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The equal marriage survey

September 7th, 2017

A few thoughts on the equal marriage survey, now that it’s going ahead.

First up, there’s virtually no time left for campaigning. Supposedly, the papers will start arriving on Tuesday. Unless the ABS is deliberately taking its time, most voters will presumably have them by the end of next week. Perhaps some people will want to wait and hear all the arguments, but I’d guess the vast majority will either return the survey papers quickly or bin them and forget about the whole thing. So, it seems likely that not many people will change their minds.

Second, despite all the fears that have been expressed, it seems pretty certain that the majority of survey respondents will support equal marriage. The big risk was that the pro-equality vote would be split by a boycott, but that’s obviously not going to happen. On the contrary, lots of Yes voters have signed up. That in turn suggests that there’s not much chance of the massive difference in response rates that would be needed to get an outcome radically different from the actual balance of public opinion.

Third, if the campaign does shift opinions, it’s unlikely to help the No vote. So far, no one on that side ahs been willing to address the substance of the issue, implicitly conceding that they have no argument against equal marriage. Instead it’s been a bunch of slippery slope arguments, snowflake whining about being called out as bigots, and general culture warfare. That might play well with the Andrew Bolt/Tony Abbott fan club, but its unlikely to sway anyone undecided.

What remains is the risk of “shy Tories”, people who say they’ll support equal marriage when surveyed in a standard opinion poll but will go the opposite way when surveyed by the ABS. This is always a possibility, but I can’t see it.

Assuming a “Yes” majority, the main question of interest will be how many rightwingers oppose the outcome of the process they’ve worked so hard to bring about.

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  1. Svante
    September 7th, 2017 at 19:44 | #1

    For a large minority it’s a trap. Those who ignored, and evaded this government’s census must also bin this.

  2. Paul Norton
    September 8th, 2017 at 07:15 | #2

    One of the differences between an election or referendum conducted by the AEC and a postal survey/ballot such as this is that, in the former, everyone who turns up to vote gets their own ballot paper and gets to fill it out in the privacy of the polling booth, whereas in the latter there is no way to ensure:

    (a) that every postal survey envelope sent out will actually reach the individual to which it is addressed, rather than (for instance) all the envelopes sent to a particular address being confiscated by a purported head of family/household; and

    (b) that every individual will be able to complete their own, uncoerced, confidential response rather than, for example, being coerced into responding a certain way by said head of family/household, being compelled to participate in a collective filling out of the survey around the kitchen table by the whole family/household, or having their survey completed and posted back for them without their knowledge by another family/household member who has access to a copy of their signature to forge on the return envelope.

  3. Mitchell Porter
    September 8th, 2017 at 09:25 | #3

    Can someone explain the twists and turns that got us here? Around the time when Ireland had a referendum on this issue, people were saying, where’s our referendum here in Australia. But then later on, it became bad for the government to talk about a referendum, supposedly because it would only empower prejudice or something, to have a public debate. Then for a while it was a plebiscite, and now it is this “non-binding postal survey”.

    The way it looks to me is, that an activist contingent with a lot of elite support, and maybe broad support among millennials, thought that a popular referendum would of course ratify the righteousness of its cause, then got worried that maybe a majority would vote against the change, and so began to clamor for a parliamentary decision instead; and meanwhile weathervane conservatives like Turnbull watered down the original proposal for a popular vote, to a “survey”.

  4. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 10:21 | #4

    “it seems pretty certain that the majority of survey respondents will support equal marriage.”

    Don’t be so sure. Young people, who are more likely to vote in favour, are completely unaccustomed to the process of putting a pen mark on a piece of paper, putting the paper in an envelope, finding a post box and putting the envelope in a post box. (I assume the postage will be pre-paid.)

  5. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 10:28 | #5

    “the main question of interest will be how many rightwingers oppose the outcome of the process they’ve worked so hard to bring about.”

    Eric Abetz has already said he’ll be voting against any marriage equality bill regardless of the outcome of the survey.

  6. Magnesium
    September 8th, 2017 at 10:48 | #6

    Does anyone know if the ABS are going to ‘adjust’ the raw results, to match Australia’s demographics? e.g. if a cohort is under-represented in the raw results, their raw responses are weighted more heavily.

