Postal Plebiscite Ahead

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Hi tech vote looms

Barring some last minute upheaval, a postal plebiscite on marriage equality is now certain

The Lord High Everything Grand Pooh-Bah Peter Dutton, has allegedly won the support of his Cabinet colleagues. A postal plebiscite on marriage equality will go to the LNP joint party room for approval as soon as parliament resumes.

Dutton is unmoved by a recent GetUp poll showing that 69% of his constituents would prefer a free vote on the floor of the parliament. Voters want the issue dealt with now, it is said, and while they might prefer a free vote, they will settle for anything, however flawed, to get the issue resolved quickly. Once the decision is made it is thought that his constituents will swing in behind it.


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The parliamentary party is united in wanting the issue dealt with asap. Since a free vote would likely split the party, that is not an option. A ‘proper’ plebiscite remains impossible while the Senate and LGBTI campaigners maintain their opposition. That leaves a postal vote as the only possible way forward. This is the argument that Dutton appears to have won.

His supporters are unmoved by the deficiencies of a postal vote: they can spruik it as a ‘plebiscite’ and claim they have kept their promises. It will still not bind MPs to vote in line with the result. It won’t be compulsory. And younger voters are less likely to return a postal ballot than older people, suppressing the Yes vote. Worst of all, we won’t know exactly what we’re voting for: at this stage, there’s no bill. Whichever way it goes – and it will be designed as far as possible to hand the No side a win – the losers won’t accept the outcome.

None of which matters to the delcons such as Abbott, Abetz, or even Dutton himself. After all, since we LGBTI blocked the plebiscite proper, we only have ourselves to blame for ending up with a worse mechanism, they say. The only way to stop the postal plebiscite at this stage is to convince the delcons they will lose. More polls will not do it: the Australian Equality Campaign unveiling a multi-million dollar warchest, for example, might just about meet the case! [contd. below]

There is no need to take the issue back to the party room on August 8, though they almost certainly will, “to give everyone a say”: it will likely pass with a sigh of relief. Just to make sure, it’ll be another “stacked” joint meeting, including the Nationals. Talk is moving from “if” to “when”, with nothing remaining but the announcement.

Malcolm Turnbull will have to fall in line. Having repeatedly publicly supported a plebiscite, he would be hard pressed to now argue against one either in Cabinet or the party room. And if he put up a strong fight and lost, well, say hello to Prime Minister Dutton shortly thereafter.

LGBTI advocates have two choices. Fight to win the vote, or fight to boycott, disrupt and delegitimise it? Whichever, we need to start planning now.

Activists from are divided, some ready to campaign for Yes “glittering it up to the max”, others wondering where to stage public bonfires of voting papers. Disclosure: I tend to the latter option. The fewer people vote, the less legitimate the result. Given that a postal ballot is already heavily stacked against us, we need to thoroughly delegitimise the ballot. The lower the turnout, the less meaningful the result, and the easier to discount any “loss”.

I would like to issue a personal plea to everyone to come together, now, form an alliance and agree a strategy. Current divisions help no-one but our enemies. We will, quite literally, be in the fight of our lives. There will be casualties. We need to ensure that none come from ‘friendly fire’.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)