July, 2019

PM-in-wanting Tony Abbott lacks credibility to restore good government

As Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott’s utter resistance and simple oppositionism was designed to make effective government impossible, and to cause the collapse of Gillard’s working agreements with independents and minor parties. Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe modern n Senate, according to the former prime minister Tony Abbott, has ceased to be a house of review and has become instead a house of rejection. As ever when he is making thoughtful and helpful contributions to his determination to see the re-election of the Turnbull government, he has a solution for every problem.
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Abbott still seems to think that he is the person to whom the party would turn if or when it has become obvious that the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull is irretrievable. It is by no means clear that the Liberal Party has such a death-wish (or even that there is coup talk), but Abbott can sustain himself in his hopes and dreams because there are no obvious candidates jockeying for the leadership, or with talents so obvious that the party would necessarily look their way.

Sixteen months ago, Abbott awoke from deposition hangover, and pledged that there would be no undermining of the man to whom the Liberal Party had turned after it had despaired of Abbott. He didn’t mean it then, and he does not now. That does not mean that his every utterance, or every effort to be heard or noticed, is part of a conscious strategy or tactic focused at a return bout. Some of it comes from mere relevance deprivation. Some of it comes from his habitual tendency to pyromania, brainfarts and efforts to demonstrate his unique affinity with, and ear for, what the average n is thinking. Some comes from an effort to protect his reputation and legacy, a project that is made to seem more logical given that Turnbull has made no significant changes, other than in style, to the policies of the old Abbott government.

But anyone who doubts that Abbott is waiting for the call should look at some of his recent rousing speeches, for example Monday’s address to the Young Liberal Party convention, available on his website. Nor would one have to be of the party’s conservative wing to note that however flyblown the rhetoric, he remains a better and more convincing advocate for his party than his successor.

It helps, of course, that Abbott can pick and choose which Liberal policies and programs he defends or questions, and is not the world’s most accurate witness to the style and achievement of his period in office. Or, for that matter, to his record in opposition, of creating a type of hyperpartisanship and oppositionism that has led to what he now describes as a crisis in government.

It may not be entirely due to Abbott genius. The style is very similar to that adopted earlier in the United States, where Republicans decided to block everything put up by the Democrats, willing at times to bring the public administration to a halt, or to simply refuse even to consider negotiation, compromise, or the ratification of appointments. The end point of that strategy is not only the election of President Donald Trump, or the gulf between the major political parties, but deep division in the population, public despair about politicians, elites and the political class, and despair about whether the old system of constitutional checks and balances – which depend on a willingness to compromise – can endure.

No one played the game as hard as Abbott when he was leader of the opposition. All the more so when a minority Gillard government was elected, and, as Abbott saw it, Gillard usurped power by corrupt blandishments to independents who morally ought to have supported him. Abbott’s utter resistance and simple oppositionism was designed to make effective government impossible, and to cause the collapse of Gillard’s working agreements with independents and minor parties.

Abbott failed, in the sense that Gillard was remarkably effective in finding winning combinations with the Senate backbench, and was successful with much of her legislative agenda. Yet he succeeded mightily in creating a constant sense of crisis, embattlement and bitterness, and political illegitimacy, about Gillard. It was hardly surprising that Labor calculatedly decided to return the compliment in 2013, when an Abbott government was elected, if with a renewed Senate crossbench with as much claim as he to a mandate of resisting Abbott’s policies.

The architect of this chaos now insists that governments – he means parties with House of Representatives majorities – must be allowed to govern. Executive government must be allowed to implement the policies it sees as necessary. For Abbott, this is not even something that starts with a mandate theory, because he thinks that governments must also be empowered to respond to fresh events.

“Good government is much harder than it used to be,” he now sees. “We’ve become less like Westminster and more like Washington. Unlike Britain but like the US, the n government can no longer expect to get its legislation through the Parliament.

“In fact, our Wash-minster model has the worst of both worlds: like Washington, there can be no expectation of passing contentious legislation; unlike Washington there can be no expectation of security of tenure for the head of government.

