Federal member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly said that holding a plebiscite on marriage equality would be inappropriate and “wildly unsustainable.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has indicated that he will block the proposed plebiscite in the Senate.
The $160 million plebiscite would call on all Australians to take part in a compulsory vote, answering the question ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’ The vote would not be binding, and the question would then be put to a conscience vote in parliament. Several right-wing Liberal senators have already said they would not vote according to the results of the plebiscite.
“We’ve never done this before on any issue ever, in the history of Australia,” Mr Kelly said. “So it’s setting a dangerous precedent. We know that this is going to cost somewhere approximating $200 million. To give you some context, the new South-East Regional Hospital we’ve just built cost $170 million.”
“We’re blowing a new hospital – which should have spent on Tumut Hospital, quite frankly – on something that isn’t even binding. We’re spending it on an opinion poll and at the end of it all we’re going to have a conscience vote. Well, we could have a conscience vote today.
“The conscience vote is the way to go, because the electorate knows who their member is, where that member stands, and how to engage directly with that member, so it’s the most democratic way forward. We should just do what we [as parliamentarians] get paid to do.”
Along with the costs of holding the plebiscite, the bill would include a further $15 million in taxpayer dollars to be allocated to the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps to spend on campaigning – a move LGBTI groups say would have devastating effects on vulnerable people.
“You can only imagine the conversations that would happen in local shops, in school grounds, in church groups, in council chambers,” said Tumut-born marriage equality campaigner Ivan Hinton-Teoh. “What we’d find is an enormous division of people expressing their views – not on the right of LGBTI people to get married, but on their dignity.
“That’s what happened in Ireland [which held a referendum on marriage equality]. Formally the question was ‘is it okay for people of the same gender to get married,’ but it became a question of ‘are you okay with gay people?’ So for that question to happen in regional and rural Australia would be an enormous burden and an enormous risk.
“We know that half of all suicides in the LGBTI community occur when they’re under 16, and before they’ve come out to their families. We also know that LGBTI people are 14 times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide.
“Just in the conversation around the plebiscite, not even in the midst of the plebiscite itself, we’ve seen referrals to some health services for the LGBTI community double.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that opponents of the plebiscite were condescending to the Australian public.
“That the Australian public are so immature, so unbridled, so reckless that they cannot be trusted to have a debate and make a decision on this issue,” he said to Sky News.
“If ever there was a question that should be put to a plebiscite, this is one that can be, and should be, because it is a very straightforward question.”
Labor will stand with the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and others to prevent the controversial legislation from passing.
Opinion polls show that approximately three-quarters of Australians currently support same-sex marriage.
Struggling LGBTI people are encouraged to contact QLife, Australia’s national counselling and referral service, at 1800 184 527 or at qlife.org.au.