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Perspectives on the Plebiscite

CW: mentions of mental illness, suicide, queerphobic rhetoric

Interview with Katrina Millner

Katrina will be voting ‘yes’ in the upcoming marriage equality postal survey.


How do you feel about the plebiscite?

Really annoyed – it’s a bit of a joke; it’s not even a proper plebiscite since it’s not compulsory. I think that the Liberal government is trying to keep an election promise that’s not really a promise anyone cared about to begin with. It is obviously a political move rather than one performed with the actual intent of gathering the public’s voice about the topic of marriage equality. We already get the voice of electorate when we vote in the representatives anyway.

There have been two main propositions for the motivation behind this political move; firstly, to solidify power within the Liberal government, which we hear is currently divided, and secondly, to frustrate the efforts of the LGBTIA* community. Which do you think it leans more towards?

More towards solidifying power. Malcolm Turnbull is trying to keep the right-wing side of his party happy. It’s totally out of his normal set of values, which is disappointing. In the liberal party, you’ve got a side that is a little bit more progressive, which supports ideas like marriage equality, but then you’ve got a side which is more conservative, full of climate sceptics, and people who are anti-GLBTIA*. And Turnbull’s trying to balance them, which is not working particularly well.

Do you think that there’s motivation on the part of the Liberal party to frustrate the efforts of the LGBTIA* community?

Not massively – if anything it’s motivating us to be louder with our cause. We’re always campaigning for marriage equality, but with the plebiscite coming up, those efforts have quadrupled within weeks. It’s not really messing with us as much as people think. Obviously, it’s annoying because now our campaigns are directed on a stupid survey that’s being done so that MPs can vote in our favour, so the focus has changed. But I think it has motivated some people who previously didn’t speak out to get involved. This is a good opportunity to really get people engaged. Australia is the only developed English-speaking nation without marriage equality and we need to change that.

There’s a lot of legal issues around this plebiscite. For example, Greens Senator, Di Natalie, noted that there is ambiguity as to whether 16 and 17 year-olds can vote. There’s also going to be a High Court hearing on the legality of this plebiscite. What are your thoughts on it?

This is a postal plebiscite, and therefore, not something the legislature technically has to give assent to. However, they’re using the electoral roll, which is dodgy. We also definitely need confirmation whether 16 and 17 year-olds can vote. I think the government’s tried to find themselves a loophole, and then realised that that loophole is not in their favour, and now you’ve got the voice of a bunch of 16 and 17 year-olds who deserve to have their voices heard. This is why we don’t mix these things.

There’s also an argument saying that this postal plebiscite is not accessible enough, especially with younger demographics. Do you think that there’s validity in this argument?

Completely. I’ve never posted anything. I don’t know how to properly. I think we’ve got less and less postal services just because it’s less and less demanded. Youth don’t really use the post, but, also, a lot of younger people don’t have set addresses. So picking one specific one just for some random ballot and having to be at that address to cast your vote is really difficult. It completely exempts all people that are travelling.

There have been rebuttals to this, saying that since the Liberal party couldn’t pass their original plebiscite through the Senate, this was the only choice they had. However, their original plan was a proper, compulsory plebiscite, which we obviously still oppose. What they’ve put forward now isn’t a plebiscite, it’s not what they said they were going to give us. And it’s strategic; you can see it being done so that the older voters, who are traditionally more conservative, are the voices that are going to be heard. And so, I think it stands as an argument because in order to hear the voice of the whole country, you have to make it properly accessible to everyone.

What do you think the outcome of this plebiscite will be, and what effects will it have on Australian society?

In the short term, it’s going to be incredibly damaging. It’s particularly dangerous for the younger members of the GLBTIA* community. Personally, I am very comfortably out, and some of the ‘no’ campaign’s content is even upsetting me. The idea that there are young people out there questioning themselves, seeing all that hate speech, seeing representatives questioning their own existence is dangerous.

I suspect that we will get a ‘yes’ vote, but it will be a tough campaign getting younger people engaged enough to go through the effort of picking an address and voting. You’ve already seen the Electoral Commission getting 200,000 new applications and change of addresses in the past week, which is pretty impressive. I think we will eventually see marriage equality but it’s really just a campaign that is going to severely impact the mental health of the GLBTIA community for a completely uncertain result. For a result that can be completely ignored by government and taken to another election to be used as a political tool. I predict that the Liberal party, in the next election, will promise to take marriage equality to a conscience vote if elected in. They’ll continue using it as a bargaining tool. But even in a conscience vote, their members won’t be obliged to reflect the will of the people. They’ll just be doing their own thing – following party lines.

