A SSM Plebiscite. A mass opinion poll on people’s lives

As a straight up disclaimer, I am not trying to influence anyone’s opinion on voting in this plebiscite or pretend that I am across the many details and nuances of this issue. This is my thoughts on a complicated and conflicting event in Australia’s history. I also want to acknowledge that the debate and commentary around this event will be difficult, challenging and at times, ruthless bordering on abusive towards LGBTQIA+ individuals and their families.

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A postal plebiscite. Woo hoo. Who can’t get excited about what is really going to be an oversized, unrepresentative opinion poll that will potentially exclude and silence many homeless, displaced and marginalised people. NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has already signalled that residents of town camps and remote communities may not have their voices heard. Without seeing exactly how they are going to manage remote and rural voting, I can’t say for sure, but I can’t imagine the long-grass community of Darwin will have the capacity to sort out their enrolment quickly.

There are a lot of things wrong about this whole thing – but one thing is for certain – if you want to exercise your right to vote and have the power to  decide on marking yes; marking no; or effectively boycotting the whole damn thing  – YOU NEED TO BE ENROLLED. Stop reading and GO HERE NOW AND CHECK YOUR STATUS: https://check.aec.gov.au/ . Right, now that you know you are enrolled correctly (or have sorted out your registration), you are good to go.

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Aside from the inherent methodological flaws that this glorified survey holds; aside from the fact that it will exclude many people from being able to participate and have their voices heard; and aside from the fact that it opens the door to some horrific levels of debate (the nonsensical, yet incredibly hurtful abuse targeting high profile people on Twitter is just the start); and aside from the fact that it isn’t held to the same standards around misleading advertising – its just a bit of a cop out.

We elect our parliamentarians to make these decisions as part of our chosen system of government. I’m not a huge Senator Dean Smith fan, but his efforts to get a bill up and running that at least had politicians filling their role failed to get off the ground. It was flawed, yes – but it called for elected officials to do their job. We’ve only had three previous national plebiscites in Australia – dealing with military service conscription (defeated), reinforcement of the Australian Imperial Force overseas (defeated), and choice of Australia’s national song (‘Advance Australia Fair’ was preferred).

“They go against the grain of a system in which we elect parliamentarians to make decisions on our behalf”.                                           – George Williams

What else will we have plebiscites for? What other decisions will our elected parliamentarians feel they are incapable to undertake without a survey of the people? Why bother with a Parliment at all, when we can just run the country on postal surveys? Mr Rabbot was laughed out of town when he proposed one for the mining tax. And why use the ABS rather than the AEC? Is it a chance to give them another go at running a big survey to see if they can improve on the last Census?

No sooner had the plebiscite been announced, there were high profile members of the LGBTQIA+ community calling for a boycott – including Michael Kirby. I read their opinions with much interest. What should I do? There are people urging us to vote – either way, just have our voices actually heard.

There are a few sides to this debate – the Liberal party have been quick to position themselves on the idea that a boycott is a “spit in the eye”; and while Peter Dutton says he will follow the vote of the people, I’m not holding my breath – particularly when some of his Liberal and National colleagues have made it clear they’ll ignore the result anyway. Unless it’s a no. I suppose they are on the side of encouraging us to vote, either way – but if the plebiscite has a terrible turn-out, with a failure to capture a representative sample of the population, it will be Peter Dutton’s $122 million dud – so of course he wants you to vote.

There are people, from the Marriage Equality side of things urging us to vote yes to change – and that boycott is playing right into the hands of everyone’s favourite Trump-Lite, Cory Bernardi. Now, Cory, known for his temperance, understanding and open-mindedness, just wants us to all get along and have a grown-up debate about the issue. People like Lyle Shelton, from the Australian Christian Lobby; just want to chat facts and freedom really. Lets acknowledge though, that “thoughtful debate” can still have an incredible impact on individuals – and this debate can impact not just on strangers you don’t care about, but your own family.

Now, there are sound arguments for participating, and voting yes – even if you don’t think it will do anything. If nothing else, you’ll force the no vote to expend resources campaigning and lobbying, you’ll make sure Dutton doesn’t have a clear escape clause, and you’ll give Cory plenty more airtime, which, since he left the Liberal party to find his own way – he has been lacking. I guess the thing for voting yes is – why not? If you vote isn’t worth anything and the Government ignore it (as they can, as it is on-binding) – then you’ve wasted time and pen ink. If it progresses marriage equality, it is a win – isn’t it?

 

Then the boycott. Michael Kirby has said he won’t take any part, feeling this whole process is treating him as a second class citizen. The Greens ruminating on the boycott. Some of the people who I see as LGBTQIA+ leaders in the twitter-sphere are working out their stance – and some are leaning hard towards a boycott. Sitting watching it all play out today, I was left wondering – what do I do as a respectful ally? Joining a boycott that I, arguably, have to right to join – seems disrespectful. Is voting just as disrespectful?

I’ve decided that the best thing for me to do is get my enrolment details confirmed; listen to the rational voices in the debate; try and be as supportive and protective as I can to my LGBTQIA+ friends; family and co-workers as possible; and wait for the LGBTQIA+ community to lead the way forwards. This is about their lives, their futures, their well-being.

Wading in too early with fixed views and a loud voice seems condescending, dis-empowering and tacky. I’m not in a place to act that way- given that a yes, a no or a boycott won’t impact on my life directly; no matter how I feel about it. It is time to listen, to learn and to support those who will be attacked or abused while this survey runs its course. Most of all, make sure you’re enrolled, informed and engaged – no matter what happens.