Astute observers of the Australian federal election would have noticed the ALP’s recent ‘commitment’ to marriage equality for all Australians. Taken at face value, it seems legit. The Party’s Policy Platform recognises marriage equality as a policy goal for the ALP, and the Leader intends to introduce the legislation to Parliament should Labor steal a victory in the polls next month.
So why then am I left with this funny hollow feeling? Why don’t I get the warm fuzzies like I did when New Zealand’s parliament so enthusiastically embraced this necessary and ground-breaking change to our marriage laws?
The answer isn’t Tony Abbott and his ridiculous insistence that Liberal MPs won’t get a conscience vote on the issue. What really irks me is the Labor Party portraying itself as something it’s not. The ALP is notorious in Australia for its party discipline: do what the whips say or it’s curtains for you, sunshine. The most recent iteration of the asylum seekers ‘solution’ is a case in point: the consciences of Labor members didn’t even figure in the leadership’s decision to go right ahead with the policy and expect caucus support for it.
So why can’t Labor just decide on the issue of marriage equality? Why does ‘conscience’ suddenly jump into prominence on this issue in a system that historically makes very little use of conscience voting? It’s all well and good to bitch and moan about Abbott’s stubbornness on the issue, which is of course a blight on Australia’s parliamentary system. But in order to call themselves progressive, the ALP needs to actually stand for progressive causes. By wasting their breath bemoaning the Liberal party standing in the way of equality, they themselves become the problem. This issue becomes little more than a political football: a way for Labor to placate the otherwise abandoned and now Green-leaning progressive voter demographic.
Either follow the binding will of the Platform, or take it out. The choice is simple, but either way Australians have a right to know.