Many people think that Australia is a progressive nation. I think Australia is more socially progressive than our policies reflect, but it’s more the economic conservatism that holds back the progressive policies. But looking at us globally, we’re very far behind, and we have no excuse. We’re a country with abundant wealth and knowledge, and we can easily push ahead, and be a leader in progressive global thinking.


Katrina is the Treasurer of the ANU Green Club


Interview with Martin Elliffe

Martin will be voting ‘yes’ in the upcoming marriage equality postal survey.

How do you feel about the plebiscite?

I’m against it; it’s completely unnecessary. It’s a waste of money that could be much better spent, seems almost insulting to queer* people. The fact that you have to have a nationwide survey to ask whether your relationships are just as valuable as everyone else’s is quite degrading.

What do you think the Liberal government is trying to do here? What are their political motives?

I don’t buy their argument that they’re conducting a postal plebiscite because people deserve a say because there wasn’t a plebiscite when John Howard changed the Marriage Act in 2004, to specifically exclude same-gender couples.

Therefore, I think Malcolm Turnbull is trying to sort out his party room and solidify his power base. Trying to keep his job, and trying to appease the far-right of his party, who are trying to delay marriage equality. I think that they’re hoping that a lot of queer* people will, out of disgust, will just boycott it and that the plebiscite will yield a majority ‘no’ vote, and say that there’s no mandate for it, people don’t want it, and we’ll have to wait until Labor gets in for marriage equality to happen.

How about the proposition that this is actually a political manoeuvre to frustrate the efforts of the LGBTIA* community?

That’s exactly right – that’s what they’re trying to do; trying to delay it as much as possible because they’re opposed to it.

I’ll admit, a part of me, when I first heard of it, did lean towards the idea of boycotting. But logically, I think this is a time for us to speak out and make ourselves heard – this is something we do want. And, I think if we were to boycott the plebiscite, we would be doing precisely what the conservatives and the Liberal party wants  and the outcome is going to be a ‘no’. Even if we did boycott it, and we made the argument that this plebiscite is not legitimate, the Liberal party would still say that the majority of Australia is against marriage equality – that there is no mandate for it, and it’ll just get pushed farther and farther back. We are falling quite far behind, as the only developed English speaking country to not have marriage equality.

Is there an accessibility issue, seeing as how youths are less accustomed to using the postal service?

I think there is a slight issue. However, I’m not 100 per cent convinced by the argument that young people don’t know how to send post – it’s not that difficult, and not that hard to find out.

And what of the argument that 16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to vote?

I am supportive of it; they are the ones who are going to grow up in this, in a way they have more of a right than many of the elderly people who aren’t going to be around for much longer. They are the people who are going to be most affected by this since they’re the people who are looking to get married in 10 or so years’ time. That’s really the age where people start to discover their sexuality and is an important development period.

What do you think is going to be the impact of this on Australian society? Do you feel affected by the public discourse?

I do. That suggestion that Penny Wong addressed the other day regarding the comment comparing children of same-gender couples to the stolen generations, I found quite hurtful, and I think it’s only going to get worse as the debate goes on. I’m quite comfortable with myself, but I really worry about people who aren’t so comfortable with themselves, trying to come to grips with their sexuality. Living in a very supportive family, I never had to wonder whether my parents would be fine with it – they had gay friends, they had gay cousins. These toxic public debates really do have an effect on youths. During the referendum in Ireland, they saw an increase in youth depression and youth suicide. I think here in Australia, particularly in rural communities, where there’s a pretty poor support system for young people coming to terms with who they are, it’s potentially dangerous.

Another popular argument that Australian society is built upon family structures, in which same-gender couples do not fit into, is quite ridiculous and hurtful. They are suggesting that a same-gender couple is less qualified to be parents than a heterosexual couple. In arguing this, many assert that children deserve to have a mother and a father; this doesn’t only attack same-gender couples but also single parents and their children too. And same-gender couples are adopting anyway. So, I think that quite frankly, it’s ridiculous, and that marriage equality would have almost the opposite effect; marriage would solidify families and make it more of a family-like environment.

And in regards to the religion argument, Australia should be a country where religion is separate from the state, given the last census revealed that most Australians do not identify themselves with a religion. In terms of the actual parliamentarians, politicians shouldn’t be arguing that they won’t be voting for it because of their religion because again, the church should be separate from the state. You don’t have to get married in a church, you don’t have to have a religious wedding; there is a fundamental difference between a civil and a religious wedding. I think marriage has become an idea removed from religion. It’s become a lot more about two people wanting to celebrate their love and commitment to each other.


Martin Elliffe is the ANU Labor Left Queer* Officer

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