  7. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 10:54 | #7


    The ABS aint ‘adjusting’ anything. The survey is called a survey, and it is being administered by the ABS, but none of the survey methods that attempt to make surveys representative of the population will be used.

    This, of course, will provide the losing side with all the pretexts they need to ignore the result.

  8. Moz of Yarramulla
    September 8th, 2017 at 11:26 | #8

    Smith: those who support the less popular survey option, anyway.

    Everyone in Australia is already on the losing side because of the ridiculous waste of time and money this farce has been. And the QUILTBAG population have lost even more, thanks to both the vilification and the demands that the vilification be legitimised. The whole thing makes me angry and sad.

  9. derrida derider
    September 8th, 2017 at 11:30 | #9

    The really politically interesting circumstance will arise if there is a narrow “No” vote on the raw count but a comfortable “Yes” vote if results are weighted to correct for non-response . It is legally a SURVEY, remember, and ABS survey results are routinely so weighted before publication.

    I understand the ABS is not doing so this time (why not?) but they are publishing the requisite data (age, sex and region breakups) that will allow others to easily do so. I for one will have my spreadsheet fired up ready to go.

  10. derrida derider
    September 8th, 2017 at 11:31 | #10

    I see Magnesium asked the question I just answered.

  11. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 11:59 | #11

    @derrida derider

    Nothing will be resolved in these circumstances. No political argument, much less this one, can be resolved by reference to arcane survey weighting methods that maybe 0.001% of the population understand.

    If a thing is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.

  12. Moz of Yarramulla
    September 8th, 2017 at 12:40 | #12

    DD: in politically interesting thing will be whether voters keep electing MPs who ignore the result of the survey if it’s positive. I’d love to see the main culprits facing candidates running purely on a “you lying liar who lies” platform.

    I’m almost certain they will stay MPs, because Australian voters are hard to be charitable about. People don’t vote for Abetz, Christiansen, Abbott or Turnbull because of their rigorous philosophical consistency and strong backbones, after all.

  13. derrida derider
    September 8th, 2017 at 12:51 | #13

    I think you’re wrong on this, Smith. If this happens not only Shorten but people like Warren Entsch will make great play of the extraordinary departure from ABS normal practice and that private member’s bill will go forward, on the grounds that the real result was a very comfortable YES – “the great bulk of Australians want this”. I’m assuming that the adjustment for non-response will in fact be large, but if the non-adjusted count gets a “No” majority then that is a safe assumption because the only way that is possible is with lots of non-response.

    Of course only a small proportion of the population will understand HOW the ABS corrects for non-response but it is the departure from normal practice in favour of maximising the “No” vote, not what that practice is, that will (rightly) make people consider the whole thing rigged and entitle them to disregard it. Do not forget that the “Yes” camp has politicians and journalists quite as motivated as those in the “No” camp.

  14. MWS
    September 8th, 2017 at 13:30 | #14

    @Mitchell Porter

    Ireland needed to have a referendum because marriage equality required a change to their constitution. Australia doesn’t need a referendum because we don’t need to change our constitution. The Marriage Act was changed in 2004 by John Howard to specify that ‘marriage was between a man and a woman’ without a plebiscite, and there is no need for a plebiscite to change it again.

    The only ‘side’ of politics that wants a plebiscite is the right – who don’t want marriage equality either. You would have to ask _them_ why spending $122 million on a non-binding, non-compulsory survey is the best option. I suspect a plebiscite or survey is a way to kick the can down the road for a few years, while also giving the ACL and others opposed to SSM an opportunity to run disgusting advertising telling us all how bad homosexuals are.

    SSM advocates would like this dealt with by a simple vote in Parliament – which would take very little time and cost almost nothing. Many reputable, properly conducted opinion polls tell us that the vast majority of Australians support marriage equality. They can’t all be wrong!

