TONY Abbott should confirm a Coalition conscience vote on same-sex marriage or risk inner-city seats, gay rights group Australian Marriage Equality (AME) says.
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AME spokesman Rodney Croome has welcomed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s commitment, made during Sunday night’s federal election debate, to introduce legislation within 100 days of taking office.

Mr Croome has also welcomed Mr Abbott’s acknowledgment of the issue, but says the Opposition Leader needs to go further.

Mr Abbott described the issue as “very important” during the debate, before reaffirming his personal opposition to same-sex marriage on Monday.

“The majority of Australians who support this reform don’t expect Tony Abbott to change his mind but they do expect him to allow a conscience vote,” Mr Croome told AAP.

“Kevin Rudd can’t achieve this reform by himself, he needs the Coalition to also have a conscience vote if this reform is to have a fighting chance.”

But the AME is taking some heart from Mr Abbott’s performance.

“He pointedly didn’t defend the status quo,” Mr Croome said.

“That gives me hope that a Coalition conscience vote is more likely than not after the election.”

Mr Rudd also challenged Mr Abbott to match the ALP’s conscience vote.

But the National Marriage Coalition, which opposes the reform, condemned the PM’s promise and urged the Coalition to resist a conscience vote.

“We call upon all parties to focus on what matters most to Australians, guiding the nation always to a better future,” spokesman Gerard Calilhanna said.

“Our children deserve better,” he said.

Mr Croome said the Coalition would find victory in marginal inner-city seats more difficult while Mr Abbott refused to guarantee a conscience vote.

AME plans to distribute leaflets in seats that include Brisbane, Perth, Wills and Batman, identifying which candidates support the reform.

“Going to the election with the commitment to a conscience vote would be a very smart move because it would allow inner-city Liberals who support this reform . . . to campaign hard on it,” Mr Croome said.

“At the moment they’re hamstrung.”

AME says polls consistently put support for the reform at 65 per cent across the country.

Mr Croome said Mr Abbott should not fear a possible conservative Senate crossbench over the issue because some in Katter’s Australia Party and the Palmer United Party supported same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, Mr Croome said there were no plans to approach Mr Abbott’s openly-gay sister, Christine Forster, who has publicly disagreed with her brother’s stance.

“I think she’s most effective as an advocate when she does it her own way,” Mr Croome said. AAP

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LOOKING TO MAKE IMPACT: Nathan Bracken with son Chase and wife Haley. Picture: Adam HollingworthFORMER cricketer Nathan Bracken will run for federal politics in a tilt bankrolled by ad man John Singleton.
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Mr Bracken will run for the seat of Dobell, held by former Labor MP Craig Thomson. Mr Singleton will also back Gosford mayor Lawrie McKinna to run for the marginal Labor-held seat of Robertson.

Mr Singleton confirmed he was funding all costs for “Team Central Coast” as he had been a ratepayer in the area for more than 60 years and the Central Coast had been taken for granted by the major parties for too long.

“Someone has to keep the bastards honest,” he argued.

He said while Mr Bracken and Cr McKinna were unlikely to win the seats, they would wield influence in preference negotiations before the elections.

“But we will have succeeded if the major parties understand that your votes, and our candidates’ preferences, will go to them only if they can demonstrate a real commitment to the future of the Central Coast,” he said.

“I stand to gain no more and no less from my actions than any other resident of the Central Coast, which I believe has more, or as many, natural assets than anywhere in Australia.”

Mr Thomson, who resigned from the Labor party, will contest Dobell as an independent.

He holds Dobell with a margin of 5.1 per cent, but is expected to lose. Labor has selected pharmacist Emma McBride to contest the seat.

Mr Bracken said he had never imagined he would pursue a career in politics after cricket.

“Straight out no. You always think about what comes after cricket. My wife is somebody who taught me that things are there for a reason and there are opportunities out there and she’s been amazingly supportive,” he said.

“I guess it got to the point where I didn’t want to be the person that sits in the cafe saying ‘oh jeez I wish I’d done this’, or ‘this should change’. I want to be somebody who gets out there and stands up and says ‘hey, let’s try and change things, let’s try and move things forward’.”

Mr Bracken, 35, is married to former Newcastle Knights cheergirl and fellow Dancing With The Stars contestant Haley Rich.

He has lived on the Central Coast for nearly 10 years and cited youth unemployment, high school drop-out rates, lack of a university, homelessness, infrastructure and health as among important issues.

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Campaigners for same-sex marriage believe Kevin Rudd’s support for change could help decide the result of several marginal seats.
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Among electorates targeted by Australian Marriage Equality are the Liberal-held marginal seats of Brisbane, held by Teresa Gambaro, and Sturt, held by Christopher Pyne, as well as the Labor-Greens contest of Melbourne.

Mr Rudd announced during Sunday night’s debate a re-elected Labor government would introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days of taking office, as he sought to capitalise on Tony Abbott’s opposition to change.

Australian Marriage Equality convener Rodney Croome said Mr Rudd’s announcement would ”inevitably increase his support among young voters”.

Campaigning in Sydney on Monday, Mr Rudd called on the Opposition Leader to allow Coalition MPs a conscience vote.

Mr Abbott, who was campaigning in Melbourne on Monday said same-sex marriage was ”an important issue,” including to his sister Christine Forster, who is a lesbian.

But he said the priority of a Coalition government would be to address ”bread and butter issues,” such as the cost of living, job security and infrastructure.

Mr Abbott said if the issue were to come up again in a future Parliament, it would be up to the Coalition party room to determine its position, but he reaffirmed his strong opposition to change.

