Tania's Blog

There Are 122 Million Reasons Why The Postal Plebiscite Makes No Sense

This convoluted mechanism is simply a poor tool for our elected representatives to use to avoid taking any real accountability.

Subject to a High Court challenge, a national postal ‘vote’ on same-sex marriage is going ahead. An opportunity existed for our government to truly act as leaders, as representatives of their electorates, and to progress Australia’s human rights agenda. Instead, a costly, voluntary, non-binding, postal opinion poll will waste a ridiculous amount of much needed public funds.The problems with the postal ‘vote’ are multifarious.

The problems with the postal ‘vote’ are multifarious.

An insult to gay and lesbian Australians

Making changes for the progress, development and betterment of the Australian nation is the responsibility of the Parliament, with each Member of Parliament responsible for representing the interests of the electorate who voted for them.

Former High Court justice, Michael Kirby noted that other human rights developments have not been made by public vote, but by the Parliament in its organic capacity.

Many gay and lesbian Australians have expressed similar sentiments. Debate in a public forum about their rights and the taking of a public vote is unusual, unfair and discriminatory. The debate raised by the postal vote gives rise to hate-fuelled voices within the community and places a disgusting burden on those who simply want a right they should already have. The postal vote will divide and propagate hate, rather than allowing the nation to embrace progress, change and civil rights.

The cost — this money could really improve lives

The postal vote is purported to cost taxpayers a whopping $122 million. This expenditure is nothing other than absurd. It is completely unnecessary; most Australians already support marriage equality. There is absolutely no justification for wasting funds in this manner.

Our nation is currently cutting funding to a broad range of core services. Universities, healthcare, education, disabilities, mental health, homelessness and many other areas of the community are suffering due to funding limitations. The $122 million being wasted on the postal vote could have made a significant impact in many of these areas. For example, that figure is almost the exact amount of funding for the national domestic violence budget for an entire year. In Australia, at least one woman a week is killed as the result of domestic violence.

The divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is growing. Many people are struggling. Loneliness and social isolation is the global epidemic of our times. We need to invest in building happy, caring and LOVING communities that foster diversity, inclusion and harmony.

It’s non-binding

One of the most nonsensical aspects of the postal vote is that it’s not really a ‘vote’, it’s an opinion poll. The consequences of the vote are non-binding. A resulting ‘yes’ vote means that Members of Parliament will be given a free vote in Parliament. They will not be bound by the postal vote and can vote as they please. If Australians vote against marriage equality in the postal vote, there will not be a free vote in Parliament.

This convoluted mechanism is simply a poor tool for our elected representatives to use to avoid taking any real accountability on an important issue and to avoid any public backlash or too much party room pressure. This is a spineless, embarrassing and regressive approach by our government and an embarrassment for Australia in comparison to many of its foreign counterparts who have shown great courage and commitment on this issue.

It’s voluntary

As Australians will not be forced to vote on the issue, it is possible that only those strongly in favour or opposed to the outcome will vote. Those who do not have any issue with same-sex marriage, but perhaps cannot be bothered voting, may choose not to vote. This will give an inaccurate representation of how Australians genuinely feel towards the matter and may end up in a negative and unfair result.

Snail mail

By 12 September 2017, if you’re an Australian on the electoral roll, you’ll be receiving your ballot paper. Many people, particularly young people, move frequently and don’t update their electoral details. If the form doesn’t make it to your house, you won’t be able to vote.

Australians will have to check their mail, open it, read it, vote, and go to a letterbox to post it. This is too much effort for many people for a voluntary vote process. The postal vote procedure is also biased towards older people who still use the post. Younger Australians have very little interaction with the postal service. This could greatly skew the results in favour of a more conservative, older group of voters.

If the government insists on a vote, why not a digital vote for a fraction of the cost?

It’s just not necessary

There’s already sufficient community support and international pressure for marriage equality. According to figures from GetUp! some 72 percent of Australians support marriage equality. This is clear justification for a Parliamentary conscience vote on the issue. The postal opinion poll is an unnecessary, insulting, waste of money which is divisive to the community.

A lost opportunity

The matter of marriage equality presented a great opportunity for Prime Minister Turnbull to show Australia that he could lead and create positive change for the nation in these very uncertain and unsettling times. He has failed dismally.

The postal vote is faulty, flawed and farcical and an insult to the Australian people. An enormous amount of money will be wasted with zero social change achieved. If the postal vote achieves same-sex marriage, despite a fantastic outcome, it will have been achieved via a wasteful and discriminatory process. If the postal vote fails to achieve marriage equality, it could even further delay Australians achieving a right to which they are long overdue.

I worry that this vote will divide us further, hurt a lot of people and leave many bewildered. So if this does go ahead please make sure you’re registered to vote. We all need to look after each other and build a community that cares.

Original article on the HuffPost by Tania de Jong AM 23/8/2017.

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