A voluntary postal vote is now the most likely avenue for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Australia.
It is not the preferred option of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government – they will again strive to get a compulsory plebiscite (public vote) through the Senate this week.
But that is destined to failure given it was defeated last year.
So the government’s fall-back position is to facilitate a voluntary postal vote which could be issued as soon as September 12 and finish on November 15 – at an estimated cost of $122 million.
In either case, the result of a national vote, whether voluntary or compulsory, would be known by November 25.
The decision to try push a plebiscite through parliament again came after a Coalition party room meeting this morning and an emergency meeting of Liberal MPs yesterday.
A majority “yes” postal vote would trigger a free vote of Liberal MPs in parliament; a “no” verdict would rule this out.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the cost of a postal plebiscite would be $122 million and it would be conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics instead of the Australian Electoral Commission.
He said he was confident of the legal basis for a postal ballot, and that he could appropriate up to $295 million for the vote.
However, Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich said the vote was “well beyond a joke” and activists have threatened an immediate court challenge to that move, which could cost between $40 million and $100 million.