When you’re in a hole, stop digging


In the next week or so, we’re all supposedly getting a letter from the Australian Bureau of Statistics so we can (if we choose) ‘advise’ our Parliamentarians how to vote on the issue of same sex marriage. Be still my beating heart!

Why do we have to advise the Parliament on how we want them to vote on a particular issue? We don’t on potentially going to war ‘in support’ of the USA against ISIS or North Korea, we don’t on giving business a $50 BILLION plus tax cut when Australian residents are facing greater economic inequality, and we certainly didn’t when Prime Minister at the time John Howard inserted the ‘man and woman’ clause into the Marriage Act in 2004.
Less than an hour after Prime Minister John Howard announced the changes to the Marriage Act, the government rushed legislation enabling the changes into parliament.

Mr Howard said the Marriage Act would be changed to include a definition of marriage as the `voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others'.

The laws currently do not define marriage.

"We've decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation," Mr Howard told reporters.
Howard went on to suggest
(It should) not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts, it is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.
As recently as last year
Speaking on radio host Alan Jones’ 2GB breakfast show, Mr Howard also reasserted his opposition to a plebiscite on same-sex marriage saying the matter should have been resolved in Parliament.
And Howard’s right. Regardless of the result of the survey, the only vote that can remove the ‘man and woman’ clause from legislation is the vote of those who inhabit the red and green chambers of Parliament House in Canberra. The survey is an expensive ego trip forced on Australia by a small group of ultra-conservative members of Parliament. You could probably put money on them also ignoring the result if it isn’t what they want.

The original plan by the conservative faction of the Coalition government was for a plebiscite to be run by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), but that was voted down twice in the Senate. Notwithstanding the small matter of the majority of the senate (which the Coalition doesn’t control) suggesting by those two actions that the plebiscite is really a bad idea, the Coalition Government went behind the Senate’s back and decided to require the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to run a ‘survey’ of all on the electoral roll to determine the issue. As the ABS is running the survey it is not compulsory, giving hope to those in Parliament who will vote no anyway that there will be a ‘get out of jail’ moment when even a high percentage of ‘yes’ survey results can be discounted because (in their mind if nowhere else), some group or other was not properly represented in the plebiscite postal survey. There is an upside however — Australia Post’s letter business should be profitable this financial year — even if the ABS gets a substantial discount for posting over 15 million letters!

The announcement of the plebiscite postal survey found John Howard, despite his statement last year, campaigning for the ‘no’ case with Tony Abbott, as joyfully reported by conservative blog The Wentworth Report.

The cost of the plebiscite postal survey is estimated to be $122 million, which would have been a significant down payment on a number of projects around the country including Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the proposed rail link to a second airport in Sydney at Badgerys Creek, or perhaps to fund eight new schools (it cost WA $112 million to build eight schools in 2014).

As far back as 2014, a Crosby-Textor poll found that 72% of Australians would support same-sex marriage. Turnbull of all people should be a believer in the ‘evident wisdom’ of opinion polls. Thirty ‘poor’ opinion polls is one of the reasons he challenged Abbott for the Prime Ministership in 2015. It hasn’t done the LNP much good however — Turnbull has been running behind the main opposition party for a considerable period, as demonstrated by William Bowe in his excellent Poll Bludger blog on the Crikey website.

The Guardian recently argued that an opinion poll may have greater accuracy than a postal survey — and be a lot cheaper

Their argument against postal surveys is:
A voluntary postal ballot would reach a large number of people but the results would be skewed towards the type of people who are inclined to read their mail, those who decide to take part in such a ballot, and those who have their current address on the electoral roll. Essentially, the people who respond would not necessarily be representative of the entire population.
Additionally
As it turns out we already have a large, government-funded survey that has asked Australians for their views on marriage equality. The latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, conducted by the University of Melbourne, found that the majority of Australians believe homosexual Australians should have the same rights as heterosexual Australians, with 59% of men supporting equal rights and 67% of women.
Probably the real issue here isn’t opinion polls, marriage (or any other version of) equality or anything Turnbull has or hasn’t done. The issue is John Howard, Tony Abbott and their band of ultra conservative bigots. You may remember that Abbott (sounding in less than fine health) fronted the assembled media at the doors to Parliament House the day after the plebiscite that isn’t a plebiscite was announced and gravely intoned:
I say to you if you don't like same-sex marriage, vote no," said Abbott. "If you're worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don't like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.
While Abbott is entitled to an opinion, the fundamental problem with his statement is that the question is not about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, political correctness or any other issue other than allowing people who love each other to have the option to publically proclaim their love through a custom called marriage, regardless of the gender of the partner. Lenore Taylor, the editor of The Guardian in Australia, wrote an article discussing their editorial policy on 12 August 2017 advising
As we start this unnecessary, voluntary, snail mail survey-thingie, the “no” case is loudly demanding the media run “both sides” of the question.

