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Questions About The Plebiscite? Me Too.


Questions About The Plebiscite? Me Too.

Caitlin Tait

This week the federal government (Malcolm Turnbull and co.) announced there would be a plebiscite for marriage equality.

We all know this is terrible, but a lot of us have questions and don’t know where to start. It can be intimidating and frightening learning about plebiscites and what the government is up to, so I’m here to explain.

Sort of like a queer Agony Aunt. Heavy on the agony.


What is a plebiscite?

Great question. I couldn’t have answered this last week.

A plebiscite is a nationwide vote. It’s a way to get public feedback on a political idea.

Voting in plebiscites isn’t compulsory, meaning that not everyone who gets sent a ballot will fill it out or reply. Furthermore, there will be no fine for those who don’t vote, unlike voting for federal or state government.

This means that we have to be riding on everyone’s coat tails, reminding everyone (whether we know them or not) to vote, regardless if it’s yes or no. (Ideally yes. Obviously.)

Not-so-fun fact: The last time Australia had a plebiscite was in 1977. It was about the national anthem. It took seven years to implement that result.


Why is it happening?

The plebiscite for marriage equality is happening because the Turnbull government believes giving the people who have strong views on both sides of the marriage equality debate a say is the right way to do this.

Allowing the people of Australia to have a say is good. However, equality is a basic human right.

A plebiscite will allow anti-gay campaigners a stage bigger than they’ve had in the past. There will be campaigns in the media invalidating people’s identities, families, ability and worthiness of and to love.

Senator Penny Wong spoke out in parliament explaining that by holding this plebiscite, the children and families of LGBTQI+ will be affected. It will expose young people to hate and bullying.

Fun fact: Not all people want to get married, including heterosexual couples. The LGBQTI+ community has been neglected by law for decades and decades, and many people within the community worldwide choose not to marry due to the neglect in the past. However, it’s nice to have a choice. No, marriage is not the be-all and end-all of relationships, but for everyone to have that choice to be seen and recognised under law is important and a very small step.

Not-so-fun fact: If the majority says yes to marriage equality, the government don’t have to follow through. Unlike a referendum, a plebiscite does not bind a government with its result. The decision will still be in the hands of the government regardless.


We know a plebiscite is wrong, but why?

It’s wrong because parliament can make marriage equality happen without the vote, and without spending all this money that could go to… anything else. Education, safe schools program, university fees, homelessness, health care… Just to name a few.

We elect politicians to represent us. We often forget that their job is to work for us. They’re in power because we put them there. It’s their job to keep us happy.

According to a research done in the United States (Hatzenbuehler et al), during state referenda debates in the US, people in the LGBTQI+ community suffered hugely.

Some of the statistics of LGBQTI+ people in states where there were US state debates around marriage equality included:

  • 37% increase in mood disorders
  • 42% increase in alcohol-use disorders
  • 248% increase in generalised anxiety disorders

In states in the US that did not have these debates, there was no increase from LGBQTI+ people.

How much is it costing?

$122 million!!!!! That money could pay for three million visits to the GP, or thousands of teachers according to SBS news.

Why does it cost so much?

That whopper of a figure includes everything even remotely involved in the plebiscite.

It includes stuff like getting the information about the plebiscite out, media releases, advertising, printing, television and radio ads, consultancy fees with people who are professionals at this sort of thing. Everything.

Image via NYC Pride.

Image via NYC Pride.


When will this happen?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will run the postal vote and it will start mid-September.

According to news outlets, the postal vote will have us seeing ballot papers from September 12th onward.

Ideally, we’ll have a result on the 15th of November.


What are some of the problems with a plebiscite?

Not that we can change it now, but the plebiscite could have been done online. No, not everyone has access to the Internet at home, but libraries, schools and universities do – and many offer access to their computers for free.

Thus far, the government has not explained how those who are homeless will be included in the vote. Not everyone has a permanent place of residence, and a postal vote may exclude the large number of those without a home.

It’s important to note that many people who are homeless, especially young people, are without a permanent residency due to identifying as someone within the LGBTQI+ community. By excluding these people, it is unfair to have a truly diverse and comprehensive idea of Australia’s people.

On top of this, Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy has explained to the government that they have not given thought to Aboriginal people and language barriers.

"In the Northern Territory, we have 43 town camps 72 remote Indigenous communities and 500 homelands…What consideration have you given to over 100 Aboriginal languages and translations that should take place?"

Important questions.

Image vie Getty Images.

Image vie Getty Images.


How can I check if I’m registered to vote properly?

Here! Knowing full well I'm enrolled, I triple-checked last night.


I’ve moved house/my details have changed. How can I update them?

Here to change you address. Here to change your name.



Here! If you’re over 18 and not enrolled to vote, do it right now. Literally the easiest thing and you get to have a say on important matters. E.g., marriage equality and who's running the country.


I have questions! Who can I ask?

It's great to have questions, and it's totally okay to want to ask answers.

When I was thinking about how people who are homeless would be included in a postal vote, I reached out to Jay Weatherill's office. I knew it wasn't the right place to go, but it was a start. The man who answered was incredibly kind and pointed me in the right direction.

Contacting your member in federal parliament is where to go! Kate Ellis's office was where I next called, and they were also very kind. They admitted they didn't have the answer for me, so they wrote down my contact details and said they would do their best to answer my question.

Not only is calling politicians a great place to start, you can also write a message to the PM.

Here is where you can ask questions. I sent the PM a message today with my concerns, and one day soon I might get a response.



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