  15. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 14:01 | #15

    @derrida derider

    A private member’s bill might go forward, but it will be defeated. MPs who are against in principle will still be against, and will be emboldened by No getting a majority. They couldn’t give a fat rat’s clacker about statistical detail. MPs who are for in principle but voted down even letting a private member’s bill getting a hearing, just a few weeks ago, will be cowed by No getting a majority. Can you imagine Malcolm Turnbull supporting SSM in the parliament after his own survey has returned a majority No?

    There is no chance that any argument about the ‘real’ result will win if it is different from the on-the-face result.

  16. Fran Barlow
    September 8th, 2017 at 15:00 | #16

    I won’t return the survey (on the obvious ethical grounds — it’s fundamentally offensive to deny consenting adults marriage merely because they identify as of the same sex, and by extension, to ask others to evaluate their humanity). I’m not giving the right the satisfaction of having me endorse their trolling.

    I initially plannedjust to bin it — as a number of LGBTQI people I know will — but instead I sm going to hand mine to someone who feels comfortable giving the right this win in trade for ‘winning’ the survey.

    It’s an almost Rabbinnical solution.

  17. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 15:10 | #17

    @Fran Barlow

    Sounds like an attempt, as the Germans say, to Wasch mir den Pelz, aber mach mich nicht nass.

  18. Fran Barlow
    September 8th, 2017 at 15:39 | #18

    Truly, the Germans have an exquisite turn of phrase. 🙂 I know if I returned the foorm I’d feel party to this homophobic troll. Others might not, and that is a matter for them, but that would be an irritation that would accompany me to my grave.

    That’s what makes this especially nasty. You get to choose between endorsing homophobic reasoning by participating or else by abstaining.Heads they win, tails we lose. I want to give them nothing.

  19. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 16:15 | #19

    @Fran Barlow

    You’d feel a lot worse if you abstained and No got up by one vote.

  20. Fran Barlow
    September 8th, 2017 at 16:53 | #20

    As the regime’s lawyers have argued, this is NOT a vote. It’s a survey, mere data collection like their botched census, or those trolls who ask you to comment on products.

    I hate giving the right any kind of win in the culture wars. Sure, they have won this minor ‘scaramouche’ but I won’t be dignifying it. Someone else who can wear giving them the minor win can do that.

    I had considered writing an extensive disclaimer asking that, inter alia the survey be binned, and disavowing the legal instruments, objecting to iton ethical groiunds, but in the end, I didn’t regard that as adequate.

    The reality is that the movement is irreversible. The only question is whether those on the losing side get some last piece of satisfaction at the expense of LGBTQI folk by showing them that even civilised folk agree that when push comes to shove, a survey to determine their fitness as human beings to consent to marriage is a price worth paying.

    It’s appalling that this has been permitted. This outrage is in part the fault of the ALP, who, pandering to their right, were late converts to the cause.

  21. I am and will always be Not Trampis
    September 8th, 2017 at 18:27 | #21

    Fran, do not be childish it has nothing to do with them being human beings. One thing that stands out is a Husband and Wife is far different to a husband and husband or wife and wife.

    I am afraid a lot of Christians do not realise the institution of marriage was given its death rites by the oh so awful Lionel Murphy. He changed it forever.

  22. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 19:38 | #22

    @Fran Barlow

    OK, OK, not one ‘vote’. How about one ‘survey whatsit’? Sheesh.

    Good point about the ALP Right. But the ALP has come round, mostly, if belatedly. If marriage equality does get up Joe de Bruyn will wish he was dead, just so he can turn in his grave. (I am going to go out on a limb here and say that when Joe does die he will buried not cremated.)

  23. Fran Barlow
    September 8th, 2017 at 19:45 | #23


    No fault divorce was one of a number of progressive social reforms effected by Whitlam’s government, along with supporting parent benefits. It changed marriage for the better.

  24. Fran Barlow
    September 8th, 2017 at 19:50 | #24


    It’s moot. It’s not going to be close. I will be surprised if it doesn’t get 70% support. My contribution will be irrelevant, which is much as it should be, IMO.

    Gillard particularly irked me on this matter.

  25. Smith
    September 8th, 2017 at 20:23 | #25

    @Fran Barlow

    Yeah, Gillard. Not her finest hour. Not Penny Wong’s, at the time, either.

