IT is supposed to be the long, winter break for our federal politicians, but Government frontbencher Christopher Pyne’s leaked foray into the same-sex marriage debate fuelled a factional boilover within his own party, and heated rebuke from advocates for traditional marriage.
Mr Pyne was caught on tape predicting same-sex marriage could be legalised “sooner than everyone thinks” as he addressed a gathering of moderates before a party federal council meeting in Sydney on June 23.
Despite politicians fleeing Canberra for a six-week break, the spotlight remained firmly on the Liberal Party, exposing its rifts and divisions, and Mr Pyne’s strained loyalties to party leaders, past and present.
The tape apparently caught him gloating that the party’s moderates were “in the winners’ circle” following Malcolm Turnbull’s rise to become Prime Minister.
Mr Turnbull was pressed to restate the Government’s policy on same-sex marriage was for a plebiscite “and we are sticking to it”.
“Our policy is clear, we have no plans to change it, full stop,” he said.
Former prime minister, now backbencher Tony Abbott said it looked like Mr Pyne wasn’t being “fair dinkum” with the Australian people and suggested he was being disloyal to the Government.
Australian Marriage Forum president, Toowoomba-based Dr David van Gend, joined a chorus of condemnation: “Christopher Pyne has shown contempt for the largest division of the Liberal Party, the Queensland LNP, by his comments on the Coalition’s marriage policy”.
“Last weekend, Mr Pyne told fellow ‘moderates’ in the party that their faction is in ‘the winner’s circle’ and needs to ‘deliver a couple of things’,” he said.
“He specified changes to the definition of marriage, saying, ‘One of those we’ve got to deliver before too long is marriage equality in this country … We’re going to get it. I think it might even be sooner than everyone thinks. And your friends in Canberra are working on that outcome’.
“Mr Pyne puts his faction in the winner’s circle, but that means putting the largest division of the federal Liberal party, the Queensland LNP, in the loser’s circle.
“Only three months ago, March 18, the state council of the LNP strongly supported a resolution that would keep the people’s vote on marriage as Coalition policy into the next term of parliament.”
Mr Pyne is a close ally of Mr Turnbull and while the Prime Minister supports same-sex marriage, he has resisted allowing his party room a free vote on the issue.
The Government took former prime minister Tony Abbott’s policy of a plebiscite to the 2016 election.
However the Senate rejected the proposal last November.
As a political fire raged around him, Mr Pyne remained calm, appearing on the ABC’s Q&A, insisting none of the comments he made on the leaked tape were anything new.
“I support the party’s policy on marriage equality, and I’m in favour of marriage equality if I had a vote at the plebiscite,” he said.
Mr Pyne insisted his relationship with Mr Abbott was also just fine.
And on party-room scuffles: “We’re not a Stalinist party; people are allowed to have different views,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean the Government is in crisis if we have different views.”