Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has backed a voluntary postal vote on the issue of marriage equality as a way of keeping the Coalition’s promise to hold a public vote on the reform, but marriage equality campaigners have rejected the idea.
Mr Dutton told radio station 2GB on Thursday: “Lots of us are working together to find a sensible approach [to marriage equality] through this Parliament.”
“We’ve got to deal with the reality of the Senate, knocking back the plebiscite,” he said, pointing to the concept of a voluntary “postal vote” polling voters on the reform instead.
The reported plan would involve the Australian Electoral Commission mailing out ballots to voters who could return them if they wished.
The postal poll wouldn’t require legislation, and would sidestep the Senate where the government’s plebiscite legislation was blocked last November.
“We went to the last election with a policy saying that we support the current definition of marriage and that if there was to be a change we would need to go to a plebiscite,” Mr Dutton told 2GB.
“The plebiscite was a very clear and deliberate proposal within our election promise and we shouldn’t break that promise.”
But when word of the postal vote first emerged on Monday, marriage equality campaigners immediately slammed the idea as “desperate” and “sneaky,” and MPs admitted that bypassing the Senate could result in public anger.
Veteran campaigner Rodney Croome said the new plan would be an even worse scenario than the original plebiscite, because it involve less parliamentary oversight “of the question, the campaigns for and against the proposition, or the voting procedure.”
“Another problem is that a vote run entirely through the post could favour older voters and disenfranchise younger ones, further skewing the results against marriage equality,” he said.
“The current plebiscite proposal wouldn’t just be easy to rig, it would be inherently rigged.”
Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who is gay, said on Tuesday he wants a free vote on the issue in this term of parliament.
“My personal and strong view is that it’s time for us to look at a free vote,” he said.
“I think that the important thing is that people understand our resolve to see this issue dealt with.”