Malcolm Turnbull seems to have read the last rites to the idiotic plebiscite1 for same-sex marriage, and the even more ludicrous idea of a postal plebiscite2. Either of these would be non-binding on MPs and therefore would have to be followed by a free vote in parliament anyway. Such a free vote is possible now, and it may happen, now that Turnbull has given an oblique nod to Liberals supporting same-sex marriage. This would allow them to cross the floor and vote with the Labor Party should the latter propose a motion to suspend standing orders3.
The way this operates is that, should a private member’s bill be listed on the notice paper, they will not be voted on unless the government agrees. However, if the government fails to facilitate a vote on a private member’s bill, then there can be a vote on suspending standing orders. This would require the Leader of the House (Christopher Pyne) to give the nod to the supporters of same-sex marriage (including those across the chamber) that a motion to suspend standing orders would be successful4. This is where Turnbull’s tacit approval of members (e.g. Trevor Evans, Jason Wood, Dean Smith, Tim Wilson3) crossing the floor for a suspension motion would be enough to bring on a vote on same-sex marriage immediately.
A free vote in parliament would remove one more indefensible position for Turnbull heading towards the next election, and will probably lead to a boost in his popularity, despite his perceived minimal input into the process. Of course, the foaming-at-the-mouth religious nutters from the Liberal far right will be incensed that their beloved plebiscite has been rendered irrelevant. Abbott will no doubt have some Turnbull-bashing in which to engage. One Nation will tell the Australian people we are in danger of being overrun by gay people. The Australian Christian Lobby will scream blue murder, and will opine that the breakdown of society is now imminent, despite nothing of the sort happening in the 16 years since same-sex marriage was legalised in the Netherlands, or the 14 years since it was legalised in Belgium, or the 12 years since it was legalised in Spain and Canada. Religious nutters never let the facts get in the way of their long held desire to discriminate against others.