MALCOLM Turnbull intends to tip $122 million into a voluntary postal vote on same-sex marriage run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics if a fresh plebiscite push fails.
The coalition joint party room on Tuesday endorsed a plan for a November 25 plebiscite if a bill to allow a compulsory vote is passed.
But if the plebiscite bill fails, a postal vote would be held, with a return of ballot paper date of early November.
The federal government would circumvent parliament by ordering the ABS – which is still reeling from last year’s bungled census – to conduct the postal ballot.
Mr Turnbull says the coalition went to the 2016 election promising Australians a say on marriage equality.
“We all know what happens to governments that break their promises,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra.
“We have made a very clear commitment here and we will stick to it.”
If a majority of Australians vote yes the Marriage Act would be changed before the rise of parliament on December 7.
The federal Labor MP leading the opposition’s marriage equality campaign has vowed not to boycott the postal plebiscite.
But Terri Butler is concerned some Australians won’t participate in a popular non-binding vote.
“If it goes ahead, it’s going to lack legitimacy,” she told Sky News on Tuesday.
Junior minister Michael Sukkar, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said all coalition MPs should abide by the result of any plebiscite or postal ballot.
In a move likely to anger Liberal MPs who support gay marriage, cabinet minister Mathias Cormann says the government will not allow a private bill to be put to parliament if a majority of Australians voted no.
But if a majority of Australians voted yes the government would facilitate private legislation to change the Marriage Act before the end of the year.
“If the outcome is no, then the government will not do that,” Senator Cormann said.
That could force the hand of seven Liberal MPs who supported a free vote on the issue during a partyroom debate on Monday.
Backbencher Warren Entsch is reserving his right to cross the floor of parliament to vote against the government.
The debate comes as an Essential poll found 43 per cent of voters approved holding a voluntary postal plebiscite followed by a vote in parliament, while 38 per cent disapproved.
The government will resubmit its plebiscite plan to parliament this week.
Advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality has legal advice it says confirms a postal vote would be unconstitutional and warned of a potential High Court challenge.
Co-chair Alex Greenwich says the government’s approach to marriage equality has gone “well beyond a joke”.
STEPS TO MARRIAGE EQUALITY
* Senate to vote this week on legislation to run a compulsory plebiscite on November 25.
* If that doesn’t pass, the government will ask the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect “statistical information” from every registered voter on their views whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
* Ballot papers to be sent out from September 12 and the result finalised by November 15.
* Participation in the ABS survey (previously known as “postal plebsicite”) will be voluntary.
* If the nation votes yes (in either form of plebiscite) the government will allow parliament to debate and vote on a private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage, ideally before parliament rises on December 7.
* If the nation votes no, the government will not help any MP bring a private bill to a vote.
* The ABS option will cost $122 million.
* Government believes it’s on firm legal ground, citing the ABS running a nation-wide poll on a new national anthem in 1974.