Have Your Say on the Marriage Act Postal Survey

By Emily Gadaleta

Edit: This blog has been updated to clarify a few points (marked within). We have tried to provide an accurate summary of where the parties stand, but as always, would advise that you also read more broadly and verify other sources of information before deciding what action you want to take.

There has been a lot in the news lately about the upcoming Marriage Act Postal Survey in Australia and it can be overwhelming to even know where to start. Here is a breakdown on what has gone on, what we might be seeing in the future, and how you can have your say.

If you have been following but aren't sure about what actions you can take, skip to the part where we talk about how young people could be being shafted.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The Government again attempted to get a plebiscite through the Senate, and failed. Now we are getting a plebiscite through a postal vote and you only have 14 DAYS to enrol to vote (at time of posting).

This chapter of the debate on how to decide to legalise marriage equality started in 2016 when the Turnbull Government introduced the idea of a national poll (plebiscite). This meant that the public could vote on whether to change the Marriage Act to include equal rights for all people. This angered many advocates of marriage equality, who have argued that the poll would cause a harmful debate and would jeopardise the Australian peoples’ consideration of the issue.

WHAT IS A PLEBISCITE?

A plebiscite is a national poll where the topic being voted on is not detailed in the Constitution, according to the Australian Electoral Commission website. Plebiscites are held to get a sense of popular Australian opinions that are held, therefore the results are not binding. You might be reading a number of views, mainly those who are for a plebiscite and then those who are against.

Both sides of the debate have been represented in Parliament. This video of Penny Wong openly speaking against the plebiscite in the Senate addresses the issue of a plebiscite leading to damaging debate. As a Federal politician who is a gay woman with two children, this issue affects her directly. Whereas Tony Abbot believes that ‘if you don’t like political correctness, vote no”.

PRO-PLEBISCITE

Those who are pro-plebiscite believe that it will give a voice to the Australian people to have a say on a national issue. They believe it will give an opportunity for open debate.

A common challenge to the pro-plebiscite camp is to assert that making a decision about marriage equality is a job for our elected representatives. The defence provided by pro-plebiscite’s such as the likes of Malcolm Turnbull is that the postal vote is ‘thoroughly democratic’. Turnbull and his government have come forward and said they believe that a plebiscite was a good method to achieve reform, allowing the most popular opinion to prevail. 

ANTI-PLEBISCITE

Those are who are anti-plebiscite believe it will be a damaging and expensive exercise that will divide the public through a destructive debate. In addition, ultimately the plebiscite is not binding, meaning that even is a ‘Yes’ vote resulted, Parliament does not have to vote in the same way. This, combined with the fact that there is also a increasing pool of data indicating that the majority of Australians support marriage equality, undermines the argument that a public vote is needed in order to determine what action to take on this issue. 

But the plebiscite failed to pass, so now what?

Since the government has not been able to pass the necessary legislation to have a plebiscite, the national vote will now take place as a postal vote, which does not require any special legislation. The postal vote would see the Australia Bureau of Statistics conduct a $122 million dollar voluntary vote, described as a 'statistical survey of the nation' through Australia Post. This vote would be carried out approximately between the 12 September and 7 November 2017, with a result on 25 November.

WHAT IS A POSTAL VOTE?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics are meant to be conducting the vote, however there has been some contention about their validity as a statistic government agency to conduct such a ballot, especially after the #censusfail.

It also means that eligible citizens participate on a voluntary basis (unlike elections) so the results will be influenced by those that rock up. 

Despite the fact that Australian Marriage Equality are seeking an injunction from the High Court, it looks pretty likely that this could happen.

18-24 year olds are more likely to miss out **FOMO ALERT**

Not counting the fact that you know, who has actually visited a post office recently? The postal vote is considered to be an issue as young people are less likely to participate in this kind of process and that, of course, would lead to our voices not being represented.

Why are young people less likely to participate?

  • To begin with, a large number young people are not enrolled to vote and these enrolment details are being used to send out ballot papers. According to AEC, there’s still more 18-24 year olds missing from the electoral roll than any other age group in Australia. There’s 254,000 in that age group who haven’t enrolled. That’s a LOT of votes. Like, could potentially change the outcome kind of numbers.
     
  • Additionally, since we have been spending all our cash on brunch & not houses, we're more likely to be renting and therefore have out-of-date details & not receive the ballot.
     
  • Finally.... TBH we're prob more likely not to go to a post office. Give us an app already.

This would mean that a whole bunch of young people will not be able to be part of the decision.

What’s more, consider the results from previous voluntary votes & other countries....

Australian election expert/hero Antony Green points out that at the last voluntary vote in 1977 that younger age groups were under-represented as participants in comparison to older voters who were over-represented. Yep... this is pretty old data (voluntary votes don't happen that often) but these stats are pretty consistent with the general trends in other Australian elections and international elections where voting is voluntary...you know... like Brexit... and the US. Edit: While there have been some overall increases, youth voter participation was relatively low in both the Brexit vote and most recent US election. You can read more about that here and here

So what can you do

ENROL. TO. VOTE… You only have a few days otherwise you won't receive the ballot.

It’s as simple as getting your ID and follow the steps on this website.

If you need to update your address you can do so here.

If you're not sure whether or not you're enrolled, you can check your enrolment status here.

It really doesn’t take much to sign up and once you have, you can share your new nerdy skills with all of your friends and that cute crush that catches your bus.

Whether you are for or against marriage equality, being on the electoral role is the ONLY way you will be able to participate in this decision.

CBF/Thinking of not voting?

If you're of the view that maybe you will not vote as a protest (of the whole process), can't be bothered etc. etc. We understand, but do not recommend.

During the election we posted about why your vote counts & reasons to vote... but think about it this way:

  • Even if you don't agree with the process, there is one thing that is for sure and that is that this will be accountable & transparent (which we are super lucky to have & shouldn't take for granted)...
     
  • The results will be used as evidence by politicians to progress their agenda going forward.. so what do you want this evidence to be?
     
  • While going to the POST OFFICE (still can't really get over that)... is a pain... think of all of the times you have ranted about this to your mates/wondered how you can make change happen/wondered why we are still talking about it etc etc... If you're looking for one simple action you can take to make your voice heard ... this is a pretty good opportunity. 

TL;DR

NERD FUN FACTS

1.    There have been approximately 400 marriages between same-sex couples carried out in Australia since 2014.

How you ask?!

In the UK High Commission, engaged couples involving at least one British citizen are allowed to be wed. The UK High Commissioner, Menna Rawlings, even conducts the weddings in her own house!

2.    There have only been three plebiscites in Australian history.

The first two plebiscites were concerned with conscription during WW1, which were ultimately both defeated.

The third was to choose a National Song in 1977, ‘Advance Australia Fair’. The other three songs that were on the list were ‘God Save the Queen’, ‘Song of Australia’, and ‘Waltzing Matilda’.