“These days n prime ministers, especially centre-right ones, don’t just have to win elections, make sensible decisions and run competent administrations; they have to negotiate every piece of contentious legislation line-by-line through a Senate with an in-built populist majority…

“It’s almost impossible to win four senators out of six in any state (because that needs 57 per cent of the vote), so it’s almost impossible for the government of the day to have a Senate majority in its own right…

“It’s much easier for crossbench senators (surviving on just 5 to 10 per cent of the vote) to play politics than it is for them to take responsibility for cutting spending, upsetting lobby groups, and reducing taxes on businesses and high-income earners.”

What we need to do, apparently, is to drop the double dissolution provisions in the existing constitution, and to substitute a provision calling for a joint sitting of the existing houses of Parliament if a Senate has twice rejected government proposals over three months. Section 57 of the existing constitution deals with repeated Senate refusal to pass government legislation by having both houses of Parliament dissolved, with a joint sitting of the new Parliament being held if the Senate persists in rejecting the legislation.

The political risk to recalcitrant senators is that long-term senators, looking to a term extending through the next as well as the present Parliament, might become more realistic, pragmatic or willing to compromise if they had to face the risk of losing their seat when both long- and short-term senators are up for re-election.

That is, of course, a risk that must be weighed against the opportunity presented by an election for all senators: in all of the states, if not in the territories, the quota for election halves, increasing the possibility that a senator who has made her or his name might get enough votes to be re-elected. Last year’s double dissolution election is a good example of the risk. The government was returned with a House of Representatives majority of one, a worse position than before. And the population of affirmed their desire for a Senate containing a large (indeed larger) number of ratbags, minor party and independent senators, making negotiation of legislation through the Parliament even more difficult.

If Turnbull has had marginally more success than Abbott did in persuading crossbench senators to support his government’s program, that has not been a result of his double dissolution gamble, which must be counted a failure. It is instead a reflection of the fact that Turnbull government ministers have been more open, consultative and willing to compromise with crossbench senators than was Abbott, who generally only went through the rituals of consultation.

There is, of course, both compromise and surrender. Some Turnbull government successes, in getting through the building and construction industry authority, for example, involved the effective gutting of the government’s original proposal. About the most that could be said after the great compromise was that there, on paper, was the agency that Howard had created, Gillard had abolished, Abbott had threatened to restore, and which Turnbull had tried, rather ineffectually, to make the pivotal issue of the election.

There was another problem, of course. Strictly, Turnbull could have convened a joint sitting, only the second in ‘s history, had the Senate persisted with its rejection of the ABCC legislation. But that was unlikely to get tougher legislation, given that the government’s majority in the House of Representatives was so thin.

“We do need an effective Senate for when governments get it wrong,” Abbott says, lest anyone accuses him of undermining the role of the Senate. “The Senate has a right and duty to hold the government to account.

“But the government also has a right and duty to put in place the policy that the country needs, including – sometimes – policy that wasn’t a specific election mandate.

“Differences between the government and its opponents in the Senate should be resolved by the people at the next election. They shouldn’t be allowed to stop the government from doing what, after due consideration and full debate, it believes is in the national interest.

“In the end, the government of the day has to be allowed to govern – and not with one hand tied behind its back because its legislation can’t pass.

“Do we want an that’s capable of hard-but-needed reform, as in the Hawke-Howard era of relatively amenable senates; or an that increasingly resembles Italy with a revolving door prime ministership and an inability to get things done because of gridlock between the two houses of Parliament?

“The need to negotiate so much past a crossbench of critics and rivals makes the government look impotent if it fails; and weak and unprincipled even if it succeeds.

“It’s no wonder people are losing faith in sensible centre-right politics. To win people back and to restore faith in our system of government, we’ve got to give ourselves more chance to succeed.

“So let’s get on with it, so that our country can have the government it needs and so that in 2017 our political system can start to recover from the trauma of the past few years.”

