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Same-sex marriage plebiscite all but dead

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The federal Opposition has all but killed off the Turnbull government’s proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite.

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The Labor caucus formalised its opposition to the enabling bill for a national vote in February on Tuesday, ahead of its debate in parliament’s lower house.

Attorney-General George Brandis released draft amendments to the Marriage Act late on Monday night.

The changes include redefining marriage as between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman” and allowing ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise a marriage.

Non-religious celebrants can also refuse to marry a same-sex couple on a “conscientious” basis under the proposed legislation.

Ahead of the caucus meeting, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was yet to hear a good argument in favour of the plebiscite – which he insists is a divisive waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The Attorney-General has blundered again and he is now saying that the only way we can have the plebiscite is by watering down anti-discrimination laws against gay people,” he told reporters.

“The cynic would say this government doesn’t want the plebiscite either.”

Cabinet minister Simon Birmingham threw Labor a late lifeline, suggesting the planned $15 million funding for the “yes” and “no” campaigns was up for negotiation.

“If that is something the Labor party want to take out in return for support for a plebiscite they should say so and put it on the table,” he said.

“It would be a reasonable request and one we could consider ourselves.”

But Plibersek labelled the offer insincere.

“I think this is an absurd last-minute effort from the government,” she said.

“(They) have made it very plain that they are not prepared to compromise on the most fundamental aspects of this plebiscite, including things like the question.”

Shorten believes the best way to achieve marriage equality is to have a free vote in parliament this year.

But Nationals MP Andrew Broad has threatened to withdraw his support for the Turnbull government if that goes ahead.

Advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality and Labor’s marriage equality spokeswoman Terri Butler have taken issue with the Brandis amendments, claiming it would create new forms of discrimination.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said it was disappointing the Opposition wanted to deny Australians a right to have a say on the issue.

“Labor are being I think very, very bloody-minded about this,” he told Ray Hadley on 2GB radio.

AAP

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