Five Things You Need To Know About The Postal Plebiscite

By Carmarlena Murdaca

Five Things You Need To Know About The Postal Plebiscite
Will Australia legalise same-sex marriage?

After years of debate, the Liberal party have agreed to try secure a plebiscite on marriage equality, putting the legislation before parliament this week. If they fail to get it through, the government believes it will be able to conduct a voluntary postal plebiscite through the Australian Electoral Commission, and then a free vote in Parliament.

So what is a postal plebiscite and how do we get involved? We break down the five things you need to know ahead of the vote.

  1. What is a plebiscite? A plebiscite is a nationwide vote to “gauge public feedback on a political proposal”. Unlike a referendum, the results are not legally binding and participation is voluntary. Locals are not penalised for failure to vote, which is usually the norm in Australia during elections or constitutional referendums.
  2. What is a postal plebiscite? As this is the second time the Liberal party have tried to secure a plebiscite on marriage equality, this week’s party room meeting voted in favour of a “back up plan” aka a postal plebiscite. If the latest push for a plebiscite fails, the Government will ask the Australian Electoral Commission to go ahead with a voluntary postal vote. Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich and Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, Anna Brown, have clarified their plans to launch a High Court challenge, if the government “announces a postal plebiscite”.  “It’s a bloody stupid idea,” Alex told reporters. “That will weaken the parliament because it basically says people are not prepared to do their job.”
  3. How much will the postal plebiscite cost? The Government have estimated a cost of $122 million, however figures put forward by PricewaterhouseCoopers, suggest that the plebiscite could “cost up to $525 million, made up of $160 million for the ballot itself, $66 million to fund the “yes” and “no” cases and $281 million in lost productivity”.
  4. What would be needed for the plebiscite to pass? Last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed the plebiscite would “work like a referendum”, but a double majority would not be necessary. For the plebiscite to pass, the vote needs the “double majority” of a majority of voters in a majority of states to agree to what is proposed.
  5. How do we get involved? The Australian Bureau of Statistics will announce that any Australians not already on the electoral roll will have until August 24 to register with the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission). Voting forms will start being sent out on September 12 (so ensure your enrolment details are up-to-date, including your current address). Once sent out, you will have several weeks to return the form to the ABS, with the final cut-off being 6pm on November 7.


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