An undemocratic postal survey

Last week, I received my voting form for the Australian Marriage Law survey. Thanks to the political will of the Coalition Federal Government, Australians now have the opportunity to cast their potentially meaningless vote on the legalisation of same-sex marriage via an unnecessary and divisive postal survey. Costing $122 million, the survey is non-binding*, and several Liberal MPs, including almost half of South Australian representatives, have already claimed they will not acknowledge a “yes” vote.

Character from The Simpsons looks at bill. Text readsL (sigh) 122 million dollar-adoos?

Legally, a survey or plebiscite is not necessary to make any amendments to the Marriage Act, which the Howard government changed in 2004 to define marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”, and to prevent same-sex marriages conducted overseas being recognised in Australia.**

Besides the fact that this survey is a vile assault on the rights of LGBTIQA+ peoples to live without fear of hate speech and persecution, it has also been implemented in a manner which ensures unrepresentative results.


  • Voters were only given 14 days to enrol or update their enrolment details after the survey was announced, a timeline unachievable for many. Young Australians are also less likely to be on the electoral roll.
  • This vote, unlike parliamentary elections and referendums, is voluntary and postal, a factor favouring older voters who may be more likely to vote “no”.
Mr Burns of The Simpsons at a post office. Text: yes, I'd like to send this letter to the Prussian consulate in Siam by Aeromail. Am I too late for the 4.30 auto-gyro?
All graphics courtesy of The Simpsons Against the Liberals.
  • Voters should have received their forms by September 12, with the due date November 7. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) strongly advises the forms be posted by October 27, leaving six weeks to complete the vote. If you think this is enough time for a postal survey, you’ve never used Australia Post in your life. (Especially considering many have still not received their form.)
  • The vote was intended to be paper and pencil only, with an accessible voting option only announced as an afterthought due to public pressure. That means the 275,000 Australians with a vision impairment, people who do not speak English as a first language, overseas voters, those without a fixed address and those without postal services (primarily the 13% of First Nations people living in remote communities) could well have been completely excluded from this supposedly “democratic” vote.
  • To access a paperless, accessible voting option, voters must contact the ABS via telephone or their website to make their case for paperless voting. They then receive a secure access code from the ABS to provide a survey response. This confusing process could exclude many marginalised groups from participating in the vote.
  • This paperless method is restricted to “Australians overseas or who cannot reasonably receive their material via post, Australians with blindness, low vision or other disability that makes the paper form a more difficult option, or those in residential aged care” – an unnecessarily restrictive criteria which could leave many who are unable to complete a paper vote also ineligible for a paperless option.
  • The ABS is not set up to implement this kind of nation-wide voting (as opposed to the Australian Electoral Commission) and may not have the resources to ensure the vote is adequately processed. There is already evidence of surveys being dumped and vandalised, and the #censusfail of 2016 is enough for me to believe this postal survey may not produce reliable results.


Whether by design or just really, really crappy policy, there are enough issues with this postal survey for it to not truly represent the will of the Australian people. Given that repeated polling already shows that 6075% of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage, what then is the purpose of this survey?

Person holds placard at marriage equality rally.
From the Adelaide Marriage Equality rally.

Considering the manner in which it is implemented and those for whom voting has been made more difficult than others – young people, disabled people, overseas voters, people who speak languages other than English, First Nations people – it seems this vote has no intent other than to obfuscate an already decided issue, to give voice to those who would promote hate speech, and to deliberately exclude those who would be most likely to vote “yes”, including already marginalised groups.

The implementation of this survey is evidence that an attack on one minority group is an attack on us all. This is not to diminish the harm done to the LGBTIQA+ community, who are the clear and immediate targets of this campaign. But it would be foolish to believe that any person or organisation who sees one minority group as “less than” will be open to the needs of any other minority group.

A High Court challenge to rule the vote unconstitutional has failed. If the vote must go ahead, please participate and vote for an egalitarian Australian society. Oh – and don’t include glitter in your envelope. It could render your vote invalid!***

Mr Burns from The Simpsons against a rainbow background. Text: YES!
Just sayin’.


Some other actions you can take:

  • Donate to an organisation promoting marriage equality, such as The Equality Campaign
  • Write to your local MP, expressing your disappointment with the plebiscite and reminding them of their obligation to represent their constituents’ views, not just their own. (Find your electorate/MP here.) Even better, visit their office!
  • Yes Equality has further resources, including toolkits with talking points, flyers, and social media signs.


Language warning for the video below!



*For those confused between a postal survey, plebiscite and a referendum, a plebiscite is a non-binding opinion poll. A referendum is a compulsory vote necessary to change the constitution, such as the 1967 referendum to legally determine Aboriginal peoples part of the Australian population. This postal survey is basically a plebiscite in all but name, being conducted by post by the ABS, rather than at polling booths by the AEC. More on Lifehacker.

**Slimey fucker.

***Nothing stopping you from sending glitter to Tony Abbott or the Australian Christian Lobby, FREE OF CHARGE. Not that I’d advise such a course of action.

