Former High Court judge and longtime marriage equality advocate Michael Kirby has dismissed the government’s postal plebiscite as “unacceptable”.
“This isn’t a plebiscite now, it’s a completely novel, voluntary, non-binding, non-compulsory vote of a few citizens,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday morning.
“It’s just something we’ve never done in our constitutional arrangements, and it really is unacceptable.”
Mr Kirby argued the proposed postal vote, in which the Australian Bureau of Statistics will survey the public via Australia Post, would be “irregular”, “unscientific” and “completely ineffective” and should be abandoned by the government.
“I find it unacceptable because it is not the participation of the Australian people,” he said.
“The Australian people can either participate in a referendum of all the people or they can participate through parliament.
“The usual way we do law making in this country is in parliament. That’s what should be done.”
Kirby, who is gay, said he felt he was “not being respected” and pointed to previous legal reforms advancing indigenous or women’s rights in Australia that were done without such a poll.
“It’s just a complete political improvisation and it’s completely unacceptable and it should stop,” he said.
“I feel as a citizen that I’m being treated in a second class way.”
Under the plan, voters would begin receiving postal ballots from September 12 and a result would be declared by November 15, enabling a parliamentary vote before the end of the year.
Kirby told Fairfax Media he and partner Johan van Vloten both planned to boycott the postal vote, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull encouraged everyone to take part.
“Our policy is clear. We will not facilitate the introduction of a private members’ bill on this matter unless the Australian people have given their support through a ‘yes’ vote through this national vote,” Turnbull said.
“I encourage every Australian to exercise their right to vote on this matter. It’s an important question. Everyone will get an opportunity to have their say.
“In any debate, there will be statements made that are offensive, which many will regard as extreme, which many regard as wrong.
“I will be encouraging Australians to vote yes. Others will encourage them to vote no. I encourage every participant in the debate to act with responsibility and respect for the other side.”
Treasurer Scott Morrison told Channel Seven’s Sunrise that the postal vote’s estimated $122 million price tag was “money well spent,” given it keeps the government’s commitment to a plebiscite at the last election.
But marriage equality campaigners said this week they would initiate a High Court challenge to stop the vote, which they say is unconstitutional according to legal advice they’d received and would be a “platform for hate” against the LGBTI community.