The government’s decision to fund the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns for gay marriage demolishes its argument that the plebiscite is a chance for the Australian people to voice their conscience.
On Tuesday we learned that Cabinet has decided to give $7.5 million of taxpayer funds to both sides.
This is false balance. We know from surveys that many more Australians support than oppose gay marriage. Equal funding is thus unequally weighted.
The wording is skewed as well. The plebiscite will reportedly ask: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The mention of ‘changing the law’ is a tactic to throw doubt into the minds of voters naturally wary of any legal changes.
To give any money to the campaigns is to accept they are necessary – that the Australian people need to be educated, even persuaded, of the merits of either side. You could say that is not democracy. It’s marketing.
We have heard conservative after conservative argue that all Australians deserve the right to vote according to their deeply-held religious, political and social views. So why then do we need funding? To remind them of these deeply-held views?
What it exposes is the hope among conservative opponents of change that a public debate will sway public opinion. It is not a survey, but propaganda.
Conservatives do not truly believe there is a silent majority of Australians waiting to vote no. Polling tells them otherwise. What they hope is that there is a portion of ‘Yes’ voters who can be scared or swayed.
The ‘No’ campaign will buy, with taxpayer dollars, ads that show grandparents celebrating their golden jubilee. Or a frightened child calling gay sex ‘yuck’. Or a ‘reformed’ gay person saying he/she found God after decades of drug use and random hook-ups. Or a conservative academic who says children need a mummy and a daddy. Or a conservative movie star imploring Australians to ‘vote with their hearts’.
The plebiscite has always been a Trojan horse. It is not a genuine exercise of free speech and democracy. It is a calculated ploy to pull voters into the conservative camp – with the use of public funds.
There are many issues that should not be decided by voters. Brexit. The setting of official interest rates. A nation’s military and diplomatic strategy.
The legal right of thousands of Australians to enter into a legal contract with other human beings for mutual happiness and the rearing of children is another.
This right should be discovered by courts and enshrined by Parliaments, not propagandised with TV ads, billboards, celebrity endorsements and appeals to Higher Powers and baser instincts.