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Finance minister Mathias Cormann has confirmed that Australians will not see the same-sex marriage legislation they will be voting on before a postal ballot is held later this year.
His comments come as the government kicks a postal vote on same-sex marriage into gear, following the Senate rejecting, for the second time, its proposed compulsory attendance plebiscite on Wednesday.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Cormann was asked if Australians would see the proposed legal changes before the vote.
“Our position is very clear; we will facilitate consideration of a private members' bill after the plebiscite if the yes vote has been carried,” he said.
“We believe the question is self-explanatory, we believe people across Australia understand what the question is.”
Asked if the government would facilitate Dean Smith's bill, which was released over the weekend and based on a bipartisan Senate inquiry into same-sex marriage legislation held earlier this year, Cormann said it was “a matter for the parliament”.
“It’s a private members' bill, it’s not a government bill,” he said. “We encourage everyone to vote consistent with their views.”
Alex Greenwich, co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, called on the government to let the public see what legal change they're voting on.
“I think it is critical that we know what legislation there would be a vote on,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Without that, the process just looks like an even bigger farce.”
There is significant disagreement within the government and the parliament at large about how, exactly, the Marriage Act should be amended to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Much of the contention is over who has the right to be granted exemptions from existing anti-discrimination law, and on what basis.
The bill released by Dean Smith and four lower house government MPs over the weekend would see religious ministers continue with an existing right to refuse any couple they do not wish to marry, as well as granting religious organisations the same exemptions they currently have under the Sex Discrimination Act.
But the bill put forward by the attorney-general George Brandis prior to the plebiscite legislation failing in the Senate for a first time last year contained a wider range of exemptions.
The Brandis bill would see a specific right to refuse to wed same-sex couples granted to religious ministers and civil celebrants on the basis of both religious and conscientious belief, as well as an exemption for religious organisations.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Cormann confirmed that treasurer Scott Morrison would direct the Australian Bureau of Statistics to begin the process for the postal plebiscite.
Earlier on Wednesday, same-sex marriage advocates from PFLAG and Rainbow Families, and the independent member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, announced they would be filing a legal challenge on the postal vote to the High Court.
The full interview with Mathias Cormann will feature in BuzzFeed Australia’s podcast ‘Is it on?’. You can listen to it from Friday. View it on iTunes and subscribe here.