After such a long break, I really had hoped to come back to this blog with something inspiring and insightful and maybe a bit philosophical. A proper essay on a proper subject. Actually, I’ve been working on an essay on Australian identity on and off all year, since we seem to have been riffing on this theme from Australia Day, to changes to citizenship requirements, to what it’s OK to say on ANZAC Day, to the ever-increasing parade of Senators who are apparently surprised by their own, varied citizenships.
But you’re not getting that one, because, we seem to be back at the Marriage Equality Plebiscite again, only this time it comes with all the bonuses conferred by Australia Post and the Australian Bureau of Statistics taking on a project for which, frankly, they were not designed. (This is not a dig at their competency, it’s a simple statement of fact.)
Blame Turnbull. Or blame Abbott, if you like. (Blaming Abbott is very therapeutic, I find. It’s the one political opinion that unites my entire family, including my in-laws.)
It’s hard to know where to start with this.
Actually, no, it’s easy.
This is a short-sighted, cowardly, impractical, expensive, hypocritical, insulting, stupid move by a government that really doesn’t care how many people it hurts provided it stays in power. Also, it’s a great distraction from the terrible things we have been doing to refugees (and there will, I promise, be a post about that soon – just as soon as I think of a different way of saying the same things I’ve been saying for over a decade).
Anyway. I have a lot of opinions about this plebiscite, and I fully intend to share them, but let’s start with the basic facts, because there are things you need to know about this plebiscite whether or not you agree with me about marriage equality.
- The plebiscite will be non-binding. This means that if Australia votes ‘yes’ to marriage equality, politicians can still vote ‘no’ in Parliament, and vice versa (though I don’t think anyone is expecting the latter to occur – a ‘no’ vote is likely to get the issue shelved for the duration of the current parliament).
- The plebiscite will be non-compulsory. This means that you don’t have to vote if you don’t want to. I have some VERY strong opinions on this subject, but this is the Objective Facts segment of this post, so I shall sit on them for now.
- The plebiscite will be run by the ABS and Australia Post. This causes me some concern, since my postie is not very reliable about delivering mail. Or rather, he does generally deliver some mail to us, but it often isn’t our mail. But that’s another story. And probably counts as opinion.
- If the plebiscite goes ahead (there is a High Court Challenge being mounted against it right now), Australia Post will begin sending out ballots on September 12, and ballots will need to be received by November 5. Fans of the last election, with it’s exciting 8-week campaign, will be delighted by this opportunity for an even longer political campaign! The rest of us will be hiding under the doona until it all stops.
- Enrolment to vote in the plebiscite will close on August 24. I’m putting that one in red, because it’s super important. Whether or not you plan to vote in the plebiscite, I urge you to check your enrolment now. Why? Because you might change your mind. If you were planning to vote and decide not to, enrolment won’t change that. But if you weren’t planning to vote and change your mind about that, you’ll be out of luck if you aren’t on the electoral roll. Also, if you are considering boycotting this vote, then I’m guessing that you will be very keen to help vote out the current government at the next election. You’ll need to be enrolled to do that, and you might as well get enrolled early.
- But I thought the Senate blocked the plebiscite? Yeah, that confused me, too. From what I understand, the government can’t run a compulsory plebiscite through the AEC without the Senate agreeing. And the Senate did not agree. But the government is absolutely empowered to ask the Australian Bureau of Statistics to *survey* the Australian population and ask their opinions about marriage equality. So when the Senate blocked the plebiscite, the government went with Plan B instead.
The bottom line is that unless the High Court nixes this plebiscite, it will be held between September 12 and November 15, and if you want the option of voting in it, you need to enrol now.
(OK, have you checked your enrolment yet? I’m very happy to wait. I promise, my opinions will keep…)
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about marriage equality, or about the sheer nastiness of some of the anti-gay rhetoric that comes with this argument Nor is this week the first time I’ve written letters to politicians on the subject (though it is the first time I was completely incoherent on the phone to one of them on this subject. Note to self: always have written notes). Actually, Facebook reminded me earlier this week that this time last year, I was writing pretty much the same things to politicians that I have been writing over the last few days.
It’s a bit depressing, frankly, and I’m married and mostly straight. I can’t imagine how soul-wearying this must be for my LGBTQI friends. (I’m really sorry, guys. I feel for you, and I truly wish that my co-religionists would stop picking on you.)
So, there are a lot of problems with this plebiscite, and you probably don’t need me to tell you what they are. (But I’m going to do so anyway, just in case.) I’m concerned about the logistics of it, for one thing. All joking aside, Australia Post isn’t the most reliable, or the most efficient, service, especially in remote areas, and even if they were, they aren’t really secure. It’s a bit too easy to think of ways to interfere with the vote, and a bit too hard to think of ways to be sure that your vote has been received and counted. And in an era when our government is increasingly requiring more stringent evidence of ID in order to let us vote, just putting stuff in letterboxes and assuming that the right person will open it and fill it in seems rather… insecure.
