Yes or No, re­spect the de­ci­sion of our na­tion

The Courier-Mail - - OPINION -

BY THE time most Queens­lan­ders ar­rive at work this morn­ing the out­come of the same-sex mar­riage vol­un­tary postal sur­vey will be an­nounced by the Bureau of Statis­tics. Ac­cord­ing to every piece of sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence, the re­sult should be a “Yes” vote with the only pos­si­ble un­known be­ing the mar­gin. At the same time, it is likely as many as four mil­lion Aus­tralians will vote “No” and their views should be re­spected and not ig­nored sim­ply be­cause they could be in a mi­nor­ity. This means that, when the is­sue reaches the Par­lia­ment, it should not be waved through with­out de­bate and cour­te­ous dis­cus­sion.

This has been a long and wind­ing jour­ney dat­ing back more than a decade. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter John Howard amended the Mar­riage Act to con­fine this cer­e­mony to a union be­tween a man and woman, some­thing prompted by the Aus­tralian Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory mov­ing to le­galise same-sex mar­riage in Canberra.

Fol­low­ing this, La­bor was elected with Kevin Rudd as prime min­is­ter with a pledge not to change the Mar­riage Act in his first term. Mr Rudd kept his word and noth­ing oc­curred when Ju­lia Gil­lard suc­ceeded him. Ms Gil­lard, who has held a con­fus­ingly con­tra­dic­tory set of po­si­tions on same-sex mar­riage, al­lowed a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill to go ahead, but with­out the sup­port of lead­ing La­bor fig­ures, it was al­ways doomed.

The Coali­tion has also wres­tled with the is­sue af­ter stick­ing with a solid party room stand to op­pose any changes un­der Tony Ab­bott. Mr Ab­bott’s tricky move to delay any change was one fur­ther con­trib­u­tor to his down­fall in Septem­ber, 2015, but new Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull was forced to pledge ad­her­ence to the pol­icy of only mov­ing ahead af­ter a pop­u­lar plebiscite. Af­ter this plan hit a hur­dle in the Se­nate, a com­pro­mise was put in place to have a vol­un­tary postal bal­lot, over­seen by the Bureau of Statis­tics.

This bal­lot fin­ished a week ago and to­day we will find out the re­sult. We should ac­knowl­edge this process has been a re­sound­ing suc­cess, what­ever opin­ion peo­ple might have had of it be­fore the bal­lot be­ing held.

We have set some­thing of a world record for a vol­un­tary bal­lot – al­most four in five Aus­tralians have filled out their vot­ing forms and sent them in. This is not that far off the reg­u­lar turnout for a gen­eral elec­tion in Aus­tralia, which is a com­pul­sory bal­lot. It shows a re­fresh­ing en­dorse­ment of the demo­cratic process by the pub­lic.

What we need now is to act on the out­come. If, as ex­pected, it is a “Yes” out­come, the Par­lia­ment should get on with it, with­out delay. West­ern Aus­tralian Sen­a­tor Dean Smith has a Bill drafted, which was first pub­lished three months ago, and he is pre­pared to put it be­fore the Se­nate to­mor­row.

As Mr Turn­bull said yes­ter­day, this should then al­low any­one to move amend­ments and have then de­bated. This is the nor­mal process that should be fol­lowed.

Af­ter this week, the Par­lia­ment sits for a fur­ther fort­night, dur­ing which Sen­a­tor Smith’s Bill could be dealt with and it should be. The Govern­ment has said that if there is a “Yes” vote it will be hon­oured and this is ex­actly what should oc­cur. The ex­pec­ta­tion of the Aus­tralian peo­ple is that this mat­ter will be over and done with by Christ­mas and it is best for ev­ery­one if this oc­curs.

The last thing we need is to have this is­sue run into the new year. We have talked enough, there has been enough de­bate, al­most all of it civil and re­spect­ful, and every Aus­tralian who wanted to have a say has had one.

That over­whelm­ing weight of opin­ion, whether it is “Yes” or “No”, should be acted upon. It can be done in the com­ing few weeks and that is what should oc­cur. There are other is­sues the Aus­tralian peo­ple want this Par­lia­ment to act upon.

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