Insider account of meeting with Malcolm Turnbull over the same sex marriage plebiscite

NEWS | John Sandeman

An insider account of a meeting with the PM reveals that while church leaders were assured that both sides of the plebiscite would be equally funded, no assurances about issues of religious freedom were given. The PM said he was going to vote in favour of single gender marriage.

David Cook, Moderator General (national Leader) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia has posted a detailed account of a meeting of a group of church leaders with the PM organised by the Australian Christian Lobby. As former principal of the Sydney Missionary and Bible College he has wide links to many evangelical Christians.

“The PM was warm and engaging and assured us that he was interested in matters of spirituality and, ‘enjoys a good homily’,” Cook writes.

“The Government will be bound by the result of the plebiscite, voting will be compulsory and victory will be determined by the side having a majority of votes across Australia.  Yes and No campaigns will be funded equally.

David Cook

David Cook

“Mr Turnbull wants the process to be scrupulously fair and transparent and would refer the question of media access to his Communications Minister.

“The total cost of the plebiscite will be 160 million dollars.  The PM assured us that our advice would be sought in framing the Bill to ensure religious liberty. “No one wants to force celebrants to marry people against their conscience”, he said.

“When it was pointed out that only 19 of the 195 nations in the UN had approved of same sex marriage, he said that those closest in culture to ours had done so.”

The PM was responding to the concerns of the group, reported as:

  • The framing of the question to be answered in the plebiscite.  Would we have input into this so that it did not unfairly encourage the preferred response of either side?
  • The question of religious freedom both during and after the debate, if the plebiscite is lost.
  • If the Commonwealth was  to provide funding for campaigns, how would such funding be allocated?  The campaign in favour of single sex marriage in Ireland outspent the traditional campaign, 15 to 1.
  • When will the proposed Bill to change the Marriage Act and enable the plebiscite, be available?
  • Will the PM do all in his power to ensure equal access to media for both sides of the argument?

On the key issue of religious freedom if the vote leads to a change the leaders came away unsatisfied. “When the PM was asked about freedom of conscience for those in the marriage industry, florists, caterers, etc,  he said that he was sure that common sense would prevail.  But if common sense were common we would not need a legislature, as we have in Canberra with such a heavy programme.   Mr Turnbull displayed an overly optimistic assessment of the human condition, believing that common sense will prevail ignores the facts of history.  Once marriage becomes gender blind the new Marriage Act will override any religious freedom provisions.”

Cook urges Christians to get involved in the plebiscite which he says is “Winnable”.


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