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Marriage equality postal vote further erodes democracy

  • 01 September 2017


The marriage equality postal survey might be the only option in sight for progress on the issue, but have we lost sight of the bigger picture? Are there costs in participating in a fundamentally undemocratic process?

The intended postal plebiscite is profoundly undemocratic. It will be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the hope that it will be considered a 'gathering of statistics', not an electoral matter requiring oversight by the Australian Electoral Commission and an appropriation of funds by the parliament. The federal government is circumventing the will of the parliament.

This is part of a broader trend to attack, undermine, defund, and erode the democratic institutions we rely on. The Human Rights Law Centre has calculated that over 200 new laws with the specific intent of limiting protest, lessening the oversight of government including by the courts, and reducing the freedom of the press, have been passed since September 2001.

The constant attacks on Gillian Triggs as president of the Human Rights Commission coupled with slashes to the Commission's funding were part of a concerted campaign to delegitimise the institution. Peak bodies and not-for-profits have reported funding reductions if they speak out against government policy, while environmental organisations were threatened with the removal of their tax-deductible-gift status.

Every one of these actions is designed to make it harder to hold government to account, to make sure that it is acting legally. A postal plebiscite to dictate the agenda of the parliament is just one more step in that direction.

Seen in this light, the postal plebiscite is about much more than marriage equality. Our democratic institutions are at stake. Consider what we already know, or don't know, about it. This postal survey will deny the franchise to remote communities in, at least, the Northern Territory. Voters with vision impairment or those overseas will all be denied the basic right of a private ballot, delegating their voice to a 'trusted friend'.

This is not an activity being conducted in good faith to genuinely understand the will of the people. It is an activity designed to undermine the Senate as a check on government, to limit the potential of a High Court challenge, and fundamentally undermine the legitimacy of our institutions. Winning marriage equality and simultaneously engaging in the active delegitimising of our democracy is not a victory. It makes us complicit.

A victory in the postal survey won't actually create marriage equality. It will,