  26. david
    September 9th, 2017 at 06:28 | #26

    I profess no special expertise in all of the arguments before the High Court but note if the Plaintiffs lost on the ground of lacking legal standing the Court would never have had to rule on the arguments of appropriation or urgency etc.
    It is noted the Commonwealth’s defence included the assertion the Survey did not affect rights.
    200 million dollars spent on this survey for what other than Malcolm appeasing the right wing lunatics in his own party to our detriment eg. that money could be spent on drug rehabilitation programs lacking in the proposed cutting of dole to drug users forced to submit to testing.
    Even if this survey is in response to Malcolm’s promise of a plebiscite at his election near-death experience 1. this is a breach of that promise and 2. a damming admission of his party’s and its members’ inability to properly carry out their parliamentary responsibilities for which they are supposedly elected. I certainly agree with Malcolm here when I look through the ranks of his party [as an example I refer anyone to Cash in the “Train-wreck interview” with David Speers on the CFA dispute in Vic.].
    ps. re Standing an example of this is in the High Court case of Kuczborski v DPP[2014] HC where there as the applicant had not been charged under the Qld. “VLAD laws” he had no standing to argue their constitutionality THOUGH some justices hinted worthy grounds if he were charged later eg. implied freedom of political communication, one actually ruling in minority the laws in part were unconstitutional anyway. Beware of those quoting the current decision as upholding anything other the want of standing until the court publishes its reasons.

  27. Julia Perry
    September 9th, 2017 at 09:31 | #27

    The Sydney Morning Herald today reporting a collapse in the yes vote, when the questions are ‘do you support SSM?’ and ‘do you intend to return the survey?’.
    I think that, if many people take the approach Fran intends to, the religious right will win. I don’t think the ‘survey’ results are going to be adjusted to reflect demography. I don’t think demographics are even being collected are they.

  28. David Irving (no relation)
    September 9th, 2017 at 11:04 | #28

    @Mitchell Porter
    The only people who’ve been pushing for a plebescite / expensive public opinion survey have been the opponents of equal marriage. Those of us who support it have just been wishing the politicans would do the bloody job we pay them for – legislate.

  29. Ben
    September 9th, 2017 at 20:35 | #29


    Smith :
    (I assume the postage will be pre-paid.)

    I should hope so, for $122 million.

  30. Ronald
    September 9th, 2017 at 22:53 | #30

    I can understand people are upset that bullies with power have forced this postal survey through instead of simply ending discrimination. But that choice was in their hands and can’t be stopped now.

    The bullies are looking for a weapon to use against a group of our fellow Australians. If the survey result is that over 50% of respondents oppose equal marriage then they will use that as a weapon to fight justice.

    But if the result if over 50% of respondents come out in favor of equal marriage that will deprive them of a weapon and weaken their position.

    If you care about equal marriage then the only course is to vote for it no matter how much you may dislike the concept of the postal survey.

    We didn’t want the bully to pick this fight. We tried to talk them out of it. But to refuse to vote is to hand them victory. If you don’t vote then you’ve let them beat you because you don’t like the choice of battleground.

    Well you can’t pick where a powerful bully will attack you. They will use their power to get you at a disadvantage. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back. And voting for equal marriage is the only way to fight back in this situation that isn’t capitulation or worse, joining those who like keeping their boots on people’s necks to keep them down.

    Don’t give them a weapon.

  31. Moz of Yarramulla
    September 10th, 2017 at 07:36 | #31

    What Ronald said. The survey is stupid, expensive and awful. But if you oppose the reasons for the survey, sadly your best option is to return it marked “yes, same sex marriage”. The people who caused the survey *want* you to dummy spit and refuse to participate. Don’t fall for it.

  32. Fran Barlow
    September 10th, 2017 at 12:15 | #32
  33. J-D
    September 10th, 2017 at 19:30 | #33

    Fran Barlow :
    This from a member of the LGBTQI community is heartfelt and articulate:

    If you hadn’t posted that link, the odds are I would never have come across that article. I’m glad to have read it. But because I encountered it in the context of your earlier comments here, I can’t help noticing some of the things that Naomi Stead does not write in that article. She does not write that she is not going to participate in the survey, or that she wants other people not to participate in it, or that it would have been better if the two people at the next table had said that they weren’t going to participate, or that she hopes for a low participation rate.