Liberal MPs including Malcolm Turnbull, Simon Birmingham, Dean Smith and Wyatt Roy have previously called for a free vote.

Mr Rudd’s announcement came as the next US ambassador to Australia, John Berry, married Curtis Yee in Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009.

Australian Marriage Equality will soon launch a website to inform voters of candidate views on same-sex marriage and plans to distribute leaflets in other inner city seats including Wills, Melbourne Ports and Kooyong in Victoria, North Sydney, and Perth and Curtin in Western Australia.

Mr Croome said it was the support of young heterosexual voters for same-sex marriage that would make the greatest difference.

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PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd is unfazed by Labor trailing the Coalition in the polls four weeks out from the election and his colleagues deny Labor’s campaign is faltering.
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The ALP said a poor poll yesterday simply showed there was a long way to go.

An average of the most recent four polls by Newspoll, Morgan, ReachTEL and Essential shows Labor’s two-party vote on 48.2 per cent – the lowest level since Mr Rudd’s return to leadership.

Campaigning in the Sydney seat of Bennelong, Mr Rudd said Labor remained the underdog.

“I’m a positive sort of guy with a positive set of plans for the country’s future and I’m not fazed by any of this,” Mr Rudd said.

He followed up his election debate announcement of Labor’s support for a new bill on gay marriage with a call on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to allow his MPs a conscience vote.

“I think it’s time we resolved this matter for all Australians,” Mr Rudd said.

Mr Abbott, whose sister Christine Forster is gay, said the issue was important.

But not as urgent a priority for an incoming Coalition government as jobs and the cost of living, he said.

Campaigning in Melbourne, Mr Abbott promised an annual statement to Parliament on the progress of major projects.

“I would like to think that should we win the election I will be known as an infrastructure prime minister,” he said.

Labor and the Coalition continued to exchange blows over their policy costs, ahead of today’s release by Treasury of the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Labor released its economic statement on August 2, which Mr Rudd said was based on the government’s “best analysis” of latest data.

He says he will account for policies announced during the election campaign with a “full reconciliation of the costings on the way through”.

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said Mr Rudd’s comment showed the hypocrisy of Labor’s call for the Coalition to immediately release its policy costings.

“When exactly will the Australian people see the full list of all of your costings, Mr Rudd?” Mr Robb said.

Following Sunday’s leaders’ debate, talks are under way to hold two town hall-style events in Brisbane and Sydney in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Labor national executive endorsed business consultant Clare O’Neil to replace Geoff Lake as the candidate for the safe Victorian seat of Hotham.

Mr Lake was stood aside over comments he made about a female Monash councillor 11 years ago.


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CRITICS of the national broadband network are sometimes heard to say that we don’t need all of that expensive technology just so people can look at movies of things that earlier generations bought in brown paper bags from under the newsagent’s counter.
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This, of course, is an outrageous simplification.

Much of the internet is a porn-free zone.

This is the area given over to aliens and conspiracy theories about JFK, Roswell and Pine Gap, and why climate change has more to do with the shifting of the earth’s magnetic poles and tiny pin-prick holes in the atmosphere than with the combustion of vast amounts of fossil fuels.

I was moved to think about this after reading the obituary of NASA scientist John Billingham, who has died at the age of 83 in California. Dr Billingham, an Englishman with an Oxford medical degree, was one of the people in the 1970s who helped convince the United States government to spend money on scouring the universe for signs of intelligent life.

Conventional wisdom holds that Dr Billingham’s quest – the “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” or SETI – was a failure. Today, more than half a century after flying saucer fever gripped the world in the 1950s and 1960s, the subject is almost never mentioned in the mainstream media or in general conversation.

To believe in UFOs – or to claim to have seen one, as I believe I have done – is to invite ridicule. To say I have seen four – one as a child, three as an adult – is to invite the nodding smiles and the knowing winks.

Sure you have, Ian.

Yet despite this public turning away from UFOs as a topic of polite conversation, the internet is very much alive with UFOlogy, showing that plenty of people remain interested in the skies around them, regardless of the lack of mainstream recognition.

But back to SETI.

According to an obituary of Dr Billingham in the New York Times, the US government stopped directly funding SETI soon after it started operating in 1992.

Instead, it has relied largely on money from universities and rich individuals including a co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, whose donation of $25 million resulted in the creation of the Allen Telescopic Array of radar telescopes. SETI uses radio telescopes to search for radio signals that could have been emitted by an intergalactic civilisation.

The Times quoted another radio astronomer, Fred Drake, as saying: “The whole picture is that we are the newcomers on the block, that they’re out there, other civilisations that are much older than we are.”

The biggest stumbling block in accepting the existence of UFOs has generally been the vast distances that space ships would have to travel to reach Earth from another galaxy.

But the more that scientists learn about the universe and its physical laws, the more we realise what it is that we don’t know. Such unimaginable distances to us may not be any particular barrier to a species around longer than us in a universe that is generally believed to be nearly 14,000 million years old.

Personally, I think it’s extremely egotistical to believe that humans are the only “intelligent” life forms in a universe so big that the Milky Way alone could have 400 billion stars and that it is only one of 100 billion or more galaxies in the universe.

According to the Times review, the US government is still putting money into the search for extra-terrestrial life, except that it’s doing it nowadays through “the rapidly expanding field of astrobiology, which includes searching for extraterrestrial life at the most microbial level, not just forms that might transmit radio signals”.

Sooner or later, I imagine the search will bear fruit. Whether the President has someone – or something – beside him as he tells the world, or whether he holds up a glass jar . . .

Only time will tell.

Tomorrow: my UFO experiences

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