What price a non-binding plebiscite? $160m

Turnbull signalled on Friday that the controversial marriage equality plebiscite, if held, would be followed by a conscience vote in parliament. That gives conservatives an out if the nation votes in favour, raising the obvious question: why have a plebiscite at all?

Turnbull sees no issue, stating that if most Australians voted in favour of marriage equality, MPs would be guided by that result. So that’s a conscience vote where every conservative in the parliament votes yes, you say? Hmm …

Who better to expand on this thinking but the treasurer, Scott Morrison,who earlier this week compared the “hate speech” and bigotry he’d received for opposing same-sex marriage with that experienced by same-sex-attracted people.

Morrison said he would “respect” the result of the plebiscite, but did not clarify whether that meant he’d support the national vote or that of his electorate. Either way, you can see the limits of Turnbull’s approach-in-good-faith pretty quickly, as Murph unpicks here.

Labor’s Penny Wong was not amused, pointing out that Turnbull – a supporter of marriage equality himself, he says – had given its opponents a free vote after the election but not its supporters one beforehand.

And the Greens’ marriage equality spokesman, Robert Simms, accused the PM of subjecting the LGBTI community to an “ugly and divisive hate campaign” merely to appease the conservative forces of his backbench.

“How exactly can the prime minister justify spending $160m on what is in effect a giant opinion poll that isn’t even binding on his own members? … It’s time for some spine from this prime minister.”

Further reading

• Election deciders: the media (Crikey) Not even the mighty News Corp tabloids can make the public care deeply about this election, writes Myriam Robin.

• Warren Entsch rejects Julia Gillard ‘ditch the witch’ poster comparison(Fairfax) Here’s a tip: don’t describe MPs – or any women – as witches!

• I don’t trust Libs on Medicare, says student (The Australian) Labor’s scare campaign seems to be working. Elsewhere in the Oz, Dennis Shanahan says the same.

• Shanahan also has written a weird piece about the PM’s fond memories of the communal showers at the surf lifesaving club at North Bondi:

“Turnbull believes the showers, in the then male-only surf club, were a social leveller with people from every background, including Jewish members from the “schmutter business” – rag trade – indistinguishable in swimmers or naked.”

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