The High Court has spoken and the government’s plan to have a postal plebiscite (or survey if you prefer) of voters on same-sex marriage will go ahead.
This means that from September 12, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will post out the surveys to 16 million households asking if the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The exercise is expected to cost $122 million and is not binding on politicians. That is, regardless of what their electorate says, they can front up in parliament and vote whatever way they choose when the matter finally does come to a vote.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion it is a stalling tactic and those of us who think this is an expensive waste of time will be disappointed our taxpayer dollars will be frittered away on this but the opinion polls have shown up an interesting anomaly.
All the polls show an ever-increasing number of people support same-sex marriage.
Barring a catastrophic campaign similar to the one that sunk the republic proposals in 1999 where votes were urged to voted against “a politician’s republic” (an utter nonsense as all options on the table were political ones), the survey should end up in a victory for the “yes” vote and that is certainly how I will be voting (though because this is a matter of conscience we won’t actively campaign for either side).
Of more interest however is the fact that polls also consistently showed that people wanted a say in the matter ie the plebiscite option was popular.
This could come down to the natural suspicion of politics and politicians widespread in the community.
But it also could show a healthy interest in participative democracy that could be explored for other contentious issues.
Switzerland, for example, has a long tradition of direct democracy which grants citizens the right to veto parliamentary laws or suggest constitutional change.
Swiss citizens vote regularly on every aspect of politics, four times a year.
Arguably this goes against our Westminster tradition but the gate has now been unlocked. Watch for lobby groups of all political persuasions to argue for plebiscites and surveys on all sorts of issues big and small.
The horse has bolted – Derek Barry