Same-sex marriage plebiscite: Churches allege PM made cash pledge

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A PUBLIC firestorm has erupted around Malcolm Turnbull over accusations he pledged millions of taxpayer dollars to Australia’s most ­senior church leaders to fund their campaign against same-sex marriage.

Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies, one of the country’s most senior Anglican leaders, told The Sunday Telegraph the Prime Minister’s offer to fund both sides of the campaign was “unambiguous’’.

Church leaders fear the PM will renege on the pledge. They want $10 million to fund a “No’’ campaign, the same amount offered to each side of the republic referendum in 1999, adjusted for inflation.

But Mr Turnbull’s office has flatly rejected the Anglican leader’s recollection, with staff present at the meeting insisting he had made no such offer.

They claim Mr Turnbull said if funding was offered it would be offered equally, but that it was a matter for Cabinet. The meeting was held at the PM’s Sydney office on February 12 and was attended by 20 Christian leaders.

“It is the Archbishop’s clear recollection that the Prime Minister, in words that were unambiguous, stated that funding would be available to both sides on a similar basis to the republic referendum, though the exact amount was not discussed,’’ Dr Davies’ spokesman said.

“The promise was later raised at a smaller meeting with Senator Brandis in March, who then asked what funding was appropriate, to which the Archbishop replied: The same amount as in 1999, CPI adjusted.’’

The allegation prompted the PM’s office to check the notes of various staffers who attended the meeting, including his chief of staff Drew Clarke.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton backed the Anglican archbishop’s recollection.

“I am concerned the consultation we had been led to believe would occur has not occurred,’’ he said.

The ugly claims the PM has misled church leaders comes as Cabinet prepares to debate the wording of the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

Cabinet is also expected to reject Labor’s demands for the plebiscite to be “self-executing’’ or binding on MPs, on the grounds that if successful it would breach the Constitution.

Legal experts have raised concerns that Labor’s push for a “self-executing’’ plebiscite could effectively propose a new method of legislating beyond the usual manner.

Labor is demanding that Parliament accept the result if taxpayers are forced to spend $160 million on a public vote, but the Coalition wants to allow MPs a conscience vote regardless of the outcome.

The final wording of the question is to be debated in Cabinet but will be a “vanilla” proposition asking voters if they agree to allow people of the same sex to wed.

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