Federal Coalition members of Parliament are angry that several of their colleagues are planning to suspend standing orders in the House of Representatives to consider another bill to redefine marriage.
Liberal backbenchers Warren Entsch (Leichhardt, Qld.), Trevor Evans (Brisbane, Qld.), Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Vic.), Jason Wood (La Trobe, Vic.), and Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney, NSW) are reportedly behind the private members’ bill, which is being drafted by their senate colleague, Dean Smith (Western Australia). (The Australian, August 1, 2017)
A suspension of standing orders requires an absolute majority of all members of the house, not just a simple majority of members in the house at the time of a vote. They would need 76 votes out of 150 to succeed in the house.
Coalition policy is for a plebiscite on the marriage issue. This policy is backed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and is part of the Liberal-National Coalition agreement.
A suspension of standing orders by Liberal MPs would effectively mean backbenchers taking control of the Government by overriding Coalition policy and handing the Parliament to the Labor Opposition. The policy of Labor and the Greens is for a parliamentary vote and opposition to the Coalition’s policy for a people’s vote on marriage.
While Coalition members always have the right to cross the floor and vote against a government bill, the suspension of standing orders by government backbenchers to consider a bill that is opposed to government policy is unusual, to say the least, if not unprecedented.
Leading Coalition parliamentarians, including Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz and Barry O’Sullivan, have warned that the move will undermine the Government’s authority.
Labor is likely to press the issue to keep the Coalition divided at a time when the Government is trying to deal with a range of other critical issues, such as the crisis in Australia’s electricity market and underemployment.