COMMENT: Confused about same-sex marriage survey?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a press conference on same sex marriage at Parliament House on August 8. Photo: Andrew Meares
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a press conference on same sex marriage at Parliament House on August 8. Photo: Andrew Meares

There are a lot of adjectives being thrown around in relation to the postal vote on same sex marriage.

Many aren’t repeatable here.

Let’s also put aside all the really creative adjectives about the estimated $120million cost to do this, and take a look at this one. Confusion.

The survey is to be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – the team that brought you Census 2016. Remember this is a survey and not a vote – your answer is voluntary and many have questioned whether our federal parliamentarians will even listen if we do answer.

The ABS is tasked with collecting, analysing and disseminating statistical information. It has significant expertise in collecting factual information of immense value to governments and researchers. But it has never run an opinion poll of this kind.

The closest precedent occurred more than 40 years ago. In 1974, the ABS conducted a telephone survey of 60,000 Australians asking for their preferences on the national anthem.

But that is altogether different from the massive logistical exercise of administering a postal ballot for 15 million voters on a contentious social issue.

Even the basic task of sending out ballot papers will not be straightforward. Unlike the Australian Electoral Commission, the ABS does not have direct access to the electoral roll.

Potentially, the AEC could refuse the Bureau access to the roll given a poll on marriage is not about collecting statistics. But even if it did grant access, not every eligible voter is listed on the electoral roll. And will it be feasible for the ABS to send survey forms to all eligible voters who reside overseas (embassies, researchers etc)?

Some things we do know for sure (other than the questionable legitimacy and ethics of the whole exercise).

To participate in the survey you need to be correctly enrolled by August 24 – and that’s with the AEC, not the ABS. 

If you voted in the last election and haven’t changed your address, you are already enrolled. There is no specific enrolment for the same sex marriage survey. You can check your current electoral enrolment by entering your details at check.aec.gov.au.

And if you’ve changed your address since you last voted? Take a breath. It’s easy to update your details in just a few quick steps. Visit the AEC website, aec.gov.au – before August 24.

- with extracts from Paul Kildea, UNSW Law School, originally published on The Conversation