That makes it critical to precisely define the “question” itself. Because running both sides of the actual question is not the same as running “both sides” of all the other spurious “questions” the anti-equality case is setting up as obfuscations.
Taylor then goes on to discuss the ‘list of the arguments this is not about, and to which Guardian Australia will definitely not be giving “equal time” or attention.’

Notwithstanding the issue of the High Court challenge, the yes and no campaigns are underway. The no campaign started off a while ago with a television commercial which the Seven and Ten networks refused to air. More recently, the no case is claiming on their advertising amongst other things that a boy was told he could wear a dress to school if marriage equality is allowed in Australia. Pity the school’s Principal has stated that it never happened. Asking what you are wearing may have broken up a few marriages over the years, but how does a survey for same sex marriage logically link to a discussion on what a boy wears to school in any event?

The thing is that it doesn’t have to. Fairfax has researched what is allowable in the advertising for and against same sex marriage. According to Fairfax, the advertising surrounding the same sex marriage survey is political — meaning the usual rules regarding accuracy and discrimination don’t apply. This clearly suits the ‘no’ camp, as demonstrated by the false claims in the television advertisement. You may recall that the Coalition was going to legislate for fairness and equity in the advertising campaigns. Apparently they will, after the High Court decides if the plebiscite postal survey is legal, leaving room for a large number of ‘free kicks’ containing little if any accuracy before the High Court judgement. It isn’t like the doubtful accuracy of the no case should be a surprise as News.com.au was reporting on the advertising used when the Irish went to the polls (as they had to) in 2015.
. . . look no further than Ireland where some alarming — as well as amusing — advertisements from both sides of the campaign aired during the run up to the 2015 referendum on gay marriage.

Irish voters saw ads that suggested a yes to marriage equality would lead primary schoolchildren being taught about cross dressing, a man asking four million people if he could marry his girlfriend and even a couple fearful of the end of the world as gay marriage dawned.

Generally, the Yes campaign used Ireland’s renowned sense of humour and pulled on the heartstrings to get their vote out. The No side relied on bible scripture as well as arguments that are already being bandied about in Australia, that a vote in favour of gay marriage could adversely affect children.
The thing is that this method of campaign suits Abbott and his minions well. Remember the $100 lamb roast, the towns that would be deserted and the other perils of ‘the carbon tax’ if it came to pass? Not only were all the predictions proven to be wrong, Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, later admitted the price on carbon was not a tax, and Abbott’s destabilisation had caused a decade of inaction on energy policy leading to increased domestic power prices and large companies choosing to invest their money in infrastructure overseas where there is certainty.

Turnbull claims he will vote ‘yes’ assuming the survey goes ahead, but at the same time he seems to be quite comfortable with the continual interference from Abbott and groups such as the IPA on this or any other issue. If he is the ‘strong’ leader of the country, he should be seen to be standing up to someone who is continually undermining his authority while claiming to be on the same side. Turnbull isn’t. While Abbott is entitled to his opinion, he is not entitled to spend $122 million of our money to find a reason to be obstructionist if and when the issue does come to Parliament, where it has to be resolved anyway.

There are some influential members of the Liberal and National Parties who aren’t afraid of ‘the big bad Abbott
Former NSW premier Nick Greiner, Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle and Howard government cabinet minister Amanda Vanstone will lead the "Libs and Nats for Yes" campaign, while cabinet ministers including Kelly O'Dwyer and Simon Birmingham are also set to play a big role in the campaign
If they can do it — why can’t Turnbull?

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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