Somehow I cannot see the idea taking either the Senate or the electorate by storm. Least of all when it comes from Abbott.

But it is worth wondering whether the development of minor parties, governments without control of the Senate, and the increasing acrimony in politics requires some new responses, if only to cut through the logjams. Two-party systems are in decline everywhere except in the US, and even there, something must soon break. Most of the nations of Europe are now governed by coalitions in which parties must continually talk and compromise if practical administration is not to be paralysed.

is unusual for the strength and rigidity of its party discipline. Labor or Liberal, parties do not respect independence of mind or character: elected representatives are expected to vote as one. Yet the unifying principles of the major parties do not necessarily have to depend on everyone being of the same mind about freedom of speech, social legislation, or about climate change, the future of agriculture or the need for submarines. It might well be that there would be much more flexibility, and room for compromise, in modern politics if parties confined themselves to a narrower field in which they insisted that everyone was bound by Caucus solidarity.

It might also help if the House of Representatives, as much as the Senate, lifted its game to be a real debating chamber and forum of idea. It is in the representatives that governments are made and unmade, but in practice, once a government is made, it is the ministry – the executive government – which controls the chamber, the agenda and the parliamentary timetable. A government that placed more focus on the role of the parliamentarian, the backbencher, the argument and the rationale might have more chance of enlisting some sympathy and help from voters and from senators. But I would hardly expect that voters, or politicians, would be looking to Abbott for inspiration for this change of approach.

Jack Waterford is a former Canberra Times editor.


Wrecking ball: With Steve Bannon, the power behind Donald Trump, it’s ‘always noon at the OK Corral’

Steve Bannon: “The most malevolent voice in the US President’s head.” Photo: Ron SachsWashington: Malcolm Turnbull can’t complain too much. Donald Trump did lash out at the n prime minister, but at least Turnbull was spared the muscle-flexing invasion threat that the new commander-in-chief was dishing out to others – in the case of Mexico, to stomp out drug barons; and in the case of Iraq, to steal the country’s vast oil reserves.
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And Turnbull was never a target for the US President. Instead, the n prime minister was collateral damage in a shootout between factions in the new administration – in which Trump’s angry dressing-down of Turnbull was leaked as proof of what is being dubbed Trump’s shock-and-awe first days in the Oval Office; and with it, the swift and extraordinary consolidation of power by his anarchic strategy chief, Stephen Bannon.

Canberra reeled in the wake of The Washington Post’s unprecedented, chapter-and-verse account of anger and condescension spilling down a phone line from the White House, as Trump made serial “pleased to meet you” calls to world leaders last weekend. And when Trump breasted the microphone at a national prayer breakfast in Washington on Thursday, he wasn’t quite ready to drop the shock-and-awe bit.

“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it.” Trump said: “We have to be tough. It’s time we’re going to be tough, folks. We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore.”

In anyone’s language the deal, by which Canberra talked the Obama administration into taking 1250 refugees who still languish in Nauru and on Manus Island, was a cunning stunt that was sure to get up Trump’s nose – hence this tweet on Wednesday evening, in which Trump exaggerated the numbers: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from . Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

Amidst an outpouring of social media affection for , former senior US diplomats rushed in to douse the flames, with most refusing to speak publicly about the damage they feared Trump might have inflicted, lest their critique goad the new President to direct even greater heat at Canberra. “It’s serious – I don’t want to enflame things,” a former Bush-appointed ambassador told Fairfax Media.

Later, Trump seemed to have got the message, declaring: “I love as a country.” But as much as he grudgingly accepted that he was obliged to honour Obama’s resettlement deal, the President remained angry: “I just said ‘why?'”

And his spokesman, Sean Spicer, who at various points in his daily press briefing referred to the prime minister as “Trunbull” and “Trumbull”, warned that all the detainees would be subjected to Trump’s “extreme vetting”, leaving moot how many, if any, of the 1250 refugees would end up in the US.

