A Senate committee examining the three-month period marriage law postal survey process has recommended similar public votes on minority human rights issues should not be held again.
The committee’s chair, Labor senator Jenny McAllister, tabled the report on Tuesday and while it largely commended the Australian Bureau of Statistics for its facilitation of the vote, it was scathing in its criticism of the public debate during the three month campaign period.
The committee wrote in the report they had “received evidence from a large number of submitters about offensive and misleading behaviour and material that has been deeply distressing to the LGBTIQ community and highly divisive within the community more broadly.”
“It is the committee’s view that this behaviour and material is a direct result of the postal survey process and would not have occurred had the parliament simply debated and voted on legislation to legalise same-sex marriage,” the report reads.
“Divisions exposed during the postal survey process have left some in the LGBTIQ community distrustful and isolated within their own neighbourhoods and communities.”
McAllister told the Senate that while the committee was happy with the passage of marriage equality they were disappointed about how it was achieved.
“The government’s approach was that it was more concerned in resolving its own internal political problems than it was in delivering a good policy result for any of the affected groups, or indeed for the Australian community as a whole,” McAllister said.
“A non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey has never been used previously to inform parliamentary processes on a matter of human rights for a minority group.
“It is the committee’s view that it should not be used in this way in the future.
“The government was warned repeatedly about the problems that might arise if a plebiscite was initiated and, indeed, if the survey was initiated, and specifically about the problems that would arise in terms of hateful material being directed at the LGBTIQ community.
“All of the warnings proved to be correct.”
In submissions to the inquiry, a number of LGBTIQ groups revealed for the first time the extent of anti-gay abuse they’d endured during the survey campaign.
But the government senators on the committee, David Fawcett and James Paterson, wrote that the report raised “no substantive issues in relation to the conduct” of the postal survey.
“While government senators acknowledge that there were instances of people disseminating offensive material, it is our view that in overwhelming numbers, Australians who participated in the debate did so in a courteous and respectful manner,” the senators stated in the report.
“Public debate can be healthy, constructive and help the community come to terms with changes in social mores.
“The government’s preference was to have the issue of same-sex marriage decided by a compulsory attendance plebiscite.
“However, the Labor and Greens parties, rather than working with the Government, chose to be play politics and block the government’s bills which would have provided [a plebiscite].
“Although the Marriage Law Postal Survey was an unusual exercise held in special circumstances, it was a most appropriate solution given the need to test the public mandate for a major social change.”
The report can be read in full on the committee’s website here.