    People who return a ‘No’ answer to the survey will be trying to contribute to a majority ‘No’ result, a profoundly harmful outcome; but people do try, for various reasons, to do harmful things (mostly they don’t think of them as harmful). People who return a ‘Yes’ answer to the survey will be trying to contribute to a majority ‘Yes’ answer. People who choose not to participate will be contributing to a low-turnout outcome. I can’t figure what difference will be made by a low-turnout outcome as compared to a high-turnout outcome; I can’t figure how either would be better or worse, or any reason to prefer one to the other. As far as I can figure it, a low-turnout outcome will do no particular harm, but also no particular good; I can’t figure any reason why it would be a result that somebody would want to contribute to.

  34. Smith
    September 11th, 2017 at 09:23 | #34

    @Fran Barlow

    Heartfelt yes, but Stead misses the point. She writes that even a positive judgement (about her) is still a judgement. In an alternative universe the social justice fairy could waive her magic wand and right all wrongs with no one making any judgements (other than the fairy). In the actual universe all social change is achieved by someone or group such as a government, a parliament, a court or in the SSM case the population in a survey, making judgments and deciding that rights previously denied to others should no longer be denied. More often than not, the decision-making body was previously complicit in the denial of those rights.

  35. John Goss
    September 11th, 2017 at 14:14 | #35

    Derrida derider
    The ABS are not actually publishing the results of the survey (Yes, No, Invalid) by age sex and electorate.
    They are merely publishing the return rate of ballot papers by age sex and electorate. So you will not actually be able to reweight the responses directly to adjust for different age sex voting patterns. However the results (Yes/no/invalid) will be published by electorate, so you could run a regression to estimate the yes/no/invalid distribution by age/sex group. Still, that probably wouldn’t be very accurate.

  36. Fran Barlow
    September 11th, 2017 at 16:03 | #36


    I take your point, though it is not always so. There were no plebiscites for ending slavery or passing the 14th Amendment or the Civil Rights Act. Nor was there, as we recall, one for amending the Marriage Act to deny it expressly to same sex couples. We have a legislature and an executive to do these things, and to Stead, and apparently most LGBTQI folk, including those who will participate in this travesty through clenched teeth, there’s an important difference in the process.

    I read someone conjuring the analogy of appearing at a party after an invitation only to be held at the door while the guests debated whether you should attend. This probably understates the humiliation felt by those of that community.

    @J-D Candidly, if only 5-10% returned the survey I’d regard this as a huge victory, whatever the notional result. It would compel the inference that the community — every significant demographic of which supports marriage equality — rejected the process and wanted parliament to declare on the matter without further delay. This would humiliate the regime and be an act of solidarity with the LGBTQI community.

    (That’s utterly improbable of course as the best organised groups are pressing for participation.)

    The regime could continue to refuse to act of course, but sooner or later, this will be done, and it would be better if it were done without this appalling and dehumanising process. That’s why I’d want this.

  37. Smith
    September 11th, 2017 at 17:08 | #37

    @Fran Barlow

    If only 5-10% return the survey it will compel the inference that the community regards SSM as a very low priority matter and that the notional result (assuming a majority in favour) is invalid. The regime could not be provided with a better pretext for dropping the matter.

  38. Fran Barlow
    September 11th, 2017 at 17:37 | #38

    Well dropping the idea of a survey or plebiscite anyway. All it would do would be to restore the pre-survey settings, leaving the issue to bubble along. They needed the survey to keep their ragtag coalition together a little longer.

    In practice, the major LGBTQI groups would have had to campaign hard for boycott to get a result like this, so your objection decontextualises. Plainly, if the population were that disciplined and moved by the LGBTQI folk’s appeal, the regime would surely be terrified of losing everything at a coming election, and so be keen to get the matter off the table as an issue.