Ironically, the Post’s report on Trump dissing Turnbull came during what had the appearance of a respite from the wall-to-wall protests and executive-order madness of the new President’s first days in office – Trump didn’t care, but Turnbull could reasonably have expected that with no leaks in the intervening days, the ugly detail of his unpleasant exchange with ‘s most important ally would stay under wraps; and in naming his pick to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court, Trump’s choice of the youthful originalist Neil Gorsuch was well within the bounds of Republican expectations.

But when Trump anointed Gorsuch at a live-televised ceremony under grand chandeliers in the East Room at the White House, as much as all eyes were on the nominee, many also wondered about the rumpled figure standing off to the left, an enigmatic grin creasing his ruddy complexion.

This was Bannon, well known to Americans since his appointment as Trump’s campaign chief last year and, since winning the election, his appointment as Trump’s chief strategist. But it was not until this week that they understood the enormity of the power amassed by this brash, bumptious newcomer to public service. In some quarters, he’s already referred to as President Bannon.

As Team Trump trooped into the White House, different power bases were ticked off by analysts – Bannon and his policy adviser sidekick Stephen Miller were the outsiders, some would say the bomb throwers; and Vice-President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus were the GOP establishment guys, who many in the party believed had used the transition process to outmanoeuvre Bannon by stacking the White House with their hand-picked establishment loyalists.

Between those two was the Trump family beachhead – the President’s son-in-law, trusted confidant and counsellor Jared Kushner; and floating between these three powerbases on an issue-by-issue basis, was Kellyanne Conway, a key campaign figure who Trump has also appointed as a White House counsellor.

None expected the shakedown to be as quick as it was. But amidst the chaos generated by the executive order by which Trump shuttered the global US refugee program for four months, and indefinitely in the case of those from Syria, and put a bar on arrivals from seven majority-Muslim countries, Trump slipped another executive order into the mix – he was appointing Bannon to the National Security Council … on which, more in a minute.

All this – the messages from Trump, the rate at which he threw them out and the extent to which Americans were seeing the unvarnished, unrestrained Trump – is attributed to Bannon’s brilliance. In declaring Bannon responsible for making “Trump the disrupter” the accent for these vivid first days in office, Time magazine quoted a veteran Republican who said: “It’s already over, and Bannon won.”

And this from BuzzFeed, in the crazy first days of Trump’s migration crackdown: “A weekend of chaos and conflict has produced one piece of clarity: Steve Bannon is the central force shaping Donald Trump’s presidency.”

Bannon seemed to concur with Time’s assessments that he was the one who kept the doctrine pure, he was the true believer who was in it not for money or position, but to change history.

“What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order,” Bannon said in an email to The Washington Post.

And that’s the thing. For much of the campaign and even into the transition period, a lot of what Trump had promised was dismissed as campaign theatrics – more hot air from the New York blowhard. The underlying belief was that Trump didn’t have the bottle – but Bannon is Trump’s bottle.

Historically, an army of advisers swarms around a new president, telling him what he can’t do; but Bannon marches into the Oval Office each day, telling Trump what he can do. And he does it – sometimes secretly, like much of the groundwork on the migration crackdown.

Increasingly his decisions are seen to be in line with Bannon’s instinctive gut feeling – which insiders say is much like Trump’s.

It’s not surprising that Bannon could elbow Priebus aside. But amid speculation that Washington politics is proving to be more of a challenge than they had expected, some wide-eyed reporters are asking what happened to Kushner and his wife – Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

Kushner is rated as a steadying, mollifying influence on Trump. An explanation being offered for some of the wilder rides by the administration – usually on Fridays – is that Kushner absents himself from the White House to observe the Sabbath rituals of his Jewish faith. But some suspect that he is being undermined and is less able to haul Trump back from Bannon’s pyrotechnic sphere of influence.

Kushner’s predictions in meetings with the business community that Trump would be “rational” when it came to his dealing with Muslims and building a border wall didn’t hold up – and usually mild-mannered, the son-in-law reportedly was enraged by the collapse of a deal on which he had laboured to ensure that a meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto would proceed.

