Australian postal survey for Same-sex Marriage

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has recently announced that citizens will be able to “have their say” on the issue of same-sex marriage, which remains forbidden down under. But the way in which Australians have been asked to have their say is the subject of much controversy. Here we give you a snapshot of why the same-sex marriage vote is making Aussies go postal.

In the lead up to the 2016 federal election, Malcolm Turnbull promised to carry out a nation-wide vote to decide whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized. However, the legislation required to implement the vote has twice been rejected by the Senate, forcing the government to change their strategy.

Now the government has commissioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to hold a ‘postal survey’ on the issue. All eligible and registered voters will receive voting forms by post from September 12 which they can complete and return by November 7. The results of the survey will be published by the ABS on November 15. All of this has been planned without the consent of Parliament.

However, the postal survey has come under fire for a number of different reasons.

Participation is non-compulsory.

Voting in Australia is compulsory for all adults over the age of 18. However, the postal survey on same-sex marriage is merely a ‘statistical data collection’ run by the ABS. It is not an election, referendum or plebiscite run by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). Critics argue that any such ‘vote’ on the issue should adhere to the Australian democratic tradition of compulsory voting.

The survey result is non-binding.

The idea of the vote is that it is supposed to ‘settle’ the question of same-sex marriage. However, the government will not be bound to implement the result of the survey once it has been completed. This leaves the result itself open to question, especially if a low percentage of Australians bother to participate.

Doesn’t Parliament have the final say on Same-sex Marriage?

Having federated in 1901, Australia has operated as a representative parliamentary democracy for almost 120 years. And whilst referenda are fairly common within the Australian democratic tradition, they are held specifically for amendments to the Constitution. The legalization of same-sex marriage would only require an amendment to an act of parliament. Indeed, Australian Parliament has the authority to make the change if decided upon. Polling data suggests 61% of Australian support same-sex marriage. That includes 55% of Liberal/National Party voters, the current coalition of government.

Is the postal survey worth $122 million?

Given these polling numbers, what’s the point of spending $122 million on a non-compulsory, non-binding vote that might not even settle the debate? This is one of the major criticisms directed towards the postal survey. In fact, the legality of conducting the survey will be challenged in the High Court of Australia. It will be argued that the finance minister, who has appropriated the required funds to implement the nation-wide survey, has overstepped his executive authority in doing so.

If the High Court challenge is successful, then the postal survey may not even go ahead at all, so watch this space! We will keep you posted on the latest news from Australia. 

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