September 15, 2015 at 2:01 pm EDT | by Elias Jahshan
New Australian prime minister backs public vote on marriage

Malcom Turnbull, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade

Malcolm Turnbull on Sept. 14, 2015, ousted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a leadership change within the country’s ruling party. (Photo courtesy of Star Observer)

Editor’s note: This article originally ran on the website of the Star Observer, a Sydney-based LGBT newspaper. The publication has allowed the Washington Blade to repost its coverage of the Australian same-sex marriage debate.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story was published, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull re-affirmed his commitment to the Coalition’s policy on a marriage equality plebiscite during question time in the House of Representatives today.

Malcolm Turnbull has officially been sworn in as the 29th prime minister of Australia, making it the first time both the leader of the Australian government and the leader of the opposition are supporters of marriage equality.

However, it is understood that for the immediate future, Turnbull will stick with his party’s policy on pursuing a plebiscite on marriage equality rather than allow his MPs to have a conscience vote.

The Wentworth federal Liberal MP — whose Sydney electorate includes some of Australia’s most LGBTI-centric suburbs — became Australia’s new leader overnight after a successful leadership challenge that saw him oust Tony Abbott in a Liberal party room ballot of 54 votes to 44.

Turnbull has been a long-term vocal supporter of marriage equality, and stated his support for the Liberals to adopt a conscience vote on the issue in the lead-up to the Coalition party room meeting in August that rejected it.

Since that meeting, Turnbull has stated it was his preference for a plebiscite to be held at the next federal election.

Last week, the Victorian and NSW (New South Wales) gay and lesbian rights lobbies released the results of a joint survey that confirmed 70 percent of respondents were against a plebiscite.

At last night’s press conference after his leadership ballot victory, Turnbull dodged a question about marriage equality and since then he has not yet publicly commented on the issue as the new prime minister.

Since his ascension to the country’s highest office, Australian Marriage Equality (AME) has called for an urgent meeting with Turnbull.

“Our preferred path forward remains a free vote in parliament this year which can be achieved by a vote on Warren Entsch’s co-sponsored bill,” AME National Director Rodney Croome said in a statement.

In a Facebook post this morning, AME indicated that it was still “early days” to see what the future will hold but highlighted Turnbull’s comments about a leadership that he said would be “thoroughly consultative” with a cabinet government “that ensures that we make decisions in a collaborative manner.”

However, commentators on a story by the Star Observer last night were generally cynical, highlighting how he may be a new leader but his policies would remain the same as Abbott.

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