It would appear that the parliamentary Liberal Party is full of MPs who sold themselves as conservatives to the Liberal base, but once arriving in parliament tore the mask off and pursed a leftist agenda. Christopher Pyne and George Brandis are the most prominent Liberal politicians to fall into this category, as was evident by the release of the secret Black Hand recording of them talking up their progressive credentials.
The latest politician to fall into this category is Senator Dean Smith, as he came out on the front page of The Sunday Times in Perth to announce that he was planning to introduce a private members bill to introduce same sex marriage via a parliamentary vote. This is a direct contradiction to the Coalition’s policy to hold a plebiscite into the matter, which is also the most popular method amongst the public to resolve the issue.
At least Malcolm Turnbull, despite his support for same sex marriage, has held firm by his promise by stating there will be no vote in parliament on same sex marriage until a plebiscite takes place. It would be a significant breach of faith with both the voters at large and Liberal Party members if a plebiscite is bypassed in favour of a parliamentary vote, as a plebiscite is the position they took to the last election and have a mandate to implement.
But it would seem that Dean Smith cares for none of that and is determined to cause within the Liberal Party even further division. In his interview with the Sunday Times he alleges “the electorate is the best gauge of authenticity and my sense is that people are embarrassed that Australia has not resolved this issue”. If the electorate is the best gauge of authenticity, would that not support the case for a plebiscite even further?
He also concedes that the Coalition would be breaking an election commitment but it would appear he is not fazed by that: “The coalition’s position is clear — a plebiscite — so people should not underestimate the challenge of securing a free vote on the issue”. Instead he resorts to the usual emotive arguments “This goes to the heart of how some Australians could be free to live their lives according to their own choices”.
However, the most scandalous part of Dean Smith actions is that when he first arrived in the Senate in 2012 he sold himself as a conservative who could be trusted on key cultural issues. He was a constitutional monarchist, defender of the Australian flag, believed in state’s rights and reforming section 18C. He had worked for conservative politicians such as Bronwyn Bishop and former Western Australian Premier Richard Court.
He also voted against same sex marriage when the bill was put forward during Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership and was fully supportive of the Coalition’s position that marriage was between a man and a woman calling it ”a noble and commendable position” and that his view was the same: ”My position aligns with my party.’
However, he apparently had a change of heart in early 2015 citing the death of Tori Johnson in the Lindt Café siege as his catalyst, “If they had wanted to get married, that opportunity was denied to them until they day of the siege and is now lost to them because Tori Johnson is no longer here. When that dawned on me I was overcome with a lot of sadness because that’s something I could help correct”. Though one suspects, this could have always been Smith’s view and was only looking for a justification to announce a 180 turn in his views.
Since that change of heart, he has become arguably one of the outspoken voices in the Coalition partyroom in favour of same sex marriage. He voted against the plebiscite legislation in 2016 calling it “abhorrent” claiming holding a plebiscite would undermine Australia’s system of representative democracy. This is despite the fact Australia and various states have held plebiscites into various issues of contention in the past, from the national anthem to daylight savings.
He was also a member of the bi-partisan Senate inquiry into a proposed same sex marriage bill whose findings were released earlier this year which recommended no exemptions for businesses (apart from celebrants and ministers of religion) who did not want to offer their services for same sex weddings. Smith agreed with this view stating that he did not believe anti-discrimination laws should be radically altered in the process of legalizing same sex marriage.
Despite the action Smith is proposing to take he denies that he is motivated by the fact that he is a gay man who may want to marry and still has the nerve to claim, “my politics are conservative, through and through”. The political fallout from his actions will be devastating for the Coalition.
Dare I suggest he may hinder the possibility that the Liberal Party will preselect gay conservatives for political office if given Smith’s conduct this is the type of behaviour they are to expect from them. Dean Smith was elected for a 6-year Senate term at the 2016 federal election so Western Australian Liberal Party members will not have much recourse against him for a long time.
But Smith is another reminder to all those on the right to be aware of fake conservatives. These are people who make a pitch to the base that they can be trusted to do the right thing by conservatives yet completely betray the cause once in parliament. It could be because they believe that conservative voters are ‘useful idiots’ or when they become politicians they are eager to please the left-wing media. The lesson here is that conservatives need to hold the people who claim to represent them to account and only vote for those who can be truly trusted to hold faith to conservative values.