Marriage Plebiscite Will Cost Us Half A Billion, But It’s Already Taxing Coward Turnbull’s Credibility


OPINION: In Turnbull’s great government of thrift, it’s hard to believe… the Coalition wants to slug taxpayers with a direct cost of $224 million to allow homophobes within the Liberal and National parties to enjoy a spate of hate speech, and a plebiscite they’re refusing to honour.

Taking the question of marriage equality to the electorate, a majority of whom we already know support equal rights, will drain another $281 million in indirect costs.

Like marriage itself, the plebiscite pans out to be a costly exercise: All told, we’re picking up a $525 million bill for a handful of far-right conservatives’ love-in with inequality.

Those are the figures arrived at by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and published in Fairfax Media this morning.

The Fairfax stories also carry some remarkably strong quotes from the respected business accountancy firm’s Chief Executive Officer, Luke Sayer. This whole unconscionable business of a plebiscite, Sayer said, is “a massive waste of time and money”.

It’s an increasingly indulgent exercise. An unfortunate hangover from Tony Abbott’s dying days as Prime Minister. And more importantly, a key component of the vicious, ignorant and bigoted brand of conservatism that’s run rings around Turnbull’s Prime Ministership for exactly six months today.

No amount of Mardi Gras marching can change that. No matter how Turnbull smirkingly-spins or suavely-spruiks, a plebiscite has no real purpose outside of placating Abbott, Eric Abetz, and the rest of the dinosaurs snapping at Turnbull’s heels


It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: they hate the gays. They think our lives and who we love are part-and-parcel of some ‘cultural marxist’ putsch, whatever that is.

The fact that these nasty wedding crashers’ views are firmly in the minority only makes the shady arguments they’re trying to prosecute more flailingly bizarre. By hijacking their most sacred of cows, the subliminal intimation inevitably goes, we are somehow insinuating our deviant and delinquent ‘lifestyle choices’ on them.

The plebiscite is a flimsy smoke-screen designed to provide enough cover for them to run a range of wild and irrational arguments about the real meaning of marriage equality. I think it’s pretty clear no man’s asking to marry Cory Bernardi or George Christensen, though. The real problem they have is with the ‘mainstreaming’ of homosexuality.

The plebiscite has always been a stalling tactic. No other country in the fast-growing list – which now includes America, New Zealand, and France – has needed to go outside of its Parliament to legislate for marriage equality unless they needed to change their constitution.

Instead, it was the brain-child of a failed priest trying to stave off this inevitable reform, and one brought about by actually stacking the Liberal’s own party room meeting. In August last year, Abbott invited the National party, which is particularly out of touch with voters on this issue, to come in and help him fabricate the argument for a plebiscite.

It worked, and as a result of this dying act in his loveless Prime Ministership, the Liberal Party is now riven with divisions. Over the weekend, Karen Middleton explored these ructions in the Saturday Paper, with pro-equality MP Warren Entsch openly spraying his colleagues.

Why? A cabal of Liberal MPs like Andrew Nikolic, Eric Abetz and Andrew Hastie are refusing to accept the outcome of the plebiscite their far-right fringe engineered. They want to have their plebiscite cake and eat it too, by voting against same sex marriage in the parliament even if the public says ‘I do’.

(IMAGE: Guillame Paumier, Flickr)
(IMAGE: Guillame Paumier, Flickr)

Notwithstanding its apparent pointlessness, it’s pretty high-farce that even bloody PricewaterhouseCoopers is weighing in to warn that the plebiscite will do more harm than good.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the firm – normally pretty popular with figures on the far-right – reckons the plebiscite will end up “leading to high levels of social tension, discrimination, mental health and mood disorders”.

That shouldn’t bother Mardi Gras Malcolm, who’s been perfectly happy to see gay kids’ right to equality trashed as the same mob of warped conservatives who demanded the plebiscite stalk the Safe Schools programme.

In a similar vein to the marriage equality argument, what they’re really challenging is the core message of the Safe Schools programme – the apparently-dangerous sentiment that it’s ‘okay to be gay’.

Like so many of the deals done when he scalped Abbott, Turnbull has simply, spinelessly rolled over. He’s quietly allowed both of these prejudiced attacks by his colleagues. They will have their witch hunt! They will dance for months around the burning pyres of the rational debate! And if they don’t, they’ll set about further undermining Turnbull’s position.

So we can expect more along the lines of Bernardi’s ‘gay marriage will lead to legalised beastiality’ and other hateful non-sequiturs like it. It’s one part of Turnbull’s unholy deal with these (usually) ostensibly Christian devils. He will stay mum, and we will fork out more than $500 million to fund the real freak show.

It’s a little sad that at this point, valuing the cost of maintaining discrimination is being trundled out as an argument against it. Especially given the lowest ebbs are quite obviously yet to come, in the run-up campaigns to the plebiscite vote. What makes it sadder, though, is that Turnbull, a previously loud champion of marriage equality, is providing the moral silence that will allow hate to flourish.

He promised to be a responsible economic rudder, but he’s blowing half a billion on his sniping colleagues’ right to bigotry. In the shadow of PricewaterhouseCooper’s costings, the words of former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennet seem most prescient.

“If Malcolm had any courage he would have simply stood up and said: ‘I’m going to put this through the parliament,’” Kennet told radio 2UE last week. “What he’s saying now [is]‘This decision, this policy position, was decided by Tony Abbott and we’re going to stay with it.’

“…Why is he supporting this one now? Because of a lack of courage.”

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.