It’s almost as if the government doesn’t really care who votes.
Another problem, of course, is that it can take a while for mail to arrive, disenfranchising people who are travelling, or who live in remote areas, or who aren’t currently staying at their registered address.
I’m also deeply concerned with the non-compulsory aspect of the vote. Setting aside that in non-compulsory voting systems, only those with the very strongest opinions tend to vote, a non-compulsory vote makes it a lot harder to spot disenfranchisement (deliberate or otherwise) of populations. If everyone is supposed to vote, it’s going to become pretty clear that something fishy is going on if no votes are received from a particular town or community. But if voting is optional, well, maybe nobody in that town cared about the issue. And maybe they didn’t, but it would be good to be sure of this, rather than just shrugging and making the assumption.
Another issue with non-compulsory voting, especially on an issue like this, where the government is pretty clearly looking for an excuse to avoid any action, is that if the turnout is very small, the vote is seen as being less valid. And, honestly, I think there is a good reason for that. The government has not so far set a threshold for a minimum number of votes that would make this poll valid, and I really think they should.
The non-binding aspect of this plebiscite is, of course, frustrating in its own right (and really, if the Coalition wants to bill itself as the fiscally responsible party, spending $122M on a vote that actually has no binding outcome does not strike me as the best way to do so). It’s so easy to shift the goalposts – how much of a majority needs to vote yes, do you think, for a change in the law to be considered ‘valid’? And I think we all know that while a ‘yes’ vote means ‘maybe’ at best, a ‘no’ vote will mean ‘no’.
But the more concerning aspect to me is that we don’t even really know what we are voting for. Senator Dean Smith put up a private members’ Bill recently, which I thought did a good job of balancing religious freedom with the right to marry (you can read a little about it here), but that’s not what we will necessarily get. And previous bills have been far less balanced and reasonable. And goodness only knows how they will phrase the question – I would like to believe that the government will act in good faith with this vote, but there hasn’t been much sign of that recently, and I think it’s entirely possible that we will get a question that is either insulting or ambiguous, and designed to discourage people from voting at all.
Worst of all, I think, is the length of the campaign, and the fact that this plebiscite won’t be run under AEC rules. This means that campaigners are not subject to rules against malicious or false advertising. Apparently Senator Cormann thinks that this is OK, because we can trust the Australian people to be courteous and respectful.
(I can think of a lot of responses to this statement, but they aren’t courteous or respectful, and I’d really hate to shatter the Senator’s illusions so early in the campaign.)
And did I mention that this is going to be a really long campaign? There are three months between now and the close of the polls, and there are a lot of really horrible things people can say and do in three months.
And it’s not actually going to achieve anything that couldn’t be achieved in a parliamentary vote.
And you should still vote in it.
I won’t deny that it’s easy for me to say this. I’m mostly straight, and there is zero chance that this plebiscite will turn into a referendum on whether I’m fully human. And I’m open to changing my mind on this – if my LGBTQI friends all ask me to boycott, then I’ll boycott, because in the end, they are the ones who matter here.
But having said that, here’s what I think right now.
We on the left side of politics have a bit of a problem at the moment, and it’s a problem that arises directly from the things that I think make us worth voting for. We are idealists! We want to change the world for the better! We want everyone to act with integrity and according to their ideals (preferably, our ideals)! But when they don’t, or when they only get some things right, but not all, we aren’t always very good at forgiving them. And we are kind of rubbish at compromising, and especially at voting for someone who doesn’t meet our standards, even if this is the only way to keep out someone who is actively terrible.
In Australia, we can normally get away with this. We have preferential voting, which is wonderful, because it means that each of us can order every party on the ballot in accordance with our ideals, and still put the racists, the fascists, the religious nuts, or whoever else it is we like least, last. And we can put the major parties somewhere in the middle, with the one we dislike slightly less above the other one, and consider our consciences clear – and indeed, our consciences should be clear, because we have voted both idealistically and pragmatically.
But it’s harder when you only have two options and neither of them are good. Some of my French friends at work had a hard time deciding whether they should vote in their recent election. They are a very left wing lot who were not at all convinced by the moderate-right Macron and found it hard to vote for him, even when the alternative was the extreme-right (not to say fascist and racist) LaPen. I suspect that if my only choices were Turnbull and Hanson, I’d feel the same way. But I hope that at that point, I’d hold my nose and vote for Turnbull.
