27 October 2011
It's not quite marriage, but same-sex couples in Queensland will soon be able to tie a knot, of sorts. Andrew Fraser's private members' bill will give them the right to have civil unions, which is as far as the state can legislate in this area. Opposition leader Campbell Newman supports gay marriage, so his party will support vote for the bill, the bill will pass, and both sides of the house will charge their glasses to a job well done.
Well, not quite.
Campbell Newman does support gay marriage, but in a party meeting, the LNP decided it would not support the bill, and furthermore, there would be no conscience vote. In a statement released to the media, Campbell Newman said Australia's worst Treasurer Andrew Fraser is once again seeking to divert attention from his loss of Queensland's AAA credit rating, soaring Bligh Government debt and cost of living increase. There were four more paragraphs, not a single one of them addressing the issue of the bill itself. Lindsay Tanner has bemoaned the lack of coverage on policy detail by journalists, but perhaps this trend is not entirely the fault of the fourth estate.
The LNP says the bill is a distraction from more pressing issues. But surely their opposition to it makes it a much bigger issue, and a much bigger distraction. Labor boasts a 51-38 advantage in parliament, so why not rubber stamp the bill, and take the political heat out of the issue?
But Mr Newman's point on the bill being rushed through is valid –if the bill is to be voted on this year, as Anna Bligh has indicated, it could be ahead of about 20 pieces of legislation that were introduced long before Tuesday night.
The Premier is allowing party members a conscience vote, so civil unions are not over the line just yet. Up to six Labor MPs can vote against the bill and it would still pass, but this is controversial territory, and already some party members have said they want to know details of the bill before declaring their support.
The timing of the announcement is intriguing. Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser revealed his intentions on Friday, while his boss was away. He said at the time that ‘Anna Bligh has long supported this issue' but didn't directly say that she was aware of his specific intention. Since her return, Ms Bligh has publicly backed the bill, so perhaps there's no subterfuge after all. However, an editorial in today's Courier Mail suggests an ulterior motive from the treasurer; that the treasurer is chasing the green vote in his seat of Mt Coot-tha.
Asked about the timing of the bill, and whether it was a cynical grab for the green vote ahead of the election, Andrew Fraser said that the need for action was borne out of a lack of action from the federal government. Over to you, Julia.
If the Labor party is chasing green votes, rushing through the bill could well backfire. Why not allow the bill to be pending, and go to the election with voters knowing that a Labor government would mean same-sex civil unions - dangling the carrot, if you like.
So what of the legislation itself? The details are still to be fleshed out, but Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and Sydney (not NSW) already having the same or similar bills passed, so it's hardly new territory. It will not include any amendments to adoption laws, which is a debate for another time. It's mainly symbolic, but from the reaction of members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) outside parliament this week, it would be significant to members of the gay community. The case against from the LNP, so far, is that it's not the most pressing issue facing Queensland.
Whatever the political accuracy of that claim, in terms of policy debate, it's hardly compelling.
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