Will Australia's same-sex vote definitely happen?

9:49 pm on 13 September 2016

Analysis - Australia's Federal Cabinet has signed off on plans to hold a same-sex marriage plebiscite on 11 February 2017.

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Photo: 123rf

Same-sex couples from Australia have been heading to New Zealand to get married since 2013, when this country's bill legalising same-sex marriage came into effect.

The plebiscite in Australia will gauge public feedback on making same-sex marriage legal there, however the government will not have to act on the result.

Ministers have agreed that voters will be asked: "Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?"

ABC political reporter Caitlyn Gribbin explains the next steps.

Is the plebiscite a done deal?

In one word, no.

Legislation to set up a plebiscite has not been presented to Parliament. The Coalition can pass the legislation through the House of Representatives using its slender majority of one vote.

But it's the Senate that poses a problem.

What could happen in the Senate?

The Coalition needs to convince nine senators to support the legislation.

Labor has threatened to block the bill, with its leader Bill Shorten ramping up his warnings about a plebiscite.

"If one child commits suicide over the plebiscite, then that is one too many," he said.

The Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team of three senators have also promised to oppose it.

Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch has also ruled out his support.

In a numbers game, that means the plan fails if Labor does not support the legislation.

Will the government provide money for campaigners?

The ABC understands Cabinet has agreed to allocate $AU7.5 million in public funding to the "yes" and "no" campaigns.

It's a move that will inflame tensions within the Coalition.

Liberal-National MP and gay marriage advocate Warren Entsch has warned the plebiscite "won't get up" if taxpayers' money is used to fund the "for" and "against" cases.

But conservatives Andrew Hastie and Cory Bernardi have joined calls from Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews for public funding to be made available.

Why 11 February?

The call to have the vote in February may be strategic and an attempt to hold it off until after the Christmas period, when people traditionally tune out of federal politics.

The Federal Government said it had been given advice from the Australian Electoral Commission that holding the plebiscite this year was "not practical".

But complaints about the 11 February date are already coming in, with Western Australia's Deputy Premier Liza Harvey conceding the plebiscite could be a distraction from the WA state election, which is set to be held in March 2017.


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