“Kushner was f—ing furious,” according to a source quoted by Vanity Fair magazine. “I’d never once heard him say he was angry throughout the entire campaign, but he was furious.”

In the main, Trump’s commitments have been to those who he calls “the forgotten people”. Uniting the political tribes of the US is not at the top of his list and he doesn’t dwell on healing divisions – quite the contrary, in fact.

Miller, the policy chief, shares Bannon’s penchant for disruption, explaining to CBS News: “Anytime you do anything hugely successful that challenges a failed orthodoxy, you’re going to see protests. In fact, if nobody is disagreeing with what you’re doing, then you’re probably not doing anything that really matters in the scheme of things.”

Bannon and Miller reportedly were the authors of Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech, and the duo are presumed to be the authors of most of Trump’s executive orders. Similarly Bannon is said to have influenced Trump’s decision to have a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the so-called angry president, near his desk.

For Bannon, the NSC appointment was pure political gold – Americans and the world can only guess at what it might mean for them.

Already, even before Trump’s nominated secretary of state, former ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, had been approved by the Senate, the President has, with the aid of Bannon and Michael Flynn, their worrisome national security adviser, signalled what The Washington Post describes as the abandonment of traditional diplomacy in favour of concentrated decision-making by these few aides, infusing a combative, iconoclastic foreign policy with their “America First” ethos.

Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, used her first visit to UN headquarters in New York to announce that Washington would be on the watch for those who “don’t have our back” and she paused, before adding: “We’re taking names.”

As Trump hectors China and Iran, the worry for some observers is that even as Tillerson settles behind his desk at the State Department, Trump and his gang will have so articulated a world view and a belief in how it should be managed that Tillerson will have to fight to be heard.

Trump’s reorganisation of the Security Council to accommodate Bannon is staggering – not only has he elevated a political adviser to a seat on the NSC principals committee, a Cabinet-level forum that tries to deal in fact; he has made Bannon’s rise all the more powerful by downgrading the NSC standing of the heads of the military and intelligence.

Bannon, a former US Navy officer and admiral’s aide, Goldman Sachs investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart flame-thrower, is now on par with the secretaries of defence and state.

“The last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security,” Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, defence secretary and CIA director in two Democratic administrations told The New York Times.

“I’ve never seen that happen, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s not like he has broad experience in foreign policy and national security issues. He doesn’t. His primary role is to control or guide the President’s conscience based on his campaign promises. That’s not what the National Security Council is supposed to be about.”

And if, as a Democratic appointee, Panetta sounds partisan, George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, Josh Bolten, seemingly agreed. Having barred Karl Rove, Bush’s political adviser, from NSC meetings, he argued at a conference last year that a president’s decisions made with his NSC advisers “involve life and death for the people in uniform” and should “not be tainted by any political decisions”.

Trump reportedly respects Bannon because being independently wealthy, he doesn’t need the job, and for his pleasure in blowing things up – he is said to have told a fellow guest at a party that he was like Lenin, sharing the Russian revolutionary’s eagerness to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment”.

More troubling, given Bannon’s NSC appointment, is information shared by his former Hollywood writing partner, Julia Jones, who describes his obsessive interest in wars and warfare.

“Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war – it’s almost poetry to him,” she told The Daily Beast last year. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome … every battle, every war … Never back down, never apologise, never show weakness … He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the OK Corral.”

But public opinion moves fast when you are having fun. A Public Policy Polling survey released on Thursday shows that 40 per cent of Americans already want to impeach Trump – up from 35 per cent just a week ago.

In the meantime, American commentators are running out of words to describe Trump’s excesses. This is what The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker is reduced to as she attempts to describe the unfolding early days of Trump: “Every day is a jack-in-the-box – or a dozen – a fresh page from Hieronymus Bosch’s sketchpad.”

Malcolm Turnbull gets the picture. Trump sketched it at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast: “The world is in trouble, but we’re gonna straighten it out, OK? That’s what I do – I fix things. We’re gonna straighten it out. Believe me.”



