The High Court Gives The All Clear

Source: Archer Magazine

Australia’s highest court has ruled the same-sex marriage postal survey can go ahead.

The High Court has heard a two-day challenge, advising the public of its ruling during Question Time in Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

Attorney-General George Brandis announced the High Court’s awaited verdict, dismissing the two sets of rulings giving the green light to the Federal Government’s $122 million survey.

Senator Brandis told the Senate and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that this conclusion was “what the government expected and is consistent with the advice provided to the government by the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, Dr. Stephen Donaghue”.

Despite heaving a sigh of relief, Mr. Turnbull urged the Australian people to have their say and fill out the same-sex marriage (SSM) postal surveys:

“Lucy and I will be voting yes and I will be encouraging others to vote yes, but…above all, I encourage every Australian to have their say because unlike the leader of the opposition I respect every Australian’s view on this matter,” Mr Turnbull said.

Following the rejection of a compulsory plebiscite on SSM twice from the Senate, the Government announced this survey last month.

The court sitting in Melbourne on Tuesday and Wednesday heard two promoters of the “yes” campaign opposing the Turnbull government’s planned voluntary postal survey on SSM.

The two parties challenging at the High Court were:

  • Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, represented by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and LGBTI rights advocates Felicity Marlow and PFLAG Brisbane
  • The Human Rights Law Centre who have taken on the challenge on behalf of Australian Marriage Equality and Senator Janet Rice

Both legal teams are said to be working together closely. 

The parties challenging the validity of the postal survey argued that the government should not have bypassed Parliament in funding it.

They also expressed on Tuesday that the postal vote will cause homophobia and humiliation by asking the Australian public to assess the legitimacy of gay relationships.

On Wednesday 6th September proposals were heard from the Commonwealth defending the plans for the survey and whether it is lawful to allocate the money from a fund set aside for “urgent” and “unforeseen” matters. 

The Government maintained the appropriation of money was valid because the survey met the definition of unforeseen and urgent

Despite pressure for the High Court to deliver a quick verdict as the postal surveys are to begin mailing in less than a week, the verdict was postponed until Thursday afternoon.

During the second day of the hearing, Canberra hosted the National Press Club Australia, which were led by panellists from the Equality Campaign Director: Tiernan Brady, alongside the Australian Marriage Equality Co-chair: Jeanine Middleton.

Mr. Brady argued that Parliament needs to do their job, and the LGBTQI community should receive “the same status and standing in law as everyone else”.

“There’s a determination among people…people are exasperated that this hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Whether this postal survey is a success or a failure, Mr. Brady says these marriage equality advocates will not stop this campaign.   

“This is decades of bravery, people coming out and talking about their lives…

“It’s not merely an issue, this is about people’s dignity,” he said.

Mr. Brady has faith in the Australian public, using the figures of over one million new enrolments or updating of addresses as an example to demonstrate that “people understand”.

Jeanine Middleton advised that this debate is “not about political correctness”.

Mr. Brady and Ms. Middleton concluded that once Australian households receive this postal ballot in the mail they should fill it out and send it back straight away.

Following the High Court’s verdict, The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will start mailing out survey letters to 16 million registered Australian’s next Tuesday, September 12.

The opposition argued that using the ABS to accumulate opinions was unprecedented.  

Given the Government’s decision to put the ABS in charge, it has gone from a plebiscite to a mere survey.  

The question on the survey forms will ask:

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Yes or No.

Voting is voluntary, but the ABS is “strongly” encouraging people to return their forms by Friday, October 27, however, the deadline is 6pm on Tuesday, November 7.

The ABS will take a week following the deadline to conduct a count, with the result scheduled to be declared on Wednesday November 15.  


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