Sur­vey’s flaws are start­ing to sur­face


Con­cerns are grow­ing over the in­ad­e­qua­cies of the same-sex mar­riage postal sur­vey af­ter bal­lots were re­ported dam­aged, stolen, sent to the wrong ad­dress and even ad­ver­tised for sale on­line.

At least seven apart­ment blocks in sub­ur­ban Can­berra had their mar­riage bal­lots dam­aged af­ter they were left out in the wind and rain at the week­end, and one per­son has taken to on­line auc­tion site eBay to try to sell their form for $1500.

Liz Allen, a de­mog­ra­pher and post­doc­toral fel­low at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, said it was in no way sur­pris­ing that peo­ple were tak­ing ad­van­tage of the “highly flawed” mode of data col­lec­tion.

“There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to take ad­van­tage of this process,” Dr Allen said.

“That comes be­cause it’s worth so much. It’s worth so much to peo­ple on both sides of the de­bate that the sur­vey it­self has be­come a bar­gain­ing tool.”

The eBay seller asked po­ten­tial buy­ers, “What is the plebiscite worth to you?”, and said they would do­nate some of the pro­ceeds to char­ity.

“The rea­son I’m sell­ing my vote is be­cause ei­ther way I don’t care but thought there are peo­ple who do,” the ad­ver­tise­ment read be­fore it was taken down.

The Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics has said it is work­ing closely with on­line sites such as eBay and Gumtree, with the sites be­ing reg­u­larly mon­i­tored and ad­verts of mar­riage bal­lots be­ing swiftly taken down.

The postal sur­vey has led to many peo­ple na­tion­wide be­com­ing “trusted per­sons” to fill out other peo­ple’s forms if they are de­liv­ered to the wrong ad­dress or if the right­ful re­cip­i­ent is over­seas.

Flip Prior, who works in the me­dia, said she last week re­ceived two bal­lots in her mail­box that were not ad­dressed to her. Ms Prior man­aged to track down the mail own­ers on­line and dis­cov­ered they were cur­rently over­seas.

“I said, look, it’s OK to give some­one per­mis­sion to tick the box, if you give me your pref­er­ences I will faith­fully fill it out for you for in good con­science,” Ms Prior said. The cou­ple agreed, and asked Prior to vote Yes for them.

Dr Allen said it was wor­ry­ing peo­ple could tech­ni­cally fill out other peo­ple’s forms with­out per­mis­sion, but that it wasn’t the ABS’s fault.

“The poor ABS are re­ally stuck in a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion here,” Dr Allen said.

“They were given very lit­tle no­tice that it was their func­tion to col­lect this data, and they were in­structed on the mode that it would take.

“It is a le­git­i­mate col­lec­tion in terms of sur­vey­ing, but un­for­tu­nately in this process we can’t cor­rect for known bias, which means that of all the sur­vey­ing method­olo­gies, this is the one that’s least likely to in­di­cate the true opin­ions of Aus­tralians.”

The ABS web­site says new forms can be ar­ranged where they have be­come dam­aged or stolen but only be­tween Septem­ber 25 and Oc­to­ber 20.

The ABS did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

‘The poor ABS are re­ally stuck in a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion here. They were given very lit­tle no­tice’ LIZ ALLEN DE­MOG­RA­PHER

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