Some of the details of the proposed marriage equality plebiscite were finally revealed on Tuesday (13 September), more than 12 months after it was first agreed as Coalition policy under then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
That includes the estimated cost: a massive $170,000,000.
In the days since, there has been plenty of coverage of the wastefulness of this national public opinion poll, especially when the alternative – passing a Bill through Parliament, in the ordinary way – would cost exactly $0.
There are, of course, an almost limitless number of ways in which this enormous sum of money could be better spent, including on funding additional nurses, teachers or postgraduate students[i].
But we also shouldn’t forget where this money comes from: from us, the taxpayer. Or, in this context, from us, the Australian voter.
The Australian Electoral Commission estimates that, at 30 June 2016, there were 15,696,874 people on the nation’s electoral roll[ii].
Which means that EVERY AUSTRALIAN VOTER – cisgender, heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) alike – is effectively being charged $10.83 for the ‘privilege’ of participating in a plebiscite which nobody can provide a compelling justification for.
Indeed, there are very few people or organisations who are clamouring for the marriage equality plebiscite to be held. The extreme right-wing of the Liberal-National Government. The Australian Christian Lobby and other religious fundamentalists. And the Prime Minister, one Malcolm Turnbull MP.
Yes, the same Malcolm Turnbull who argued against the plebiscite in the Coalition party-room in August 2015.
The same Malcolm Turnbull who claims to support marriage equality, but who cannot bring himself to do so on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The same Malcolm Turnbull who, even as he introduced the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 on Wednesday, conceded that the cost of the vote is ‘substantial’, and that this is a ‘valid argument’ against holding it[iii].
So why exactly is he pushing ahead with a policy that he knows is wrong, both in principle and in practice?
The answer, as it nearly always is, is politics. Turnbull is tied to the plebiscite because it is only way he keeps himself tied to his job.
One year to the day before he introduced his plebiscite bill, and the day after he had rolled Tony Abbott to become Leader of the Liberal Party, Turnbull signed a new Coalition agreement with the National Party in which he committed to holding a plebiscite. In doing so, he signed away any principles he may have once held on this issue.
Even now, he is so single-minded in pursuing the plebiscite because he continually needs to appease the narrow-minded Abetz, Bernardi and Christensen, the ultra-conservative Senators and MP who, it seems, are the ones actually running the Government.
There is no moral justification for this pursuit – it is all about base political motivations. And so we are left to draw the following conclusion:
There are no good reasons to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, but plenty of bad ones.
Chief among them is that it is being held so that Turnbull can keep his job.
You, the Australian voter, are being charged $10.83 each, so that Malcolm Bligh Turnbull can stay on as our 29th Prime Minister.
We are all being charged a ‘Turnbull Tax’.
Of course, the great irony of this situation is that we are all expected to pay $10.83 so he can keep his job, despite the fact he is refusing to actually do his job (by passing legislation), and is instead making us do it for him.
What a wonderful system for him. And what a horrible outcome for Australia’s LGBTI community, and indeed for all those who believe people should be treated equally under secular law, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
Okay, so maybe the above is a little bit unfair – no, not on Malcolm Turnbull, who is after all the Prime Minister who wants to inflict an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite on the population.
Instead, it is unfair because there are others who are also responsible for this abhorrent policy, and who therefore should be both named and blamed.
As I indicated above, this includes the extremists within the Liberal and National Parties who have advocated the plebiscite as a way to delay the equal recognition of LGBTI relationships.
And so, just as you are being asked to pay the Turnbull Tax, you will also be contributing to the ‘Extremist Excise’ if the plebiscite proceeds (I would have called it the ‘Fringe Fee’, except that these bigots are no longer fringe-dwellers within the Coalition, they seem to be in the majority).
It would also be unfair to overlook the role of the Australian Christian Lobby in this mess, as one of the few non-government organisations who believe an extended national debate about the validity of LGBTI relationships is a good idea.
Which means that the $170,000,000 spent also represents the ‘Australian Christian Lobby Levy’ – or perhaps even the ‘Lyle Levy’, so-named after its managing director Lyle Shelton.
Finally, we shouldn’t forget that of this $170 million, $15 million is being allocated towards the cost of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns ($7.5 million each).
Except that the ‘Yes’ side doesn’t want this money. Indeed, this public funding is one of the main reasons why practically every LGBTI organisation in the entire country came together on Wednesday to reject Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite[iv].
Only the ‘No’ side wants it, presumably so that the Australian Christian Lobby can have a bigger platform to compare marriage equality and safe schools to the rise of Nazism, or link rainbow families with the Stolen Generations, or to incite ‘bathroom panic’ against trans people, and trans women in particular[v].
Mr Shelton and the ACL want your money to be able to promote intolerance against LGBTI Australians on the basis of who they are. In effect, you, me, all of us, will be paying an ‘Intolerance Impost’, on top of the Turnbull Tax, Extremist Excise and Lyle Levy.
I mentioned earlier that there are no good reasons to hold the plebiscite. Well, as we all know there are plenty of reasons to oppose it[vi].
The fact that we are expected to pay for the ‘privilege’ of participating in this pointless exercise – of paying the Turnbull Tax, the Extremist Excise, the Australian Christian Lobby Levy and the Intolerance Impost – is just one more. And it’s a reason that affects all of us – because we are all being asked to cough up.
[i] Mamamia, There are so many better ways we could spend the same-sex marriage plebiscite funding, 15 September 2016.
[ii] Australian Electoral Commission, Enrolment Statistics, 30 June 2016.
[iii] “The other one is the cost – and that is substantial – but then you have to ask yourself: what price democracy? So those are two arguments that are valid.” Hansard, Wednesday 14 September 2016.
[iv] Media Release, LGBTI Groups Joint Statement on the Plebiscite, Wednesday 14 September 2016.
[v] Please see: Lyle Shelton’s Respectful Debate.
[vi] Please see: Letter to ALP MPs and Senators Calling on Them to Block the Plebiscite.