Malcolm Turnbull outlines plans for plebiscites

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has outlined his government’s revived plan for a plebiscite on marriage equality, and if necessary a secondary option of a postal plebiscite.

The government’s bill for a plebiscite that was defeated in the senate last year will be reintroduced into the senate this week. The government now plans to hold the compulsory plebiscite on Saturday 25 November, the same night as Perth’s annual Pride Parade.

The bill faces certain defeat after The Greens, Labor and The Nick Xenophon Team, alongside independent Senators Jacqui Lambie and Derryn Hinch, ruled out giving any support.

Malcolm Turnbull said if the senate rejects his bill for a second time, he’ll roll out an optional postal plebiscite to honour his election commitment to allow all Australians to have a say on the matter.

“If that bill is rejected by the senate again, then we will hold a postal vote on this issue asking the same question, in which all Australians will have their say.” The Prime Minister announced during a heated media conference this morning.

The Prime Minister said the joint party room of the Liberals and Nationals had seen MPs give overwhelming support to the postal plebiscite plan.

Acting Special Minister of State, Mathias Cormann said a $122 million postal plebiscite would be delivered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on 15 November with ballot papers arriving in people’s mailboxes from 12th of September. Senator Cormann said it would not need the permission of the parliament to be implemented.

“Under our constitution the commonwealth parliament has the power to make laws in relationship to census and statistics.” Senator Cormann said.

The senator said it was within his power to direct the ABS to conduct the relevant research by creating a postal poll that would be mailed to all Australians on the electoral role.

Senator Cormann said there was a well established precedent for this pathway, noting that the Whitlam government had used a telephone survey in 1974 asking people what they thought of the national anthem.

“This is essentially the same process, using the same constitutional head of power, using the relevant legislation underpinning the operations of the ABS and the Australian statistician.”

“As the finance minister I have the power to make the relevant appropriation to the ABS.” Senator Cormann said outlining that he was able to apply up to $290 million dollars without seeking the approval of the parliament.

Turnbull said he was confident that the postal plebiscite plan would stand up to any High Court challenge, and confirmed the government had received legal advice on the issue, but the advice would not be made public.

The Prime Minister said he was a supporter of marriage equality and would vote in favour of change, but he probably wouldn’t be able to actively campaign on the issue because there were many demands on his time.

Concerns about the mental health of LGBTI Australians and their families were dismissed by the PM, who said suggestions that the debate would not be respectful were the weakest argument against the proposed process.

“The weakest argument of all, which I think has no basis, is that the Australian people are not capable of having a respectful discussion on this issue. Do we think that so little of our fellow Australians and our ability to debate important matters of public interest?”

The Prime Minister dismissed suggestions that a low voter turnout could see the process lack legitimacy. Turnbull said that because of every Australian on the electoral role would receive a ballot, the process was sound.

The PM dismissed suggestions that on this issue he was no longer in control of his party, the PM said by delivering the postal plebiscite he was showing a strength of leadership.

“Strong leader keep promises, weak leaders break them,” the PM said, “I’m a strong leader.”

Turnbull repeated his claim that opposition leader Bill Shorten had changed his mind on the issue, saying Shorten had told the Australian Christian Lobby that he supported an idea of a plebiscite, but then later opposed one when it was put forward.

Reporters attempted to ask the PM about his own statements voicing his opposition to a postal vote during the campaign for an Australian republic, but the PM ignored their questions.


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