A non-binding postal ballot? Why did no one think of this obvious solution before

August 12, 2017

So the government is planning a plebiscite on equal marriage by means of post, presumably because it didn’t want to confuse elderly opponents of marriage equality with new-fangled technological developments like the telegram.

The whole project will cost $122 million for a vote that is not even binding, when all polls for years have shown a large majority in favour of marriage equality and the thing could be resolved in a matter of hours by a simple vote in parliament.

No wonder Treasurer Scott Morrison is always lecturing us on how important it is to have such responsible economic managers in charge. You let any old hacks in charge of the Treasury and they could do crazy shit like spending cash on reversing cuts to Medicare.

It is unclear, however, how much of this $122 million will go towards needed education campaigns, such as teaching voters under 30 what an envelope is.

It is hard to see what could go wrong here as they have put the Australian Bureau of Statistics in charge of the vote and their record in recent times of organising the large-scale collection of answers from households is impeccable. If we exclude the small hitches that accompanied last year’s census, such as being shut down by a cyber attack. You can’t have a cyber attack on a postal vote, can you?

This is a government that learns from its mistakes, clearly deciding the internet is just more trouble than it’s worth, which explains the state of its National Broadband Network.

It will also be quite nice, I imagine, for Australia Post to actually have something to do for the first time in years. And I can’t see anything that might undermine their capacity to ensure the postal voting goes smoothly, as they have only sacked thousands of workers in recent years, and large-scale job losses had no obvious adverse affect on the ABS’s capacity to the census, so I’m sure this will be fine.

The whole thing smacks of desperation by the socially conservative hard right that seems to have a stranglehold over the Coalition, as they work to hold back a step that is clearly inevitable.

There can be no doubt just how widespread the support for equal marriages, and frustration at ultra-conservative politicians frustrating the popular will, when you consider NT News August 9 front cover with its logo rainbow-coloured and the headline: “DO IT NOW”.

It is not so much the fact that this Murdoch tabloid that is so impressive, it is that the NT News, the world’s only publication to ever run the headline “Man bites croc on snout”, only takes crocs off its front cover for the most serious of issues. And 99% of the time that means alien sightings.

(Though it did once shift its focus to a different form of marine life with the front page headline: “Man bashed by prawn”.)

Its pro-equal marriage cover was apparently the most retweeted Australian paper front cover ever, which is especially impressive when you consider it beat out the NT News famous 2012 masterpiece “Why I stuck a clacker up my cracker”.  

In such circumstances, there is no actual doubt where the public stands. It's been set up to be as advantageous to the "no" side as possible, but full participation by all supporters of equal marriage rights should result in a clear-cut "yes" win.

But for the social dinosaurs in the Coalition, it is obviously really very important to them that, with even Ireland joining the modern world and voting overwhelmingly for progress, that Australia holds our new title of “most socially backwards nation that was colonised by England” for as long as we possibly can.

And no one is working harder to this end than Tony Abbott. The ex-PM made an impassioned plea for the “No” side, insisting anyone who wanted to “protect religious freedom” should vote against letting people marry who they want, presumably voting “yes” will involve sending conservative Christians to gulags.

Abbott also insisted that if “you are worried about freedom of speech, vote no”.

True, some people might suggest that the crackdown on public servants’ social media posts, whereby public servants can be sacked for publicly criticising the government, could conceivably be viewed as a greater threat to freedom of speech than a non-binding postal vote on letting two people of the same sex tie the knot.

But you just can’t be complacent on freedom of speech. As Voltaire famously said: “I might not agree with what you say, and if you’re a public servant you should probably be sacked for saying it, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to vote against giving other people basic equal rights over things that don’t affect you at all in a vote that isn’t even binding.”   

In other, less important news, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to follow Donald Trump into World War III should the Orange One declare war on North Korea. Which is the type of thing a prime minister should just decide by themselves, obviously.

Popular consultations are for crucial things like whether individuals can marry who they want in a fashion that has no impact on anyone else’s lives, not whether to take an entire nation into a probable nuclear war.

No, leave this one to our leaders with their proven record of responsibility — as seen by their mature, considered and deft handling of marriage equality.

[You can book tickets to Carlo Sands' solo show "Inspiring?" is at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival on Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and Oct. 1. Proceeds to Green Left Weekly.]

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