Labor will be emboldened to block a same-sex marriage plebiscite after the largest-ever poll on the issue found progressive voters overwhelmingly want to avoid Malcolm Turnbull’s faltering plan for a public vote.
A ReachTEL poll of 10,271 voters, commissioned by the progressive Australia Institute and conducted on Tuesday evening, has found 59.7 per cent of voters support same-sex marriage and 40.3 per cent opposed it.
Poll reveals same-sex marriage divisions
Lindt siege police response in question
Couple’s strange disappearance: mother found in hospital
Old laws redundant: Mitch Fifield
Police release image of hit and run driver
‘I am here to lead the change’
Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott’s awkward video
Poll reveals same-sex marriage divisions
A strong majority of Australians support same-sex marriage, but a ReachTEL poll reveals voters split along party lines when it comes to the best method of achieving it.
But asked whether legalisation of same-sex marriage should be decided by a national plebiscite, or a parliamentary vote, a bare majority of voters – just 51.7 per cent – backed the plebiscite and 48.3 per cent preferred a politicians’ vote.
The poll’s finding of strong support for same-sex marriage is consistent with the most recent Fairfax-Ipsos poll, but support for a plebiscite appears to have cooled amid furious political debate and deepening divisions along party political lines over the potential $160 million cost and the potential for hate speech to be unleashed.
Labor has hardened its rhetoric against the plebiscite in recent weeks and senses a political opportunity to damage Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by opposing the enabling legislation for a plebiscite, though it has left itself some wriggle room.
The government has secured 37 of the 39 votes in the Senate for the plebiscite to go ahead, and with the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team opposing those votes would most likely need to come from Labor.
However, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young indicated on Thursday she could cross the floor to support a plebiscite as a last resort, telling Sky News that doing nothing on marriage equality was “not an option”.
She called on the Turnbull government to allow private member’s bills on same-sex marriage to be debated. “I think we have to do all that before we say it’s plebiscite or nothing [but] nothing isn’t an option. It’s not an option,” she said.
A big majority of Coalition voters – 65.1 per cent – backed a plebiscite, in line with the policy put in place by Tony Abbott and taken by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the election, while just 34.9 per cent backed a parliamentary vote.
Conversely, just 39.3 per cent of Labor voters backed a plebiscite and 60.7 per cent backed a parliamentary vote; the result among Greens voters was even more clear-cut, with just 23.6 per cent backing a plebiscite and 76.4 per cent supporting a vote in the Parliament.
The poll also found that a whopping 71.4 per cent of people who oppose same-sex marriage preferred a plebiscite, and just 28.6 per cent backed a parliamentary vote. Critics of the plebiscite have argued it could be used by same-sex marriage opponents to scuttle the reform.
The Greens have categorically ruled out voting for the enabling legislation to hold a plebiscite, while Labor is all-but certain to do the same, though it has allowed a tiny bit of wriggle room on the issue.
Mr Turnbull, however, is adamant that a parliamentary vote will not happen. If the Prime Minister were to reverse his position on this matter, he would trigger a mini-civil war within his own government and potentially see his own position threatened.
Backed by conservative forces in the Coalition, he also argues that having won the July election, he has a mandate for the plebiscite.
The findings of the ReachTEL poll could further entrench party political positions and produce a stalemate that would mean the issue is not dealt with for the next three years in the current Parliament.
Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said the poll showed clear support for same-sex marriage in the community, but that there were clear divisions over how to achieve it.
“It would be a poor reflection on the 45th Parliament if they let disputes over process get in the way of the community’s desire for progress,” he said.
“Politicians of the new Parliament should be working together to get an outcome.”
Australian Marriage Equality chairman Alex Greenwich said it was “heartbreaking that the discussion is now about process and politics and we are delaying the reform, and forgetting the people it is actually about”.
“When you add 52 per cent and 48 per cent together you get zero – there won’t be any action on this issue until people start reaching out and working together.”
– with Michael Koziol