David Leyonhjelm holds firm on same-sex marriage
Australia has a new equality champion as Tony Abbott faces another Senate headache over David Leyonhjelm threat on same-sex marriage
Prime Minister Tony Abbott faces opening up a new battle front in the Senate, with Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm pledging to block government legislation if MPs are not allowed to properly debate his same-sex marriage bill.
Last week, Senator Leyonhjelm introduced a bill into the Senate that would amend the Marriage Act to allow marriage between same-sex couples, as well as for transgender and intersex Australians. In response to Mr Abbott's comments, Senator Leyonhjelm observed that newly independent senator Jacqui Lambie was not the only one on the crossbench who could veto the government's legislation in protest.
Senator Lambie has recently pledged to vote against all government bills until the pay offer to ADF personnel was improved. Senator Leyonhjelm said that he would not compromise his position on core LDP issues, but would be willing to block government legislation on other matters.
"I wouldn't give them the benefit of the doubt."
Senator Leyonhjelm has previously backed the government on the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes and is a supporter of university fee deregulation. While Mr Abbott is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, he repeatedly said during the 2013 election campaign that the question of a free vote in the Liberal Party on the issue would be a matter for the post-election party room.
On Monday, when asked whether he would give his MPs a debate on a free vote, Mr Abbott appeared to step back from his pre-election pledge.
In highly technical remarks, Mr Abbott said that "normally, opposition private members motions in the Senate are dealt with without a vote [in the party room]. Now, if this one is different, well, obviously the party room will consider it. But if is dealt with in the normal way, it won't actually come before the party room."
He did not repeat his pre-election comment about the matter being one for the party room. Senator Leyonhjelm said he respected Mr Abbott's opposition to same-sex marriage, but added the Liberal party room should be able to have a full and frank debate on the matter.
The LDP senator said that if there was no substantial movement on his bill within six months he would consider taking the drastic action. He also warned that Mr Abbott would face internal disquiet if he did not allow a debate about a free vote. Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro told media outlets that the issue of same-sex marriage "must be dealt with in the life of this Parliament".