The outstanding result of the Irish Plebiscite on changing the constitution to allow same gender couples to marry is significant. As a Catholic majority country, where the Catholic Church was actively campaigning against the change, a roughly 2/3rds majority in favour result was bound to have reverberations.
Naturally enough our neurologically challenged media started chasing the Prime Minister, (Tony Abbott) asking him if he would be prepared to have a referendum here. Predictably he suggested that if the matter was raised again it would be dealt with in the party room.
Of course logically there should not be a referendum in Australia. The first reason for that is that we do not require a change to our constitution to allow for the change. Marriage is predominantly a State Matter, however there is a Commonwealth Marriage Act, amended in the later Howard years under the guiding hand of the Attorney General Philip Ruddock and the shadow Attorney General Nicola Rixon. The purpose of those amendments was to prevent the possibility of single gender marriage. It was on the strength of this legislation that the High Court overturned the legislation passed in the ACT a couple of years ago.
The second reason is that the cost of a national referendum can hardly be justified when the result is reasonably predictable and the effect of such a referendum would simply be advisory.
What needs to happen now, for the matter to proceed, is for those amendments to be reversed. Then each State would be free to act on the matter.
Polling suggests that a greater percentage of Australians would be in favour than in the Irish situation.
Currently on the floor of the house we have the ALP having a party platform in favour of the changes and a decision to allow members to vote according to conscience. The expectation is that the majority of Labor members would vote in favour. The Liberal Party have taken a stand of wanting to uphold the traditional understanding of marriage and not to allow a conscience vote.
The general view is that if a conscience vote was allowed on both side of the house the matter would pass, though perhaps with a lower majority than the wider population. That is not especially suspicious as there is an age skew in the polling which is mirror reversed in the ages of members of parliament.
So the answer is not that we need a ten million dollar referendum, we need a Government with the courage to undo the ridiculous mess they made of the legislation and fix the problem.
The obvious way forward is for both partie to allow members to vote according to conscience, and move on.