The prime minister wants a postal vote on gay marriage

Illustration Don Lindsay
Illustration Don Lindsay

09 August, 2017

"The legal advice we have is that such a step, conducting a plebiscite, would be invalid", Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Anna Brown told reporters in Canberra.

The details of Australian government's plan to try and hold a public vote on marriage equality were revealed today.

Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich said the government's approach to marriage equality had gone "well beyond a joke".

Opinion surveys show strong support for legalising same-sex marriage in Australia.

Cormann announced it would be the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) rather than the Australian Electoral Commission that would run a postal vote.

If this happens, said Mr Turnbull, the government will organise a postal ballot pursuant to which all voters will receive voting materials.

A meeting of politicians in the Liberal party was held on Monday, where it was decided there would instead be a renewed effort to formulate a national vote, followed by a postal vote, if it was unsuccessful.

While Coalition members always have the right to cross the floor and vote against a government bill, the suspension of standing orders by government backbenchers to consider a bill that is opposed to government policy is unusual, to say the least, if not unprecedented.

The proposed postal vote would cost more than 122 million Australian dollars (96 million dollars), Turnbull said.

If the postal vote takes place, ballots will be mailed out in September.

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Warren Entsch, who was among the rebel Liberal MPs urging a free vote in the parliament, said he expected the plebiscite to be defeated again.

The government will aim to secure a final result by November 15, two months after ballots will be distributed.

If the plebiscite bill is unexpectedly passed, a $170 million compulsory vote would be held on November 25.

On Monday, Turnbull reportedly cautioned cabinet colleagues over the encouragement of some backbenchers to launch a bill that would have pushed for a free vote on gay marriage. It would push to hold a plebiscite - public vote - on marriage equality.

"The Coalition supports the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, but we won't seek to bind people beyond this term of Parliament and in the next will be the people's decision", Abbott said at the time.

"I'm a strong leader".

The leader of the Labor opposition party, Mr Bill Shorten, who supports same-sex marriage, said that holding a plebiscite was "ridiculous".

The conservative Liberal Party-led coalition was narrowly re-elected in July 2016 with a promise to let voters decide whether Australia should recognize same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

Same-sex couples can engage in contracts of civil union and recognition of their relationship in most australian states, but these unions are not recognized at the federal level.

Lawmakers have introduced more than 20 bills to amend the country's Marriage Act to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

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