The Elphie, Germany’s answer to the Opera House

The Elphie, in Hamburg, German, was wrought from the bones of an 1875 warehouse.It’s been dubbed the project of the decade and also the new Sydney Opera House. Finally, the Elbphilharmonie​, in Hamburg, Germany, has opened to the public, six years late and 10 times the original budget – but who’s counting? Designed by Swiss architectural powerhouse Herzog & de Meuron of Tate Modern fame, and wrought from the bones of an 1875 warehouse, the Elphie is crowned with an undulating, sequined roof with 1000 curved glass panels that glitter and reflect the sun, sky and the waters of the Elbe River. Comprising three concert halls, the largest is the 2100-seat Grand Hall, now in the throes of a three-week long opening festival, replete with works commissioned specifically for the opening that showcasing the Elphie’s resident orchestras. The key to the concert hall’s pure sound is the acoustic “white skin” on the walls, made from 10,000 panels that steer the sound into every corner. Although the architects took reference from sports stadiums and the ancient temple at Delphi (as well as tents), those who like to see the whites of the performing musicians’ eyes will be pleased to note that even the back seats are no more than 30 metres from the conductor. Set on a peninsula jutting into the river, the complex also includes the four-star, 250-room Westin Hotel Hamburg, with rooms from $US213. A public plaza, reached by a curved, 82-metre escalator, is open to all comers, so even if you’re not a fine music fan, or not really into architecture, it’s worth a visit for its expansive views of the north German harbour city and the rejuvenated precinct around the concert hall. See elbphilharmonie.de, westinhamburg苏州夜总会招聘
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Five places that made me: Alex Zabotto-Bentley, design director

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Growing up, summer holidays were always a family affair. All the cousins would get together, and the families would bring their own house-made salami, ricotta, pasta, and all the bounty from their suburban gardens to a holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula. It was a classic coming of age story; we kids were like a tribe, hitchhiking up to Portsea, trying that first swig of grappa, sunbaking with baby oil, first kiss on a ride at Rye Carnival … ATHENS AND ROME

After studying classics at university, visiting Athens was a pure epiphany. Right in front of me, these temples embodied the beauty of mathematical principles, of form and balance, and everything made sense. I immediately wanted to delve further into Greco Roman art, so I hightailed it to Trastevere in Rome, where I was struck by the power of the statuary: the proud bearing and aquiline noses. I started sketching them for myself and I still do. Nothing beats a great Roman nose. PARIS

The Picasso Museum in Paris was a very special experience. As a kid, I had stolen a page from a library book, depicting Picasso’s The Pan Flute painted in 1923. I had this Picasso print on my wall and I was obsessed with cubism and its offbeat colours, which I often use in my work. I had longed to see the original, and there it was, recently restored. Time literally stood still. I actually asked the attendant to allow me five minutes alone with it … and he did. They got everyone out of the room and I kind of communed with it. Unforgettable. TRIESTE

A few years ago, both my parents passed away within a short time. I decided to make a pilgrimage to Trieste, Italy, where they were married. I needed to return them in spirit to the place where they had come together, but I didn’t know exactly which church it was. I searched out members of their bridal party, distant cousins and people in the village that had attended, and explained my story. I was able to track down the church and just as I entered and took a pew, the bells began to toll. It was incredibly moving. I climbed a giant rhododendron tree outside the church and attached two santini (memorial photos of my parents), with my cousins clapping in celebration. It was a fitting closure to a beautiful love story and an almighty homecoming. MALTA

Last year, I was honoured to be the style director for Malta’s entry for Eurovision. For a boy from Coburg who had spent every Eurovision contest glued to the TV with family and friends, to go to Stockholm and be backstage was almost unbelievable. We created a video for singer Ira Losco that celebrated Malta, from the crumbling palazzi to the wild coastline. It’s hard to convey the feeling of doing my dream job in such a spectacular country.

