Australia’s equal marriage vote will be ‘hate speech bonanza’ as campaign laws don’t apply

Equal marriage in Ireland

A planned postal vote on equal marriage in Australia will not be subject to rules that prohibit malicious or misleading campaign materials.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to push ahead with plans to put equal marriage to a public vote this week, despite the Senate blocking plans for a formal plebiscite.

same-sex marriage rally in Sydney, Australia

(Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

In a bid to circumvent Parliament, Mr Turnbull has given the green light to an informal ‘postal vote’ of Australians, which will be advisory and non-binding in nature.

As the postal vote is set to go ahead without Parliamentary approval, it will not be subject to the laws that govern elections – including those that restrict misleading campaign materials.

The vote will be carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which means it will not be regulated under Commonwealth Electoral Act rules..

LGBT campaigners have warned that this means that the anti-gay marriage campaign will be essentially free to peddle outright mistruths and homophobic smears with little recourse when the vote goes ahead.

Campaign materials from the anti-LGBT Australian Marriage Forum already describes equal marriage as “stealing children” from straight people.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten told the PM: “I hold you responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash – not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because he agrees to it, he clearly doesn’t. But because the Prime Minister has licensed this debate.”

The government does not plan to publish a draft of the equal marriage bill before asking the public to vote on it.

Meanwhile, a legal challenge has been filed in a bid to block the vote.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) commenced proceedings in the High Court, seeking to stop the government proceeding with the postal vote on same sex marriage.

PIAC is representing Andrew Wilkie, Member for Denison, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Felicity Marlowe, a mother in a same-sex relationship with three young children.

Marlowe, a mother in a same-sex relationship with three young children.

PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor said: “We will be arguing that by going ahead without the authorisation of parliament, the government is acting beyond its power.”

“We will argue that the government cannot validly undertake a postal vote and also that it cannot fund the exercise without parliamentary approval.”

“These are important issues about the way that power is exercised by governments and the role of parliament in our democracy.”

PFLAG National Spokesperson, Shelley Argent, said: “PFLAG is taking this case because the parents of LGBTI Australians don’t want to see our children subject to such a demeaning, hate-filled and pointless vote that will go nowhere and resolve nothing.”

Felicity Marlowe said: “I am worried about the impact the public campaign will have in my children, on my partner and all rainbow families across Australia.

“It will be a full-time occupation for the next three months for my partner and I to protect my children from the flyers delivered to our home stating that ‘children need a mother and a father – so vote no to marriage equality’, or to stop them seeing any billboards or posters in our local shopping centre or along the major roads we take to school every morning.”

Andrew Wilkie said: “I have consistently advocated against executive overreach of the kind we see with the postal vote on marriage equality. Parliament should decide if, when and how the people are consulted, and how it’s paid for.”