WA Premier Colin Barnett gives conscience nod on marriage equality
Marriage equality advocates say the pressure on federal Coalition Leader Tony Abbott to allow for a conscience vote on equal marriage laws will only grow after Western Australia’s Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, confirmed this week that he will allow for a free vote on the issue when similar legislation comes before state parliament later this year.
WA’s parliament will debate state-based marriage equality laws sometime following the upcoming March state election after Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren last November introduced the Marriage Equality Bill 2012 into the state’s Upper House.
Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) had over the past week been attempting to ascertain Barnett’s position after Sylvan Albert, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Maylands, sent emails to voters that stated Barnett (pictured) will allow a conscience vote.
Former Democrat senator, Brian Greig, who is now AME’s WA convener, said it was very important to know where the Liberal Party stood because over the past few days a number of Liberals had given contradictory messages on the topic, at one point confirming a conscience vote and then retracting it just hours later.
“While Mr Barnett has said he is personally opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry, he will allow a conscience vote for his party on any such legislation,” Mr Greig said.
In a memo from the Premier’s office on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Barnett said that like on the issue of euthanasia he would be prepared to allow a conscience vote for his team of MPs.
“The Premier’s personal position is that he respects relationships between gay people and believes the wider community should respect these relationships
“He does not support same sex marriage but does support civil unions,” the spokesperson said.
“And he believes that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman but recognises that public support for same sex marriages is growing.”
AME national convenor, Rodney Croome, said the stance by the WA Premier would heap further pressure on Abbott to follow suit.
“Mr Abbott said recently when in Perth that he wanted to model himself on Colin Barnett if he becomes Prime Minister,” Croome said. “If this is so, he should emulate the WA Premier’s decision to allow a free vote on marriage equality.”
Abbott was quoted in Monday’s edition of The West Australian as saying:
“Can I say how much I respect the Premier of this State (WA), how much I have learnt from him, how much I wish to model myself on him should I get the opportunity to lead our country.”
WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, who is personally in favour of marriage equality , has already indicated that state Labor MPs will be afforded a conscience vote.
In December 2010, a Westpoll conducted in WA found that 61 per cent of those surveyed support marriage equality while a Newspoll of 148,000 Australians in November 2010 found that 65 per cent “have no problem with same-sex marriage”.