Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Playing games with the numbers

Just when you thought the volume of lies BS emanating from our opponents couldn’t get any greater, along come the Senate debates into Dean Smiths marriage bill, and we have to buy a whole new set of measuring instruments.

Let’s start with the big lie: that we didn’t really win the survey (hint: we did, handsomely). Before debate began Archbishop Fisher tried to make out that his side were the real winners.

“While the Yes vote for gay marriage was a convincing 61.6 per cent, the country’s most influential Catholic cleric Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher reckons that is not a majority.

Because about 20 per cent of eligible Australians “abstained altogether”, Bishop Fisher claims actual support for same-sex marriage is really only about 49 per cent.”

I suppose one could argue that, since that 20% didn’t vote (and may have chosen not to for a variety of reasons), you cannot assume that they should be counted in the NO column. But there are very good reasons for putting most of them in the YES column.

As the chief of the armed forces once put it, “The standard you walk past is the one you accept. If you don’t speak out, for example, when women are abused, you are condoning the abuse of women. If you don’t take part in a voluntary vote, you are saying that you are indifferent to the outcome. You will accept it, whatever it is.

“Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit”, as the Romans put it (Thus, silence gives consent; he ought to have spoken when he was able to). In other words, it would be a truer reflection of the Australian people’s wishes to add the 20% who abstained to the 49% who said yes. This point was taken up by The Conversation:

If all non-voters voted Yes, then the Yes vote would be 69.5% and the No vote 30.5%.

These extreme cases are unlikely, and the true opinions of the non-voters will be somewhere in between. For the Yes vote to reach 50.0%, only 185,843 non-voters (or 5.7% of non-voters) would need to cast a Yes vote.”

But is there any principled way to determine how the non-voters could have voted?

This is a standard question that could have been answered well if the same-sex marriage postal survey had been conducted as a proper statistical survey. But the government direction made it clear that this was not required.”

One such statistical survey… by The Guardian… estimated a 64% Yes vote and a 31% No vote for all eligible voters.”

So stuff that in your mitre and sit on it, your grace. The Australian people accepted the YES case, incontrovertibly, and by a very large margin. The Archbishop wasn’t the only one manufacturing statistical bs. Eric Abetz said he was in “no doubt that I’m in the majority amongst my fellow Australians in my advocacy for the protection of their long-held and deeply cherished freedoms”. No, Senator, you are not. What you arer, is delusional.

This demolishes the thin-to-non-existent case for allowing NO voters any say at all in the provisions of the Marriage Bill. So why are we even considering making concessions to the likes of Canavan, Seselja, Fierravanti-Wells and Abetz?  They won’t vote for marriage equality anyway, no matter how many concessions we make.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)