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Pyne opens up Coalition division on same-sex marriage

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One of Malcolm Turnbull’s most senior ministers has attempted to defuse a political grenade after suggesting legalising same-sex marriage could happen “sooner than everyone thinks”.

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But former prime minister Tony Abbott has again pulled the pin on the hot-button debate, with the internal row threatening to erupt into open warfare.

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne tried to paper over the apparent crack in Coalition ranks after leaked audio emerged of him discussing the issue among moderate Liberal allies at the start of the weekend.

“Friends, we are in the winner’s circle but we have to deliver a couple of things and one of those we’ve got to deliver before too long is marriage equality in this country,” Pyne said before the party’s federal council meeting in Sydney on Friday in a recording obtained by News Corp.

“And your friends in Canberra are working on that outcome.

“It might even be sooner than everyone thinks.”

Pyne attempted to clarify his position today after the story hit the front pages.

“I support marriage equality and if Labor had supported the plebiscite, marriage equality would be a reality now,” he said.

“The government has no plans to alter the policy.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also weighed in, insisting the Coalition would not change its plans for a plebiscite.

“Our policy is clear, we have no plans to change it, full stop,” he said in Melbourne on Monday.

“That is the policy that we took to the election and we are sticking to it.”

Abbott, who devised the same-sex marriage plebiscite plan, delivered a scathing assessment of his ex-cabinet colleague after the recording surfaced.

“This is one of the reasons people turn off politicians, because we don’t tell them what we think, and it looks like one of our number has been caught out,” he told Ray Hadley on 2GB radio.

“You’ve got to be fair dinkum with the Australian people and it looks like that’s not been true of Christopher.”

Abbott issued a blunt warning against abandoning the plebiscite.

“To dump the plebiscite, to do anything without a plebiscite, would be a breach of faith with the people,” he said.

Abbott also accused Pyne of being disloyal during his prime ministership.

On the leaked recording, Pyne boasts that he voted for Malcolm Turnbull in every federal Liberal leadership ballot the now prime minister had contested, and so had Attorney-General George Brandis.

But Pyne’s voting habits were news to Abbott on Monday morning.

Abbott said that Pyne was not just in cabinet, but also a member of the leadership team when he was in office.

“It’s important that you show loyalty,” he said.

“But if (Mr Pyne is) to be believed on Friday night that loyalty was never there which is incredibly disappointing.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison insisted the party would not be shifting its position on same-sex marriage.

“We have a policy. We took it to the last election. That’s the policy we’ve honoured in this parliament,” he told Network Seven.

The Senate in November rejected legislation that would have allowed the national vote to take place and gay marriage has been off the government’s agenda since.

Asked why Pyne would broach the topic, the treasurer said, “I don’t know, you’d have to ask him.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is in London, says he is focused on other issues, such as the trade mission he is about to undertake.

“I’m going to make sure that I’m concentrating on the issues that people who elected me want, which is to get the best return back through the farm gate,” the Nationals leader told reporters after laying a wreath for London Bridge terror victims.

“What happens at dinners and other parts of Sydney is of no real consequence to me.”

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says it’s past time for the coalition to dump its plebiscite and allow a free vote on same-sex marriage in parliament.

“Australians are sick of waiting while Liberal MPs play their pathetic games,” Dreyfus said.

– AAP

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