The marriage equality postal survey has been sent out. The debate between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps is in full swing. Lost in all the noise is the underlying flaw in using the survey as an accurate gauge of public opinion.
In our office one journalist has received several ballot papers addressed to people who have obviously not updated their electoral details. Two people live in the house, which received four ballot papers.
It would be easy to send back the extra ballots and add two extra votes to one side or the other.
Presumably this is happening across the country so how will the Australian Bureau of Statistics be able to know whether people are doubling up on their votes? Rest assured, the staff member who received the extra ballots has no intention of filling them out and posting them. However, will everyone else who has received extra votes be as scrupulous?
As a statistical exercise, the whole thing seems to have more holes than a Swiss cheese. Claiming it is some kind of plebiscite, an exercise promised by the Coalition government but defeated in the parliament, is misrepresentation.
With no compulsion to vote – a foundation stone of our form of parliamentary democracy – the survey is far from guaranteed of truly reflecting the wishes of the Australian electorate.
Worse still, if the survey results in a resounding ‘yes’, there is no guarantee parliamentarians will honour the wishes of the electorate. All it will achieve is a free vote in the parliament. Government MPs will be allowed to vote according to their conscience. We could well end up spending $122 million and still be having the debate.
That debate is already proving to be divisive and destructive. People on both sides are reporting vilification. Tensions are arising in workplaces and families as the arguments for and against are thrashed out.
We’ve encountered ‘no’ campaigners who say their opinions are being dismissed as homophobic and bigoted. We’ve heard from ‘yes’ campaigners who say they are being made to feel like lesser people because of their stance.
Laws to try to make the debate respectful and prohibit hate speech will never calm the social media fever swamp, which is infested with trolls.
It’s a high price to pay for a questionable survey, especially when a change of government will see the law changed anyway.