On the unbendable convictions of Craig Laundy, MP

Craig Laundy has a knotty sort of problem.

Time was when he believed that question of marriage equality—or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage, or whatever you’d like to call it—could be settled entre gentilshommes, with a free vote on the floor of Parliament. Not that Laundy had any notion himself of voting for extending marriage rights to homosexuals, of course. But he saw no point in forcing his opinions on his colleagues, and so approved of a conscience vote on the topic—that odd phenomenon according to which politicians consult their own beliefs before they vote, rather than as they write their memoirs. The liberals of the Liberal Party could in this scenario make common cause with both the bien pensants on the Opposition benches and such small government types as Senator Leyonhjelm, while the reactionaries of the Labor Party could join hands with their counterparts in the government, and it would all somehow come out in the wash. That, at least, was the patrician dream of Milord Laundy.

Alas, no longer. Judith Ireland reports that our man has had second (perhaps, depending on when you start counting, third) thoughts on this point:

But after a year in Parliament, the member for Reid has reviewed the situation. Mr Laundy said his experience as a politician had taught him that if the Liberal Party allowed a free vote on the matter, MPs would become the victims of vigorous lobbying to make them “vote against what they believe”.

Well spotted. Give a politician the chance to cast a free vote and she may very well discover that some of her constituents would prefer she voted one way or another, which I think is very impertinent of them. Who do these voters think they are?

It would certainly be less than desirable for members of parliament to be made the ‘victims’ of the opinions of the people who have voted them in. It must be difficult enough to get through a term of Parliament in constant fear of being cashiered on account of the votes one has taken at somebody else’s order. How infinitely more unjust would it be to find yourself without a seat in the next Parliament because the vote was one you made of your own choice?

Some misguided criticism of Mr Laundy’s position is inevitable. It might be pointed out that, since the desire for a free vote presupposes the existence of a number of MPs who would like to vote against the majority opinion of their fellow party members (Malcolm Turnbull, Kelly O’Dwyer and Simon Birmingham are named in this respect by Ireland) then the imposition of a party line could very well also result in MPs voting ‘against what they believe’. But what a silly objection! The inconvenience of being forced by party bosses to vote against a proposition with which you secretly agree is nothing compared to the terrible damage to our democracy that might be occasioned by members of parliament being asked to withstand an energetic letter-writing campaign that tried to persuade them one way or the other.

You might also say that the absence of free votes on other issues has scarcely discouraged other ‘vigorous lobbying’. Some years ago the Rudd government’s Resources Super Profits Tax, you may remember, had to be modified slightly to suit the purposes of a group of mining companies who had understandable objections to paying more tax than they thought was convenient. There may have been a little lobbying. There may have been some inconsequential multimillion dollar advertising campaigns. But this quite unlike this marriage equality business, you understand. The mining tax had merely large fiscal consequencesI trust I don’t have to explain to the difference between a mining company effectively choosing its own tax rate and a nuptially-inclined homosexual or a socially conservative Pentecostal writing a letter to their MP, or why the latter is so much more offensive to the democratic taste than the former. Do you understand how difficult it is to hold your nerve in the face of a ‘vigorous’ street parade, petition or coordinated telephoning operation?

Having dispensed with the need to think about the votes they are casting, MPs will have much more time for more noble pursuits, better suited to the high office they hold. (Jacqui Lambie, for example, has already found a hobby: she is apparently communing with the dead, with some success.) Mr Laundy might—this is just a suggestion—profitably use the time he would otherwise have spent examining his conscience to search for a campaign director for his re-election. The last one doesn’t really seem fit for purpose any more, having been a lobbyist with a firm whose owner had been promising that he could ‘achieve results’ for his clients because he was also on the state executive of the Liberal Party. Of course, this lobbyist declared that he was only a “part-time, occasional consultant” to the firm, so perhaps he does not qualify in the strict sense as a ‘vigorous’ lobbyist. Thank heavens the firm was only lobbying for property developers and not people in favour of or opposed to marriage equality!

On the contrary, Laundy’s campaign manager was only a casual or recreational lobbyist: hence why Craig Laundy MP thought it appropriate to engage his services in order to get elected to parliament in the first place.

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