffer consequences. Perhaps we will find out.
Some Libs sometimes say that in their party every vote is a conscience vote, but I get the impression that they still make sure that actions have consequences.

Jim Belshaw said...

Well put, Winton!