Australia: Attorney-General George Brandis Confirms Plebiscite


George Brandis

In an interview with Australian presenter, Fran Kelly  (Insiders 24th July) the Australian Attorney-General, George Brandis, confirms that the government wishes to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, “as soon as is practicable”, and will be recommending a compulsory vote. He will be taking a submission to cabinet in the coming weeks.

Below is the part of that interview which deals with the Australian marriage equality plebiscite:


FRAN KELLY: Minister, can I bring you to the plebiscite. You promised a plebiscite on same-sex marriage this year. Are you going to deliver on that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We want to have a plebiscite on same-sex marriage as soon as is practicable.

FRAN KELLY: When would that be?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I would like to see it happen before the end of this year, so would the Prime Minister. Whether it is practicable to do that is something about which we will be guided by the advice of the Australian Electoral Commission, which will of course have to consult the plebiscite. Now I spoke to my colleague[.] Senator Scott Ryan, the new Special Minister of State who has responsibility for the Australian Electoral Commission, as recently as yesterday. He is speaking this coming week to the Australian Electoral Commissioner to get some guidance as to how soon this can be done. But it’s the Government’s wish that it should be done as soon as practicable. If it can’t be done before the end of this year, it will certainly be done in the early part of next year.

FRAN KELLY: And how soon will we see the legislation that’s needed?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I will be taking a submission to Cabinet in coming weeks.

FRAN KELLY: It’s up to the Government to design the terms of the plebiscite. Can I just run you through a couple of elements? Will it be a compulsory vote?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, that is what I will be recommending to the Cabinet, yes.

FRAN KELLY: Will that result be counted as a simple national majority or be electorate by electorate?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that the plebiscite should be conducted as closely as possible to the manner in which, for example, a constitutional referendum is conducted, except, of course, that there wouldn’t be a double majority. So that there will be the normal reporting requirements…. The

FRAN KELLY: So States will be –

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There will be the normal reporting requirements.

FRAN KELLY: So electorates and States or just States?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I would envisage, subject to the advice of the Electoral Commissioner, that there will be electorate by electorate reporting.

FRAN KELLY: What about the question itself? Some suggest you could just use the terms of the amendment to the Marriage Act as the question and therefore it passes simple majority and it immediately passes…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is a conversation I will have with my Cabinet colleagues but my strong view, and having spoken to stakeholders who represent both the ‘Yes’ and the ‘No’ side of the argument, I think this is commonly accepted, the question should be as simple and as self[-]explanatory as possible.

FRAN KELLY: And what about funding? Will there be public funding?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: If there’s to be public funding, and that’s a matter the Cabinet will have to make a decision about, but if there is to be public funding it obviously should be equal between the ‘Yes’ and the ‘No’ case.

FRAN KELLY: And Bill Shorten said yesterday he still wants to see it decided by vote on the floor of the House but he wants to talk to the Prime Minister about trying to ensure the tone of the plebiscite, if there is one, does not become ugly and hateful.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think…look, we’re going to have a plebiscite. The only way forward to progress this issue is to now to have a plebiscite. That was the policy that the Government took to the election, it was endorsed by the public. There is opinion poll evidence to show that that option is overwhelmingly favoured by the public. So there is going to be a plebiscite and the only way that in this Parliament this issue can be progressed is through a plebiscite. Now, I think that Mr Shorten has to resist the temptation to play politics with this. I welcome the remarks that he made in his press conference yesterday when he said that he wanted to have an intelligent discussion with the Prime Minister. I know the Prime Minister, with whom I have spoken in the last little while, wants to have a discussion with Mr Shorten. So I think that if the political leaders can take the politics out of this, if Mr Shorten and the Labor Party can resist the temptation to try and use this as an opportunity to embarrass the Government, but rather ask themselves the question – how are we most likely now to progress this issue to a satisfactory conclusion, we can arrive at a common point”.


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