It’s difficult to understand what Tony Abbott hopes to gain over his dog at opposition to Marriage Equality. His personal opposition to the idea is well-known and well-documented. But he seems determined to die in a ditch over the issue.
There are some simple electoral dynamics around this particular issue. The first and most important is that the Coalition continues to trail, by a massive 6%, in the polls. With something approaching 80% of the electorate in support of marriage equality, Abbott’s stance on this issue can only further damage his standing and that of his party. He needs to kick some goals not give away free kicks.
By his actions in the party room yesterday, Tony Abbott appears to be saying to the people of Australia “I’m prepared to manipulate political processes to get my own way on this issue and my view is more important than that of the vast majority of the Australian people.”
If media reports of the Coalition party room debate are correct, then speakers favoured the retention of the existing arrangements by a massive majority 4:1, enough to suggest that a conscience vote would probably not succeed and that there will be no changes to the Marriage Act under a Coalition government.
Abbott has achieved three things.
The first is to lock the party in behind him in the opposing marriage equality. But many Coalition MPs will feel deeply disgruntled about the way it has been done and in the cold hard light of day will realise that this has done nothing to improve the government’s chances of re-election.
They will also recognise that the Coalition has probably lost ground on some other important issues that have dominated the news over the parliamentary break: recognition of the aboriginal people in the Constitution, significant progress on climate change, the issue of parliamentary entitlements and his wrongheaded defence of Bronwyn Bishop.
The second is to provide opposition leader Bill Shorten with the opportunity to stand up and say “A Labor Government will legislate for marriage equality.” And that has to when some votes.
The third is to demonstrate that he is completely in the thrall of the right wing of the parliamentary Liberal party, a group which, if their attitude towards marriage equality is any indication, is almost completely out of step with public opinion.
It is ironic that, in securing party support on this issue, Abbott probably weakened his leadership.