The problem with this is that the conservative side of politics is much better at compromising and much more willing to work together to get what they want. (It’s something you can see, incidentally, even when you are scrutineering. The further left someone is with their first preference, the less likely they are to pay attention to How To Vote cards. Greens voters love voting below the line, and they are all over the place. Liberal voters hardly ever do.) The ACL, in particular, is super organised, and very good at mobilising their people and getting the vote out.
I’ve seen a lot of arguments against voting in this plebiscite. (The most compelling from my perspective is that this government does not *deserve* to preside over something as good as marriage equality.) And let’s face it, the plebiscite really is insulting, it really is pointless, it really is an expensive waste of time that will hurt real people, and its only purpose is to prevent Malcolm Turnbull from being rolled by Tony Abbott this month.
But the ACL are going to turn out and vote for it anyway, and if they do, and we don’t, then it’s going to be a resounding ‘no’, and that will be the end of Marriage Equality until we are able to kick the Coalition out of office (hopefully in 2018, but the Australian public has disappointed me before). And that’s going to be too late for some people.
So this time, I think our job is to fight this plebiscite for as long as we can – but if it goes ahead, we need to get out the vote. Make sure our friends and families are enrolled, make sure we know what to do if our ballots don’t arrive, make sure we don’t refuse to participate in principle.
Because if we don’t vote, then the only people who do vote will be those who are determined to block marriage equality, and that just lets the government off the hook and allows them to claim that see, nobody wanted it anyway. Which is rubbish.
And look – you don’t have to agree with me, and you certainly don’t have to make your decision now. But do make sure you are enrolled to vote at least. That way, if you do decide to vote in the plebiscite you can – and if you don’t, well, you’re on the electoral roll now and will be ready to vote these heartless nitwits out when the next election arrives. It’s a win-win, unlike the plebiscite.
- Check your enrolment!! I mean it!
- Read this piece by my friend Marian on why you should vote in the plebiscite. She’s very eloquent and definitely worth your time!
- Go to the Rally for Marriage Equality in Melbourne (I’m sure there will be others elsewhere – feel free to link them in the comments.
- Sign a petition!
- Donate to the campaign to stop the postal plebiscite.
- Ring one of the following MPs and tell them why you support Marriage Equality. These are all Liberal MPs who have talked about crossing the floor or who have otherwise shown themselves willing to move away from the party line, so it’s worth giving them another push.
- Trent Zimmerman (02) 6277 4744
- Trevor Evans (02) 6277 2002
- Tim Wilson (02) 6277 2392
There are quite a few charities that specifically support LGBTQI people. If you are struggling, please consider getting in contact with one of them. And if you are looking for someone to donate to right now… I’m guessing these groups are going to be pretty busy over the next little while. Where I could find a donation link, I’ve added one.
- Switchboard (1800 184 527) (Donate)
- QLife (1800 184 527)
- Freedom Centre (08 9482 0000) (Donate)
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) (Donate)
Self-Care and Social Glue
Just keep an eye out for your friends, and make sure they are doing OK, alright? And look after yourselves at the same time. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect, and sometimes all you can do for the people around you is little stuff, and that’s OK too. Here’s a list I’ve shared before of some little things you can do for yourselves and for each other.
- Donate to a charity on behalf of someone else. Oxfam Unwrapped will send a friend a card on your behalf, telling them what you donated in their name. The bag of pig’s manure seems like an appropriate choice right now. So does the Women’s Rights gift, that trains women in Bangladesh for leadership roles.
- Bake something delicious and give it to someone. I feed my colleagues a lot, but dropping something in to a local homeless shelter, or for the doctors and nurses at your local hospital is a nice touch. Or you could do this.
- Write a letter to a politician thanking them for their work on something you appreciate. Or write a letter or a card to a teacher or friend who has helped you, telling them how much you value them.
- If hand crafts are your thing, make a quilt or a cape or knit a teddy bear for a sick or traumatised child, or check out one of these campaigns.
- If you are in a choir or orchestra or other musical group, get a group together and see if there is a local retirement home, or hospital, or detention centre, that might like a short concert.
- Recommend a book to someone. Buy it for them, if you can afford it. Make it something fun and clever and escapist and quietly feminist. (My recommendations this week are John Scalzi’s book Redshirts, which is about all those poor characters in science fiction shows who are killed off in each episode, and is funny and clever and unexpectedly touching; The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, a fantasy adventure with secret agents, alternate worlds, and stolen books; and anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, but especially Paladin of Souls.)
- Ring someone who you know is having a rough time right now for a chat.
- Volunteer for a tree planting day, or at a wildlife shelter.
- Download Mapswipe, and help Medecins Sans Frontières find people in disaster zones (note that you will need good eyes for this activity)