By Mia Abrahams
If you have been shaking your head/fist at the government over the last week in anger, you’re not alone. Polls show a broad public support for same-sex marriage in Australia, and we know that if Parliament held a vote, it’s very likely they would have the numbers to pass it. So WTF is going on?
What’s a plebiscite?
The idea of a plebiscite (a big national vote) on gay marriage has been kicking around for a while, but it originated from *surprise surprise* conservative pollies who don’t support marriage equality, basically as a way to delay and prevent the inevitable — a parliamentary vote.
Last week, the Senate rejected a mandatory, in-person vote (the format we use for federal elections). So, Turnbull called for a voluntary, postal vote — ostensibly so the Australian people can “have their say” on whether LGBTQ people should have equal rights. This leaves Australians with only a couple of weeks to register before August 24, which you can do here.
Why is it such a bad idea?
First up: It’s going to cost $122 million. It’s also *not* legally binding — meaning the government can do whatever it wants regardless of the outcome. It’s being called a “$122 million opinion poll”. It’s also being run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, not the Australian Electoral Commissions, which is weird and without precedent.
It favours the “No” vote. Young people are more likely to move around, and not answer their mail. (So, make an effort to to enrol your friends). Tony Abbot & Co are betting on the idea that you are going to ignored this like you ignore the last four letters from your bank.
Most concerning is that the people who oppose marriage equality are going to try to mobilise people to vote “no”, and will be actively campaigning against LGBTQ people having equal rights. This has real, harmful potential for young LGBTQ people across the nation.
So overall, as Junkee puts it: “If the plebiscite is like your terrible racist uncle of a bad idea, a voluntary postal plebiscite is your delinquent cousin who’s always asking for money.”
So why is the government doing this then?
A vote like this is not required by constitutional law. It’s not part of the usual political or governmental process. We elect the government to make decisions that reflect the country — and in this case, the reflection is coming back, sparkly, rainbow, and gay af. (Even old mate Karl Stefonovic gets it: “Why do we elect officials if not to make decisions that reflect our beliefs?”)
The plebiscite was a campaign promise made by the Turnbull government before the 2016 election, and before that, a compromise reached by former PM Tony Abbott. Why is Turnbull sticking with it when there’s so little public support? Well, it might havesomething to do with the conservative chunk of Turnbull’s party who are determined to keep Australian gays unmarried (and so, for now, Turnbull in his job).
What about the High Court challenge?
The postal vote is being challenged by marriage equality advocates in the High Court (the date is set for the 5th and 6th of September, just a couple days before the ballots are sent out). The argument is that the government is acting unconstitutionally in calling the vote.
So, while we wait to see how the High Court case plays out, let’s make sure we are prepared for the chance that this postal vote is happening. Check your enrolment, update your address (go here if you’re overseas) enrol yourselves, check your friends/fam/coworkers are enrolled, and get your ass out there campaigning for Yes.
More From Issue 12:
Pssst… Our content is written to fit perfectly in your inbox in one fortnightly issue. Subscribe below and get first dibs and extra content every two weeks!