Commentary

Article

The plebiscite problem

13 Sep 2016
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Like much else in the forty-fifth parliament’s infancy, the same-sex marriage plebiscite has become hostage to the dynamics of contemporary politics: a weakened prime minister, a ferociously oppositional federal opposition led by a man also less than secure in his job, and a large, attention-craving Senate crossbench. As with last week’s big topic, political finance, it’s all about posturing and point-scoring.

Yes and no case funding has now, somehow, become a sticking point, but it is surely a sideshow. The real problem is the holding of the referendum itself. (Like everyone outside this country, I use “referendum” and “plebiscite” interchangeably; a plebiscite/referendum can be either constitutional or non-constitutional. You may employ the peculiar, and quite recently evolved, Australian distinction if you wish.) The fact that it is unnecessary and non-binding drives its layers of dysfunction.

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