23 August 2016 at 10:41 am
Australia is reportedly set to have its say on the issue of same-sex marriage in February 2017.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph on Sunday the plebiscite will be held in February and will ask voters: “Do you approve of a law to permit people of the same sex to marry?”
It comes after the prime minister’s office confirmed the government had received advice from the Australian Electoral Commission that there was not sufficient time to hold a plebiscite this year, despite Malcolm Turnbull’s pledge to hold the vote by the end of 2016.
The government maintains the timing and specific question in the plebiscite have still not been decided and are subject to typical Cabinet processes.
Listen to Not for Podcast’s Purpose of Plebiscite to hear academics, politicians and advocates debate the issue of a plebiscite versus a free parliamentary vote, while a mental health expert explains the impact on the LGBTI community.
Coalition frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer told the ABC’s Insiders program that no final decision had been made.
However, it is widely expected Turnbull will announce the plebiscite timeline at a coalition partyroom meeting on 13 September.
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, who is publicly opposed to same-sex marriage, told Pro Bono Australia News earlier this month it was important the government did not rush the process of setting up the plebiscite.
“It is vital that the government gets the plebiscite right,” he said.
“We’ve got to have a fair question. We’ve got to have a fair campaign. We’ve got to ensure that the electoral commission has the wherewithal to be able to conduct the plebiscite, and so all these things need to be done in an ordered manner so that the result can be accepted by the people of Australia.
“The institution of marriage has been around for thousands of years, and a few months here or there is not going to make any difference in the unlikely event the Australian people were to vote for change.”
The issue of the plebiscite, which is estimated to cost $160 million, continues to cause controversy with many groups determined to take it off the table amidst fears it could be divisive.
The proposed timing of the plebiscite has also come under fire from politicians in WA, with West Australians set to head to the polls on 11 March 2017.
Premier Colin Barnett, who fears the plebiscite will be divisive, said February was too close to the WA state election.
Senior WA Liberals have backed his concerns that the election campaign and plebiscite might overlap, and believe the matter should be settled by a vote in Parliament.
It comes as the ACT Greens launched a landmark plan to support LBGTIQ Canberrans should the plebiscite go ahead.
The Greens said they do not support the plebiscite, believing “it will lead to further victimisation and isolation of the LGBTIQ community”
ACT Greens spokeswoman Veronica Wensing said the debate had dragged on long enough.
“The government has been urged by LBGTIQ groups around the country to abandon this plebiscite – but it seems the Liberals won’t be satisfied until people are dragged through the mud by the harmful hate campaigns it would drum up,” Wensing said.
“My partner and I were married for three days under Canberra’s equal marriage laws. I know as well as anyone how important equality and recognition is – but there is no reason for it to come at the expense of our community’s wellbeing.
“We already know that LBGTIQ young people disproportionately suffer from mental illness, and at are at higher risk of suicide and self-harm. We should not subject them to a hateful ‘No’ campaign.”
As part of their plan the Greens have pledged to support a public “yes” campaign as well as dedicating $500,000 additional funding to LGBTIQ support services and establishing a new ACT Commissioner for LGBTIQ people.
“But it’s not too late for the Liberals to dump this pointless, costly and harmful plebiscite. No more excuses and delays – we need equal rights to be dealt with by the parliament now,” Wensing said.
The national spokesperson for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Shelley Argent told Pro Bono Australia News they refused to accept the plebiscite.
“For me personally as a parent, I just think it’s absolutely insulting that the government would suggest that it’s alright for strangers to decide on the rights of my child, because if we were to go into their home and start talking to them about how we didn’t agree or we didn’t support something for their children, they would be outraged,” Argent said.