A Quick Reminder a Marriage Equality Plebiscite Could Cost Australia $525 Million

The Greens have confirmed they will vote against a bill to launch a public vote of marriage equality. At first glance, this might seem like a confusing move.

by Katherine Gillespie
26 August 2016, 4:03am

Illustration by Ashley Goodall

Greens Senators Janet Rice and Richard Di Natale announced Friday that their party will vote against the Liberal government's proposed marriage equality plebiscite legislation.

At first glance, this might seem like a confusing move. After all, the Greens are vocal proponents of marriage equality. But the party says the decision has only been made after consultation with the Australian LGBTQI community.

"We've listened to the LGBTIQ community, 85 percent of whom are opposed to a damaging and unnecessary plebiscite because of the harm that it would do," the Greens stated on their Facebook page.

Instead of a plebiscite, the Greens are calling on parliament to hold a free vote on the issue, which they believe would pass easily. "The easiest, simplest, quickest, most effective, least costly and least harmful way of ensuring equality in marriage is through a vote in the parliament," their online statement say."We can do that next week, should the Prime Minister decide to show some leadership."

Why are the Greens so concerned? Well, there's been plenty of evidence for some time now that a plebiscite would do more harm than good.

WATCH: VICE breaks down the cost of a marriage equality plebiscite

While a plebiscite may force politicians to finally acknowledge strong public support for same sex marriage, it would do so at a significant cost. The federal government has estimated that a plebiscite campaign and vote would cost the Australian public around $160 million, but an independent assessment by PricewaterhouseCoopers puts the number somewhere closer to $525 million.

Although it's widely cited that 70 percent of Australians support a plebiscite on marriage equality, a poll earlier this year found—once voters are aware of the costs—support drops below half.

This is based on estimates of $281 million for the time cost of voting, $158 million for the voting itself, $66 million for campaigning, and $20 million for mental health harms to 50,000 LGBTQI Australians.

More on those mental health harms—in 2015, the Australian Psychological Society submitted a report to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee urging them to reconsider the plebiscite.

According to the Psychological Society report, "a public vote is likely to present significant risks to the psychological health and wellbeing of those most affected." It also states that "marriage equality is a human rights and equal opportunity issue and therefore on principle, should be a matter for Australian law and our parliamentary system, not a popular vote."

While the Greens voting against the plebiscite will make things a little more difficult for the Coalition, it's still possible the bill will pass. However, it's going to require support from nine crossbenchers. If that doesn't happen, the bill will need support from the Labor party, which voiced its opposition to a public vote in favour of a parliamentary one during the federal election.

It's uncertain at this stage whether the opposition is willing to side with the government on this issue. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten hasn't confirmed his stance either way, although he has described a plebiscite as "the second best option".

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