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

15 thoughts on “An undemocratic postal survey”

  1. *shakes fist* we had one of these but at least our colossal non-binding waste of money was just on a shitty redo of our flag which was so fugly that we kept the one we already had. I mean if you’re going to waste a tonne of money, in a totally flawed process, at least do it on the political equivalent of new curtains, not people’s actual lives.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 😂😂😂 It’s such a shame your vote failed due to the fugliness of the alternative. It would have been a great opportunity to shake off your colonial heritage and embrace Maori culture. (Can you tell I hate our flag too?)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is mind boggling. Why on earth even bother who people love? Adults and mutual should imo be the only restrictions, but really – why do they care? What kind of sadistic joy do they get from denying people the right to marry the one they love? Suresh. I’m seriously tempted to send envelopes with glitter…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Try as I may, I truly can’t understand the rationale behind the homophobic lobby groups. The rhetoric they have been using is beyond disgusting. I think this vote will go down in history as one of Australia’s darker moments.


  3. I’ve got so much lunacy to watch out for here in the US that I missed this. The short enrollment period and unreasonable obstacles are an trick of old white conservatives here too. Thanks for sharing and writing so eloquently about how this effects several groups of people, not just the ones that were obviously targeted to be oppressed.


    1. I have a sneaking suspicion our conservative pollies have been using the US as a playbook for their schemes. So much of it is similar to the divisive tactics happening in your part of the world.


  4. I was surprised to see that Australia is having problems with what we call right-wingers, too. Always thought your country was more enlightened than we are here in the US. They really do like to posture and strut, don’t they? And waste taxpayer’s money. So sad that the rights of a some are being determined by others.


    1. In many ways we are very backwards in terms of social progress. We still don’t have any actual action on climate change – an emissions trading scheme was repealed, and many politicians deny it is happening. There are also moves afoot to strip Medicare of funding.


  5. Thanks for this detailed breakdown of how this postal vote(?) survey(?) referendum(?) really works and what it means. I’d been seeing images of the forms ready to be sent but had no clue about how restrictive the postal format truly was (though I did wonder about just how difficult it might be for people to receive and send mail in more remote parts of Australia).


    1. Yeh, postal service in Australia is beyond a joke. And a postal survey like this has actually never been attempted before, likely because it’s such a terrible idea. I got confused by the names too – it started off being a “plebiscite”, but when it was clear that it wasn’t run by the AEC and would not technically be an electoral process, it became a “postal survey”. Because changes to the marriage act are not actually in the constitution, it’s not a referendum (unlike in Ireland where a referendum was legally necessary).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Siobhan, I couldn’t agree more. I am horrified by many things about this debate and our current government.

    The first being of course that people voted for this useless government in the first place…it seems no-one voted for them, or at least I haven’t seen many openly admitting it. Why so many people are surprised that the LNP basically rob from the rich to give to the poor and continue to target marginalised groups; this truly makes me boggle. It’s what they do and have always done!
    Where was the outrage when Little Johnny took it upon himself to change our definition of marriage? The same people now screaming that changes to the *sacred* marriage act shouldn’t be so arbitrary didn’t seem to mind that change then.
    Mostly it’s the fact that people in my life who I considered to be intelligent and rational beings just don’t seem to get that the SSM issue is basically all about insuring that under law the partners have access to the same rights as married hetero couples. They just don’t seem to get that. A lot of people seem to think that as a defacto you automatically have those rights and SS couples should be happy with that. And some of them are just taking hook, line and sinker, the mostly religious based Vote No rhetoric whether they are religious or not. People with children seem very susceptible to the scare campaign (perhaps having children somehow diminishes the ability to think rationally??!)

    The vitriol on both sides has truly shown the ugliness of Australians and just makes me really sad. The LNP totally disregarded the divisive nature of this campaign once again showing they really don’t care about their constituents or people in general. I guess that’s what happens when you worship the almighty dollar. And like you say, it’s NOT binding and I don’t trust that even given an overwhelming Yes vote – the LNP will honour the wishes of Australians. I bet they say *oh sorry – the ABS stuffed it up* and we can’t use the information.

    Sorry…just woke up…rambling =)


    1. Yes, yes yes. It’s especially mind-boggling when the poor and marginalised groups vote LNP, then act shocked when their rights are eroded. Hello! It’s in their charter! Individual freedom trumps societal responsibility. It is beyond frustrating that JH made marriage such a disgusting act, that he forced all couples to have that horrid line in their marriage vows. And he did it in the course of an afternoon – and we need a survey why?

      Here’s the thing, there are actually plenty of people out there saying that SS relationships are *not* guaranteed the same rights as married heterosexual ones. I saw an SBS (?) article about it just yesterday, and it’s not the first. So if you really don’t get it, or believe it, it’s not due to ignorance so much as *wilful* ignorance – you just don’t care enough about the lives of LBGTQI people to listen to their voices.


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