Boycott Postal Vote

Walpugisnacht: Jonas Bengtsson

BREAKING: Australian Marriage Equality, PFLAG and just.equal will all mount cases against a postal plebiscite in the High Court.

Will we be as brave as Scotland?

With Dean Smith’s Marriage Bill finding little favour with either the religious right or equality advocates, nor with more than a minority of government MPs, a postal pseudo-plebiscite has become inevitable. We’ll know more about that after the Liberal and Coalition party room meetings today and tomorrow.

Douglas Pretsell draws on his experience of the non-compulsory postal ‘consultation exercise’ on equal marriage in Scotland to offer some advice.

For the other side of the story, head over to Don’t Boycott The Evil Postal Poll

The religious right are proposing a voluntary postal vote as a “compromise”, in the full knowledge they stand a far better chance of winning that than a national plebiscite or a free vote in parliament.

In most countries the experience of non-compulsory postal ballots is that they have very low returns, in the region of 30-40%. This means that the vote is concentrated around the people who are the most motivated plus the people they can mobilise.

While LGBTI people are concentrated in specific urban centres and could possibly mobilise high returns in these places, the churches that the ACL can much more effectively mobilise are present in every urban and rural area in the country.

Experience in Scotland showed that this church mediated responsiveness could be very effectively mobilised during the equal marriage consultation process in a way that the more disparate and ununified LGBTI movements generally could not – EVEN THOUGH public opinion showed a massive majority in favour.

When the owner of Stagecoach, Brian Souter, self-funded an anti-gay postal ballot there was a realisation that there was no way the LGBTI population could effectively campaign around it. So they decided instead to organise a boycott and staged “mass burning” of ballots right across scotland – which proved very very effective and popular. The result was a very low return of the ballot and a perception that it lacked any force of mandate.

Cut to Australia

If a postal ballot is on the cards we would face the same uncertainty over whether we could win it or not and would have to spend a lot of money and mobilise the whole community to campaign for a yes vote. And what for? If we lose then that will be held up as a democratic mandate against equal marriage for a generation or more, making it very difficult for an incoming ALP administration to buck. If we win, it is not binding so we would have to wait for the ALP to win the next election and deliver.

By contrast, if we campaign for a boycott and publicly burn ballots it will be a high profile rejection of the governments approach so that there is no mandate from the ballot paper and a mandate for Labor to legislate.

In politics it is never a good idea to take the path of greatest uncertainty where there is the most to lose. Always best to enter a political fight knowing that you can and will win. On those terms, the only option would be to boycott a postal ballot and burn papers publicly across the country.