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.
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”.
- 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 60–75% of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage, what then is the purpose of this survey?
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!***
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.
***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.