  39. J-D
    September 11th, 2017 at 18:53 | #39

    I don’t think a low participation rate will compel any inference. People will draw the inferences they prefer to draw, in the absence of information about what drove people not to vote. Some people (perhaps Fran Barlow is one) would interpret a low-participation outcome as a triumph of solidarity with TBLG people and a vindication of hostility to the government. Some people (including particularly in the Coalition party room) would interpret it (approximately as Smith suggests) as a vindication of their belief and desire that people should cease paying attention to TBLG people and their concerns.

    A ‘Yes’ majority, no matter whether participation is high or low, is extremely likely to produce rapid legislation for marriage equality (by the end of the year, as Malcolm Turnbull has said? sure, why not?); a ‘No’ majority, no matter whether participation is high or low, is extremely likely to defer the coming of legislation for marriage equality (by how long, I can’t even guess). Either way I can’t figure how the level of participation is likely to make a difference. The margin might make some difference, but that’s not correlated with participation.

    Fran Barlow also writes that ‘the best organised groups are pressing for participation’; if so, that suggests that they aren’t thinking of low participation as a desirable goal. (But is this a reference to pro-marriage-equality groups, or to anti-marriage-equality groups, or both? I’m not sure.)

  40. Ron E Joggles
    September 11th, 2017 at 21:03 | #40

    A “No” win with low participation would help make the case that the postal survey is an inaccurate way to measure community attitudes. Shorten could go hard on that, and if Labor won an early election (after a humiliated Turnbull pulls the pin), marriage equality would be high on Parliament’s agenda. Works for me!

  41. Tim Macknay
    September 11th, 2017 at 23:32 | #41

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, forgive me if I’m wrong, but based on various comments of yours on this and other blogs over the years, I’ve developed the impression that not voting, as a form of protest, is your standard modus operandi. So really, there’s no need for all this rationalising of your position with respect to the same sex marriage survey-thingy. Surely you’re just doing what you always do.

  42. Fran Barlow
    September 12th, 2017 at 07:20 | #42


    Your objection is purely semantic. In purely semantic terms, no event can compel an inference. Drawing inferences from events is something people can choose to do or not do, and as one sees repeatedly in human usages, drawing perverse inferences from events is also a feature of human culture.

    My assertion is that in the circumstances proposed, it would both be unreasonable to draw no inference nor draw any other but that which I outlined above.

    As to whom I described as ‘the best organised groups’, I clearly had in mind those evidently capable of organising rallies attended by large numbers of folk around the issue i.e. those in favour of marriage equality. Were a boycott to succeed in depressing participation to 5-10% it would need to follow an active campaign by these groups to effect it, especially given that those opposed to marriage equality are campaigning for participation.

  43. Fran Barlow
    September 12th, 2017 at 07:30 | #43

    @Tim Macknay

    While it is the case that I generally look first for a positive reason to support sme activity rather than a reason not to be involved, I do vote much more often than I don’t. Just the other day I stood all day at polling booths encouraging others to vote as I had in council elections for a council I regarded as having been formed in objectionable circumstances. I also vote in state elections, and in 2016 voted for the Senate.

    In practice, there are probably a stronger reasons for me to comment at length on some matter when I am at odds with the consensus than when I am falling in with what most/many are doing. It could be that this is why you regard boycotting voting as as my default protest position.

  44. Tim Macknay
    September 12th, 2017 at 13:50 | #44

    @Fran Barlow
    Thanks for clarifying Fran.

  45. September 12th, 2017 at 15:53 | #45

    If yesterday’s Age is accurate then 70% will vote and 65% would vote yes: thus a yes vote 0f 45% of the electorate, not a majority, and the Liberals will vote against it the way they were always going to, as they would if an angel with a flaming sword came down from heaven and said god wanted them to vote yes.

  46. J-D
    September 12th, 2017 at 18:47 | #46

    @Ron E Joggles

    A ‘Yes’ win, regardless of participation rate, is more likely to result in legislative change than a ‘No’ win, regardless of participation rate, and more likely to result in legislative change sooner. More specifically, a ‘Yes’ win, regardless of participation rate, is extremely likely to produce legislative change before the next election, and probably before the end of the year; a ‘No’ win, regardless of participation rate, is almost certain to mean no legislative change before the next election.

