The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Stop the plebiscites!

It was a crisp winter’s morning in Canberra, much like any other. A thin layer of frost was doing its best to hide the lovely brown grass, no one was visiting the Mint, there were weird, circular bus shelters everywhere, and most of the city was on their way to Fyshwick to buy some porn. But this particular morning was different, for one very special reason. Tony Abbott had an idea.

Needless to say, no one was more surprised than Tony himself. There he was, getting ready for his reasonably important job, in the same way he always did. “Stop the sleep!” he said to himself as he woke up. “Stop the shower!” he said to the shower, which never seemed to listen to him. “Stop the toast!” he said to his wife, who was thinking about the price of carbon while ironing his toast. “Stop the boats!” he said randomly because he couldn’t help it. And then, it happened.

“Margy, my brain hurts,” he said as he rubbed his head.

“Now Tony, I told you not to overdo your morning slogans. Save some energy for later.”

“I don’t think it’s that, Margy. I think… wait… OMG… Margy! I have an idea!”

Margy looked stunned, and had a sudden urge to request permission to gently remove her husband’s blue tie in an uncontrollable act of Catholic passion. “What is it, my captain? Tell me!”

Tony then started nodding his head in silence for several minutes, before his wife reminded him that he wasn’t saying anything.

“Well, ah, Margy, I, ah… I have a new, ah, slogan,” he said finally, trying to control his excitement. “We’ve stopped the boats, let’s have a vote… on marriage equality… sometime after the next election!”

“Oh that’s brilliant, Tony,” said Margy. “And so catchy. You will definitely be able to implement that idea when you’re still Prime Minister sometime after the next election.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Or, at least, it should have been. For, unbeknownst to Tony, he wasn’t the only one who had an idea that morning.
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Sadly for Tony, Malcolm’s idea was to get rid of Tony, which he did earlier this week. And sadly for Tony’s idea, Malcolm was on the record as saying that holding a plebiscite was stupid, given that the issue could “be resolved in this Parliament one way or another in a couple of weeks”.

On the plus side, however, Malcolm is a politician, and politicians are nothing if not masters at manipulating their own words to suit someone else’s agenda. Thus, a plebiscite was suddenly a perfectly fine idea, and free from the apparent intellectual burden of being Communications Minister, Malcolm could now communicate that “each approach has its advantages”:

One, I suppose, is faster and costs less. The other one gives every Australian a say and it has a cost; democracy has a price. Giving everybody a say on an important issue is surely a very legitimate and reasonable approach.

I would like to thank the honourable member for his comment, because it perfectly encapsulates why a marriage equality plebiscite is the worst idea a leader of this country has had since Harold Holt went swimming with a sore shoulder in rough surf with no lifeguards.

On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable approach to take. Countless polls have shown that the Australian public is largely in favour of marriage equality, so if our parliamentarians can’t get their Marriage Act together, why not legitimise the will of the people with an official national vote?

Well, there are a number of reasons, which Malcolm very helpfully raised while explaining his recent about-face.

1
There is, of course, the cost. The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that holding a plebiscite after the next federal election, which was Tony’s preferred method, would cost upwards of $150 million. Let that sink in for a minute. We are so short of funds that we apparently need to charge people $7 to go the doctor, cut foreign aid to Africa by 70%, and make Bronwyn Bishop travel along the ground, but we have $150 million to spend finding out something that polling companies have already found out for free.

Malcolm is right – democracy does have a cost. Breakfast has a cost, too. But it doesn’t mean you should spend $150 million on a bowl of Weet Bix.

2
At this point, same sex marriage opponents will probably say that we have to have a plebiscite, because those pesky poll results aren’t reliable. You can get a poll to say whatever you like, so the argument goes, depending how you word the question. This, apparently, is the reason that groups like the Australian Christian Lobby are actually in favour of the plebiscite idea, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they will lose.

Now let that sink in for a minute.

A group that is staunchly against marriage equality and believes poll results can be manipulated wants to hold the biggest poll possible on an issue where they are almost certain to lose.

No, not suspicious at all.

3
“I’m just giving everyone a say,” says Malcolm. Isn’t that nice? It’s what we’ve wanted all along, isn’t it?

No, it’s not.

For starters, we didn’t get a say when the government wanted to introduce the Medicare co-payment, or slash foreign-aid to Africa. We didn’t get to choose our Governor General, or our Treasurer, or the Speaker. And that’s fine, because that’s why we elect a government. So stop stalling and govern.

Secondly, I think it’s incredibly condescending and, actually, downright insulting to have the majority decide on whether a minority should have a fundamental right. Especially when that right will not affect the majority at all. Sure, if the plebiscite goes ahead, equality will probably win, but it wasn’t that long ago that a vote would have gone the other way. And I don’t think the legitimacy of a plebiscite should be based on which way the vote will go.
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There is no doubt that marriage equality is coming – it’s only a matter of when, and how. And while our elected representatives dither, it can be tempting to see a plebiscite as an acceptable middle ground. It’s not. The arguments for marriage equality are irrefutable. But “we’ll win if it goes to a really expensive non-binding public vote sometime this decade” isn’t one of them. Right is right, and it’s time our politicians acted like it.

And if you’re still not convinced, you just need to remember one thing.

It was Tony’s idea.

Category: Bad, Marriage equality, Politics

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One Response

  1. The private school I attended in the early 1980s wants to acknowledge my marriage to Gregory in the Congratulations section in their next biannual glossy newsletter. This has made me very happy.

    While our politicians are obfuscating the passage of this reform, the rest of society is moving along, and unless they get with the program sooner rather than later, they’ll find remaining in government increasingly difficult.

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