Alex Zabotto-Bentley is the award-winning owner of AZBCreative, known for his innovative approach to design. Coming up: Mjolner, a Viking-inspired restaurant in Redfern’s Old Tobacco Factory, and several international hotel projects including Flores, Bali, and London. See azbthecreative苏州夜总会招聘


Government MPs working to bring same-sex marriage policy to a head over next fortnight

Rainbow Families opposed to a plebiscite on same sex marriage outside Parliament House in Canberra in September 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares The push to allow a free vote is being driven by the backbench, though some cabinet ministers are aware the discussions are underway. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull personally supports same-sex marriage. Photo: Penny Stephens

Liberal Party MPs who support same-sex marriage will push to abandon the government’s plebiscite policy over the next fortnight in favour of a free vote on the floor of Parliament, in a move that could divide the Coalition and create a fresh political headache for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Fairfax Media understands Liberal MPs including Dean Smith, Warren Entsch, Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans and Melissa Price are among those leading discussions on how to advance the issue.

The push to allow a free vote is being driven by the backbench, though some cabinet ministers are aware the discussions are underway.

The majority of the Turnbull cabinet, including Mr Turnbull, personally support same-sex marriage, but the issue has been dormant since late last year.

The argument in favour of a free vote is that Liberal MPs have historically had a conscience vote on such issues and that the position adopted under Tony Abbott, which bound MPs to support a plebiscite, was an aberration.

In November last year, Mr Wilson said in a speech that he had “discharged” his responsibility to vote for the proposed February 11 plebiscite – a vote that was defeated – and that he believed a vote could be held before the next election. Supporters believe Mr Wilson’s argument is correct and they are now entitled to a free vote.

They argue that once the plebiscite date passes, and a Senate inquiry into the bill proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis is handed down in mid-February, the Liberal party room should debate the issue in the second week of the new parliamentary year, commencing February 13.

Significantly, they hope to bring the issue to a vote this year – possibly as soon as the end of March – to deal with the issue and get it off the political agenda ahead of the next election.

“No one wants this issue to go in into the May budget session, so lets deal with this quickly and relatively painlessly,” one supporter of the move said.

“This could be world’s biggest pain between now and the next poll.”

Another MP said compromises that allow religious exemptions would be necessary and that “the feeling is that this issue won’t go away, it is obstructing the government’s agenda and there is now a willingness to revisit this”.

“No one can have everything they want. But if the Parliament can agree on a compromise, that is a good thing.”

As the backbench group agitates for change, same-sex marriage campaigners ns for Equality will on Sunday launch a new advertising campaign across TV, newspapers and on billboards in strategic locations such as Canberra Airport, to greet MPs when they arrive on Monday for the resumption of Parliament.

ns for Equality director Tiernan Brady said the campaign would be the biggest, most expensive one of its kind launched in and focus on “changing the law to reflect n values”.

Mr Brady said the push to legalise same-sex marriage would not go away and the ad campaign would focus on the idea that “politicians should do their jobs” and vote on the issue.

“ns are for marriage equality,” he said. “They are not unsure, they are not a little in favour, it’s 65 per cent-plus in favour. is in the top 10 countries in the world in favour of marriage equality.”

Some Liberal Party MPs Fairfax Media has spoken to who oppose legalising same-sex marriage believe the law change is inevitable and that it may be time for the change to happen via a free vote given the issue sucks up oxygen and distracts from the Coalition’s core agenda.

If a free vote was allowed for Liberal Party MPs, it is likely the laws would be passed with the support of Labor, the Greens and crossbench MPs. It would see join other anglophone countries including the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland in allowing the unions.

But other more conservative MPs would fight tooth and nail to stop any fresh push and warned a civil war could erupt if Mr Turnbull did not stop the push.

Another complication is the Coalition agreement between the Liberal Party and Nationals specifies that a plebiscite be held, suggesting any attempt to engineer a free vote could set off a brawl between the two governing parties.

As recently as December, Mr Turnbull said the plebiscite remained Coalition policy and insisted it was the mechanism by which same-sex marriage could become reality.

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