  47. J-D
    September 12th, 2017 at 18:53 | #47

    @Fran Barlow

    If there is a ‘No’ win with a low participation rate, certainly (as I already stated) some people will draw the inference that the community has rejected the process and wants the Parliament to declare on the matter without further delay; I gather everybody you consider to be reasonable would draw that inference; but even if every reasonable person does draw that inference, the unreasonable people in the Coalition party room will still succeed in using the ‘No’ win as justification for Parliament not to declare on the matter any time before the next election.

  48. Fran Barlow
    September 12th, 2017 at 19:13 | #48


    In the event of a ‘no’ win with low participation, if the LNP act as you suggest, it will be an issue at the next election. That’s not what the Turnbull faction wants and even some on the right would be bothered about the matter.

    That’s why I doubt it will make a difference in practice though politically it would damage the regime.

  49. Tim Macknay
    September 12th, 2017 at 19:25 | #49

    I agree with you that a ‘yes’ win is more likely to result in legislative change than a ‘no’ win, regardless of participation rate. But I have my doubts about whether a ‘yes’ win is as likely to produce legislative change before the next election as you suggest. While I hope that is the case, I can’t help suspecting that the division and paralysis within the Federal Government that led to the ‘survey’ in the first place may well persist despite a ‘yes’ win. The government’s inability to develop sensible policy due to its internal divisions on this and other issues appears to be remarkably resilient. But time will tell.

  50. J-D
    September 13th, 2017 at 07:14 | #50

    @Fran Barlow
    I count the difference between legislative change sooner and legislative change later as a ‘difference in practice’; it’s not clear to me whether you do. It is possible that a low participation rate will have a damaging effect on the Turnbull government, exacerbating conflict in the Coalition, although I rate the likelihood of this much lower than you seem to; but it is still extremely unlikely to affect when legislative change occurs; whereas a Yes majority is still highly likely to bring legislative change sooner than a No majority (independently of participation rate). I suppose a boycott would make sense from the point of view of people who felt that any chance of inflicting damage on the Coalition government (even if not a great chance) was a much higher priority than getting marriage equality into law.

  51. J-D
    September 13th, 2017 at 10:59 | #51

    @Tim Macknay
    I agree that it’s not certain that a Yes majority will result in legislation before the end of the year, or even before the next election. I can imagine hypothetical scenarios where Yes comes out ahead of No but legislation still doesn’t happen. But they are very low probability scenarios, and much lower probability than the scenarios where No comes out ahead of Yes and then legislation doesn’t happen.

    There’s significant scope for people (if so motivated) to get into debates about what’s a high participation rate and what’s a low participation rate, and also about what’s a large margin of victory and what’s a small margin of victory (not just in this particular instance but more generally). In contrast, two things for which there very widely shared understandings and minimal opportunity for debate (not none, but minimal) are the difference between winning a vote and losing a vote and the difference between Yes and No. Therefore, it is reasonable to project a likely clear difference (not certain, but likely) between what happens next in the case of Yes beating No in the vote and what happens next in the case of No beating Yes in the vote; I don’t say definitely that the participation rate will make no difference, but it’s a much harder thing to be sure of.

  52. Fran Barlow
    September 13th, 2017 at 12:16 | #52


    It being very unlikely in my view that a low participation rate will ensue in practice, and equally, that ‘No’ will attract more than 30% much of this discussion is probably moot. As is mostly the case in practice on significant issues, I’m one of a tiny minority. Although it would be disingenuous to say I was fine with this, I have learned a sort world-weary dissonance over the years. My challenge has been to avoid personal responsibility or participation in what is indefensible.

    While I certainly could be wrong, my impression is that those most exercised by this issue in the LGBTQI community don’t attach much weight to whether this change cones by Christmas or in the wake of an electoral debacle for the Coalition, possibly this year but perhaps in late 2019.

    What will probably occur is a resounding ‘win’ for Yes in the survey followed by those wanting to avoid voting no publicly in parliament being absent from the vote and it being carried easily.

    That will give the Coalition little respite from the infighting anyway, but at least remove one thorny issue for them, with cover.

  53. J-D
    September 13th, 2017 at 12:51 | #53

    @Fran Barlow

    As is mostly the case in practice on significant issues, I’m one of a tiny minority.

