As Australians prepare to have their say about whether same-sex marriage should be legalised, the future of the relevant law continues to remain clouded.
One of the big question marks over the Australian Marriage Law Postal Vote, which is being run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, comes from the fact it is not compulsory, which will make the turn-out critical.
The postal survey is not binding so politicians can still vote against legalising same-sex marriage even if people vote Yes.
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes the result will be respected in Parliament.
“If the postal vote is carried, the legalisation of same-sex marriage will sail through the Parliament, believe me,” he told 2DayFM.
If the postal vote goes against any change the matter will most likely be pushed aside until the next election.
Had the Federal Government’s original plan to hold a compulsory voting plebiscite, a policy it took to the 2016 election, been passed earlier this year, then Parliament would have already given the OK to new laws.
Labour, the Greens and some Independent Senators voted against a plebiscite leading to the government holding the postal vote at a cost of around $122 million.
There are currently two High Court challenges to the postal survey, which will be heard side-by-side on September 5 and 6 in Melbourne.
Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for National Security, who voted with Labour against the compulsory vote plebiscite, believes there is a 50/50 chance the High Court will allow the survey to go ahead.
While it’s not clear when the court will hand down its decision it’s expected to be quickly as the surveys are due to be mailed from September 12.
The two challenges were filed almost within an hour of each other and are being fought on similar grounds.
The Human Rights Law Centre, representing Australian Marriage Equality and Greens Senator Janet Rice has brought forward one case.
The other case is being fought by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, representing Andrew Wilkie MP, Felicity Marlowe and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Brisbane Inc.
They argue the survey should be scrapped because the government doesn’t have the right to spend the $122 million it has now allocated to the ballot because it wasn’t approved by parliament.
They say the government also stretched the rules by enlisting the Australian Bureau of Statistics to run the survey.
There is another cloud over the result with debate over how much of the population would need to respond to the survey (that’s where the non-compulsory nature of the survey comes in) in order to make the result legitimate.
Mr Dreyfus said assuming the High Court doesn’t stop the survey, he hoped the return was more than 50 per cent.
“It’s not going to have much worth if it’s only 10 per cent or 15 per cent of people participating,” he told ABC TV.
A postal ballot in 1997 to decide whether there should be a Constitutional Convention, got a turnout of 46.92 per cent.
The basic time-line for the postal survey:
August 24: Electoral roll closed. (The Australian Electoral Commission says that there are still around 800,000 people who are estimated to be ‘missing’ from the electoral roll.)
September 12: Start of mail-out.
October 11: Requests for replacement surveys closes.
October 27: The date voters are strongly encouraged to post their form back by. (It comes with a reply paid envelope, so no excuses.)
November 7: Responses received after this date won’t be processed.
November 15: Result released.
The most recent published poll (by Essential) on the issue, found 57 per cent of voters favoured changing marriage laws, while 32 per cent were opposed.
That’s a lead for the yes campaign but the figures are down on polling conducted in 2014 by Australian Marriage Equality that found as many as 72 per cent of voters favoured the change.
Australian Marriage Law Survey Information Line is also open 7 days a week, 8am – 8pm (local time). Call 1800 572 113