Same-sex-marriage postal survey without detail a ‘blank cheque’

The Australian    By Joe Kelly and Simon Benson

Malcolm Turnbull has been ­accused of handing a “blank cheque” to the parliament after the government declared it would not move to provide religious protections before the same-sex-­marriage survey is finalised.

Senior ministers yesterday confirmed that no bill outlining ­religious protections would be ­endorsed by the government until after the result was declared, arguing it would only be required should a Yes vote be returned.

The decision flies in the face of a warning from former prime minister John Howard, revealed in The Weekend Australian, calling for ­religious protections to be outlined before the end of the postal survey so Australians could participate with the full knowledge of what they were voting for.

Sydney Catholic archbishop Anthony Fisher yesterday ­lamented that “real efforts” were being made to shut down certain points of view, when those who supported traditional marriage should feel free to defend their ­beliefs in public.

Postal surveys will today start being sent out to the more than 16 million Australians on the electoral roll. The Prime Minister confirming that about 600,000 would be distributed per day.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who is also acting Special Minister of State with responsibility for the postal survey, said the government would hand responsibility over the final shape of any bill to the parliament.

“Our position on this has been clear from the outset,” Senator Cormann said. “We have said that in the case of a positive outcome from this Australian marriage law postal survey, the government will facilitate consideration by the parliament of a private members’ bill to change the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. A private members’ bill by definition is a matter for the parliament, not for the government. The form that such a bill will ultimately take will be a matter for the parliament, not the government.”

Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi said the decision to relinquish control over the final shape of any bill was like giving a “blank cheque” to the parliament and fraught with danger. “What we are being asked to do is to give a blank cheque of authority to the parliament which is a very dangerous circumstance,” Senator Bernardi said. “While some advocates for homosexual marriage like Tim Wilson speak about the religious and speech protections, others like Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis say that’s got nothing to do with this debate. It has everything to do with the debate. If you don’t know what you’re actually voting for and the consequences of that decision, a rational and sensible person has to vote no.”

Archbishop Fisher, who was the subject of “vile and vitriolic” comments on Facebook last week after posting five reasons why he would vote No, said Australia had “always been a country of giving everyone a fair go”.

Archbishop Fisher said Australians were famous around the world for “being people who say it like it is” and “who speak our mind to each other”.

“We can still remain friends even when we disagree,” he said. “And we don’t go to war against each other over ideas. Right now I fear in our culture that there are real efforts to shut down certain points of view.”

Archbishop Fisher criticised moves to block those who supported traditional marriage from publicly defending their beliefs.

“So if you want to say, well actually I love traditional marriage, I love the idea of bringing men and women together in a lifelong union, that all things being equal lead to children, and will give those children a mum and a dad over the long haul,” he said. “I think that ­really matters and I want to be able to say that in my family, say that to my friends, say that in my workplace, say that in our community. But there are people at the ­moment trying to shut down that point of view.”

Archbishop Fisher said a “genuine debate” was required across the nation.

Minister for Revenue and ­Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer rejected the advice from Mr Howard, telling ABC radio yesterday morning. “It is a very, very simple question that is being put to the Australian people,” she said. “It is a question as to whether people want to see the laws changed. Those people who have got other issues that they would like to canvass, obviously those issues will be canvassed at a time that the legislation comes before the parliament, if, in fact, there is a Yes vote.”

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