    I tend to think I am too (although not, I expect, the same tiny minorities as you on all the same issues).

    My challenge has been to avoid personal responsibility

    Yes, I feel as if I grasped that from the beginning.

    The point I have been trying to make is this: for people who imagine their actions affecting the outcome, and who want marriage equality to happen, and to happen as soon as possible, the argument for voting Yes is overwhelming. But I fully acknowledge that some people don’t imagine their actions affecting the outcome (as, for example, you don’t), and for them this argument doesn’t apply.

    My general tendency is to approach voting as if it’s possible that my vote will make a difference to the outcome, and I think that’s true for a lot of people, but I am nevertheless well aware that the probability of my single vote making a difference, although non-zero, is minuscule. For people who don’t imagine their actions affecting the outcome, there are other ways to justify a decision about whether or how to vote, justifications independent of the outcome of the vote (and I don’t mean just in this case, but in general).

  54. Fran Barlow
    September 13th, 2017 at 15:54 | #54


    My view is focused here much more on the process, and my part in it rather than the principal outcome. I assume that if I had participated, it would have been counted and then I’d be numbered amongst those who believed they had standing to evaluate the humanity of that community. Implicitly at least, I’d have been assumed to have treated the exercise as legitimate.

    Whether my contribution would have made a practical difference is not somethng I ever weigh. Voting, or in this case, completing a survey, is purely symbolic. It has the approximate status of writing a letter — though here designed for functional efficiency. Yet symbolic acts must be ethically robust, IMO, while practical and prosaic acts get the benefit of a right of ethical imprecision.

  55. J-D
    September 13th, 2017 at 17:17 | #55

    @Fran Barlow

    My view is focused here much more on the process, and my part in it rather than the principal outcome.

    I hope it’s clear that that was what I thought.

    Whether my contribution would have made a practical difference is not somethng I ever weigh

    Again, I hope it’s clear that that’s what I thought.

    Voting, or in this case, completing a survey, is purely symbolic.

    I understand that’s how you view it, but surely you must be aware that there are people who take a different view?

  56. Fran Barlow
    September 13th, 2017 at 17:50 | #56


    Voting, or in this case, completing a survey, is purely symbolic.

    I understand that’s how you view it, but surely you must be aware that there are people who take a different view?

    I do, but I find that view so lacking in foundation that I am inclined to pass over it lightly. After disasters people often say ‘pray for {place of disaster}’ and this too seems at best purely symbolic solidarity, if not an exercise in misdirection, but it’s hard to deal seriously with anyone who thinks this makes a fly speck’s worth of difference to anything that would not have been achieved by sending them secular best wishes, or advocating specific assistance.

    As our current system is configured — the governing parties takng little account of public sentiment in most areas of policy and privileging a comparative handful of talking heads — voting is at best a muted and distorted message to folk who give priority to the privileged.

    You’re not really voting for anything specific — more a set of sentiments that have been through the cultural meat-grinder and been processed enough to avert all threat to established interests.

    There are alternatives of course, but the people in charge like the current rules be ause clearly, they serve them well.

    Accordingly, as things stand, you vote to express aspirations that exist principally in your own mind, and hope that some portion of that is reflected in public policy or that people whose aspirstions you hate are denied.

    Most of the time though, the same kinds of folk win and so in practice you might not have bothered, save that there was somebody who provided a much clearer symbolic summary of your aspiration.

  57. Ikonoclast
    September 13th, 2017 at 18:17 | #57

    @Fran Barlow

    That is so true and well expressed. I’d like to focus on your words “There are alternatives of course.” There needs to be more debate on the real alternatives and how we could there. Any time you feel inspired to make a larger post in the Sandpit please do. I for one would read it with interest.

    As you go on to say ” the people in charge like the current rules because clearly, they serve them well.” This seems to sum it up. There are now only pretenses at changing anything. Clearly, our political class, and those they are beholden too, do not want to change anything. The game is working exactly how they want it to work. They are not serious about changing a single thing… unless it is about paying workers even less and charging them more and more for everything.

    The question is how do the majority take back power from the corporate and political classes?

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