Politics

Zali Steggall Just Ripped Into Tony Abbott For His Response To The Marriage Equality Vote

Tony reckons that not voting against it is basically the same as voting for it.

Warringah debate Zali Stegall vs Tony Abbott

This afternoon the candidates for Warringah, Zali Steggall and Tony Abbott, went head-to-head in what was, by far, the best debate of this election season so far. Both Steggall and Abbott were forced to actually answer questions, and when it came to the topic of the postal survey on marriage equality, Steggall didn’t hold back.

“The same-sex plebiscite is a very mobilising issue here in Warringah, because the electorate felt absolutely abandoned by Mr Abbott,” she said, after an audience member asked the candidates about their support for the LGBTIQ community.

“After having voted overwhelmingly in favour [of same-sex marriage], it was so disrespectful to see our elected member walk out of Parliament, and not reflect the views of the people of Warringah,” she continued, to huge applause.

She was referring to Abbott’s decision in 2017 to abstain from voting on the marriage equality bill when it reached the House of Representatives. Instead, he left the room. Abbott famously campaigned against marriage equality, but the bill in question was not about his views: it was the one introduced after the postal survey (which Abbott fought for) was done and dusted, the one that was supposed to put the decision of the Australian people into law.

Steggall has a real point, then: given that Abbott’s electorate of Warringah overwhelmingly voted to legalise same-sex marriage (75% voted Yes), his decision to remove himself from that vote was seen by many as a betrayal. And in response, this is what Abbott had to say: “I respected the electorate’s views by not voting against it”. The trouble is, he didn’t vote for it either.

That’s especially disappointing given that earlier this year, Abbott actually tried to take credit for passing marriage equality in this country, despite opposing the process every step of the way, and stepping out for the actual vote. “When all is said and done, I helped to make the thing happen,” he said at the time. “I set up the process which opened up the possibility and even the likelihood of change”.

He used similar language in the debate today, trying to paint himself as a neutral party. “On same-sex marriage, a lot of people had different views,” he said awkwardly. “I thought it was important to give change a chance, despite the views of people like me. We had a plebiscite, that was my policy to have a plebiscite, and I think as a result of the plebiscite we did bring about change in the best possible way. And now that it’s changed, I certainly accept that it is the law of the land, and will remain the law of the land.”

You’ll note that he was never quite able to use the words “gay” or “same-sex marriage” or anything like that.

In today’s debate, Steggall refused to accept that stance. Instead, she called him out, and put forward a different vision for how MPs should treat their constituents: by representing the electorate’s views, not their own. “As a barrister, you don’t represent your own views to the court. You represent the client,” she said. “I think politics needs to be the same.”

You can watch clips of Abbott and Steggall’s responses below.