Welcome dear reader,
Today's blog, as promised, is about the Same Sex Marriage (SSM) debate currently dominating the airwaves and sucking the very oxygen out of Australian politics. While there are many views and quite a few diatribes supporting either side of the argument, what I would like to do today is take a step back from the toing and froing of the Yes/No campaign and have a deeper look at the current political maelstrom from a national politcal agenda point of view. (I'll say something more about the actual issues later on).
So, what the heck is happening and how did we end up here? How did we end up in a situation where we, the public, are paying for a government sponsored survey (opinion poll) into an issue that according to our Constitution lays fair and square within the realms of Commonwealth Parliament legislature?
Well, according to our Prime Minister, we are conducting this survey because they 'made a promise' before the election to do so.
Here I have to stop and ask some questions: What did they promise, what are they actually doing, why are they doing it and did it really have to end up this way?
First, what. The government 'promised' before the 2016 election to conduct a plebiscite into SSM. A plebiscite is by definition a 'compulsory vote by citizens on an issue of significance, but one that does not affect the Constitution of Australia and has no legal force'. Ok, so we all have to vote on something really important, but not that important. Have we done this before? Yep, three times. Twice during World War One on the matter of conscription (both defeated) and one in 1974 to choose a national song. But the key word here is 'compulsory'.
Unfortunately for the government, their legislation to conduct the plebiscite was defeated in parliament twice, in 2016 and 2017.
So what do you do when the parliament obviously does not want you to proceed this way? Negotiate? Develop a draft amendment to the Marriage Act for further deliberation and consultation? Heck no! What you do is use loopholes in the law to conduct a non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey. Because you couldn't pass legislation to enable the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to conduct a plebiscite, you direct the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to 'gather statistical information' into who would vote yes or no to changing the law to enable SSM. I kid you not. That's how they got away with it. The AEC has always been responsible for the conduct of elections, referendums and plebiscites. But under this government, the ABS for the first time is getting involved in a quasi-plebiscite kinda thingy that really doesn't mean that much to the parliament anyway.
(Stopping for panadol around here, because it gets worse)
Next, why. So we get it, that they're doing it because they promised. And as we all know, a promise is a promise. No take backs. Have a guess just how important keeping pre-election promises is to this government (heck, or any of our recent governments). Prior to the 2013 election the then head of the Liberal Government, Tony Abbott, brought a veritable swag of promises to to the electorate. Vote for me and I'll do all this stuff, and I'll never, ever do any of this other stuff. You know, car salesman spruiking. Fast forward 18 months, he gets knifed and Malcolm Turnbull takes over. When queried on the apparent backdown on a number of the government's promises he stated (I kid you not) that 'when government's change policies, it's often seen as a backflip, or a backtrack, or an admission of error. That is rubbish. We've got to be agile all the time'. (The government then went on to break around 25% of their pre-election promises)
Deep breath. Ok, so when we make a promise we will absolutely keep it....unless our 'agility' let's us know that we shouldn't. Because that would be an admission of error, and we know that that is rubbish.
Now I'm confused as heck. First off, promises don't need to be kept. And when the parliament knocks back our plebiscite legislation twice, our much vaunted agility needs to kick in and drive us onto a new 'divergent' path. And the choices are? Well, we could seek resolution within the parliament. Or, we could get the ABS to run a tax payer funded opinion poll that has absolutely no legal authority. What to do, what to do? Let's do the survey!
Sigh. So now I'm thinking that the reason we are doing this is because that's how we did it in the past and it seemed to work pretty well back then right? Nope. Never done it before. The basic ABC of legal marriage in Australia (you always wanted to know right!) is the Constitution of Australia. Nothing beats it. It's way up the top there as far as authority goes. So, where does legal authority reside according to this beloved document? Well, according to Section 51 (xxi), the Commonwealth Government has exclusive legislative authority for marriage. Bad luck States, you miss out. And if you're asking whether or not the government has ever exercised these powers, the answer is an absolute....yes.
In 1961 the Marriage Act was passed into law, defining who could and couldn't get married. Bottom line, unrelated consenting adults yes, everyone else, sorry that's a no. And no, to answer your question, there wasn't a referendum, plebiscite, survey, straw poll or rock, paper, scissors beforehand. Just the parliament doing what it's authorised to do.
Then again, in 2004, the government passed an amendment to the Act, this time specifiying that marriage wasn't just for any unrelated consenting adults, but specifically 'the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. So now it was crystal clear that marriage was specifically a legally recognised institution for consentual, non-related heterosexual, monogamous relationships. And yet again, there was no 'asking the will of the people' beforehand. Just a government getting on and doing its job.
(I remember at the time the then Prime Minister John Howard stated that it was his responsibility as PM to enact laws on behalf of the people. If they don't like it, that's ok. They can vote me out.) Wow, how sad is it that I'm mightily impressed by someone saying that they will do their job to the best of their ability and if you don't like it you can choose someone else? Almost like all of us out there in the real world.
This is the bit the really winds me up. We are spending our own taxes so that the government can get away with not making a damned decision and get on with it. We will go through the pain and torment (and yes, there has been oh so much of it during the campaigning) to get a result that in all likelihood does not in anyway reflect the view of the electorate (remember, it's postal, open to corruption and non-compulsory). And here's the kicker....once we have a result, the parliament doesn't have to take one little bit of notice of it. Yep, some government and opposition members have already publicly stated that they will vote on any prospective Act in accordance with their own beliefs, not based on some shonky opinion poll.
Yep, we're going to have an opinion poll on a matter that has never been dealt with this way before, has no need to be addressed this way....and no one in government has to pay the slightest bit of attention to it.
Oh, and by the way, the government hasn't even created or forwarded a draft to the public of what the new law would look like if the vote comes out 'yes'.....and if the government agrees to follow through with legislation. So what, may I ask politely, are we actually voting yes or no to? Don't worry, they say, trust us, it'll be ok. We've all been there before haven't we....and we know when to run, run away fast.
I would say that this exercise in stupidity from our government was laughable except for the fact that a: it's costing us taxpayers over $140M; b: it's seen an outpouring of bullying and hatred from both sides on normal and social media, and c: there are way, way more important bloody issues that out government should be taking care of on our behalf (jobs, health, education, infrastructure, welfare....you know, the boring stuff).
Ok, that's my rant for the day. Thanks for tuning in and....Be Nice to Each Other