Justice Minister Michael Keenan addresses the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 30 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen A majority of voters in six seats held by Liberal MPs who are undecided on marriage equality support same-sex marriage and a free vote in Parliament, new polling shows.
However, Liberal voters in those seats were significantly less inclined to support marriage equality or a parliamentary free vote – concerns MPs will need to weigh ahead of a special party room meeting on Monday.
The ReachTel poll, commissioned by activist group GetUp, examined six seats in Queensland and Western – Hasluck, Moncrieff, Ryan, Stirling, Swan and Tangney – held by Coalition MPs whose position on same-sex marriage is undeclared according to n Marriage Equality.
In five of the six seats, more than 50 per cent of voters wanted same-sex marriage to be legalised. In Stirling, a metropolitan seat in Perth held by Justice Minister Michael Keenan, the figure was 48 per cent, with 42 per cent against change and 10 per cent undecided.
A majority of voters in all six seats backed a free vote on same-sex marriage in the Parliament “as soon as possible” (in the Perth seat of Swan it was 49.9 per cent, with 33 per cent against and 17 per cent unsure).
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s seat of Moncrieff, in south east Queensland, had the strongest support for change, with 60.2 per cent of voters backing same-sex marriage and 59 per cent calling for a free vote by MPs.
ReachTel polled about 700 people in each seat on Wednesday night, as the Turnbull government wrangled over a fresh internal push to legalise same-sex marriage by ditching the failed plebiscite policy in favour of a free vote.
Liberal MPs will decide between those options at a special party room meeting on Monday, convened by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to quell weeks of infighting.
Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, who was caught on tape in June speculating same-sex marriage could be delivered “sooner than everyone thinks”, on Friday said: “I think the overwhelming view of the party room is support the current [plebiscite] policy.”
However, some moderate Liberals are reserving their right to ignore such a resolution and demand debate on a private member’s bill which has been drafted by Liberal senator Dean Smith, to be presented to colleagues ahead of Monday’s meeting.
If a free vote is rejected, it could see Labor and crossbenchers team up with a handful of Liberals to suspend standing orders and bring on a vote on gay marriage, which would have a reasonable chance of passing.
Senator Smith held his ground on Friday, reiterating Liberal MPs were “free to uphold their own conscience on issues”, unlike Labor.
“It’s a distinction that I will use on this particular issue at this particular point in time,” he told Sky News.
The ReachTel poll showed Liberal voters in the six seats were less inclined to support same-sex marriage, and were generally split on a free vote.
In Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt’s seat of Hasluck, 43.2 per cent of Liberal voters wanted a free vote, while 44.7 per cent were opposed.
In the Queensland seat of Ryan, held by Jane Prentice, 52.4 per cent of LNP voters opposed a free vote, but 37.1 per cent were in favour.
And 44.2 per cent of Liberal voters in Mr Keenan’s electorate of Stirling supported a free vote straight away, compared to 35.5 per cent against and 20 per cent undecided.
Voters were not polled about their feelings toward a plebiscite, but were asked: “Do you believe the government should hold a free vote in Parliament for marriage equality as soon as possible?”
GetUp campaign director Sally Rugg said the poll results showed voters “aren’t buying” the plebiscite and that “people are really sick of hearing about this issue”.
“So many people support this reform and understand that it’s a simple positive thing that will bring happiness to thousands of families across ,” she said.