Australia’s plebiscite, or “survey”, on same sex marriage is about to get underway via the postal system.
But what does that mean for Australian expats who want to have their say? Aussie’s of voting age all over the world will be able to vote as long as their names and addresses are already on the electoral rolls.
Not sure if you’re still on the electoral roll? It’s easy to check on the Australian Electoral Commission website. You just need to enter your name and last Australian address.
The process will be a little different for expats though. While those in Australia will be mailed the survey form with just one question on it, expats and overseas Aussies will be sent an access code.
WHAT DOES A PLEBISCITE MEAN?
Basically it’s a way for the current conservative government to ask the Australian people’s opinion on same sex marriage. That’s about it.
Because unlike a referendum, a plebiscite is not legally binding so the government doesn’t actually have to change anything in response to the survey findings.
By the way, this opinion-gauging exercise is estimated to cost the taxpayer $158 million.
THE MARRIAGE ACT 1961
Back in 2004, the then conservative Prime Minister John Howard and his party, rushed through legislation to amend the Marriage Act 1961.
Prior to the amendment, the act did not define marriage and thus left the door open for same sex couples to travel overseas to be married and have their union recognised in Australia.
The Howard Government’s amendment to the act sets out marriage as the “voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.
“We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation,” Mr Howard said in 2004.
It is this part of the Marriage Act that same sex marriage advocates hope to have changed.
THE HIGH COURT CHALLENGE
There may not be a plebiscite. At least if the challenge against it is upheld by the High Court of Australia.
Same sex marriage advocates Australian Marriage Equality, and independent MP Andrew Wilkie, have both launched challenges to the plebiscite on the basis that the government is acting outside its power because it hasn’t passed any legislation to fund it.
They are also arguing that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which has been tasked with carrying out the survey, is acting outside of its remit to collect statistical data.
Arguments will be heard by the High Court on September 5 and 6, after which we’ll know if the plebiscite is going ahead.
UPDATED September 7: The High Court has ruled that the plebiscite is lawful, and it will go ahead. Seven High Court judges unanimously dismissed the legal challenge, clearing the way for the postal “survey” to go ahead as planned.
HOW IN-COUNTRY AUSTRALIANS VOTE
If you are already on the electoral roll, or submitted your name and address before Thursday, August 24 this year, you are eligible to complete a same sex marriage survey.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will begin mailing forms out on Tuesday, September 12.
For those within the country, the Australian Marriage Law Survey package will include a reply paid envelope as well as instructions.
Aussies will be asked to tick the yes or no box to answer the following question:
Should the law be changed to allow same sex couples to marry?
Once that’s done, forms need to be returned to the ABS by 6pm on October 27. The ABS will not count surveys received after Tuesday, November 7.
HOW DO AUSTRALIANS OVERSEAS VOTE?
Australian expats will not receive the same sex marriage survey form. Instead they will be mailed a letter with a secure access code.
Using the code, Australians overseas will be able to register their votes online, through an automated call service or a call centre.
While it hasn’t yet been specifically stipulated by the ABS, your online votes or phone calls will need to be made by 6PM (in the appropriate state) on Friday, October 27.
If you haven’t updated your overseas address and enrolled as an overseas elector with the AEC it’s too late to do it now.
Instead, the AEC suggests you ask a trusted person to pick up your survey from your previous Australian address and complete it for you. There will be instructions enclosed to explain the process.
DO I HAVE TO TAKE PART?
This is a plebiscite, or as the current Australian Government has labelled it, a survey.
It isn’t an election and as such, you don’t have to register your opinion. You will not be fined for not returning a form or answering the question online or via phone.
But frankly, why wouldn’t you have your say? The last time people trusted that others would vote for them, Donald Trump was elected.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Once the same sex marriage surveys are returned, they will be counted by the ABS and results released on Wednesday, November 15.
You can view the results on the ABS website.
If the survey returns a resounding “yes” vote, the Prime Minister will allow a proposed amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 to be tabled in Parliament during the final sitting fortnight of 2017. That is between November 27 and December 8.
I STILL HAVE QUESTIONS!
Contact the Australian Marriage Law Survey Information Line. It is open every day (including weekends) between 8:00AM and 8:00PM (Australian time).
Outside Australia: +61 2 6252 5262
Within Australia: 1800 572 113
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