8 Things We Could Fund for $122m That Aren’t Marriage Equality Plebiscites

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There’s probably 122 million ways to better spend the money Malcolm Turnbull is planning to blow on the marriage equality plebiscite. Matt Steyn weighs in with eight of them.

The Coalition government is making yet another decision that is publicising Australia’s lack of progression to the world, and it’s all rather embarrassing. While it’s cringe-worthy now that a postal plebiscite is being considered, retrospectively it’ll almost certainly read like an avoidable, unnecessary saga in our slow march toward equality.

Malcolm Turnbull has become the clear target for this one, and that’s probably fair. He hasn’t been able to break or negotiate a parliamentary deadlock and the situation has spiralled. Meanwhile, Tony Abbott and his insufferable rhetoric on, well, pretty much everything is being a general pain in everyone’s neck.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Current research suggests that a significant portion – at least two-thirds – of Australians are pro-marriage equality, yet a postal plebiscite still seems likely. In an attempt to gauge national opinion, the ABS will roll out a voluntary ballot over two months that won’t be constitutionally binding and will detract from a social narrative decades in the making.

It’s all quite bleak. There is no upside. The plebiscite is legally shaky, will almost completely ignore marginalised groups, is already creating exceptionally divisive conversations, and will merely arm the major parties with another baton with which to beat each other.

Arguably, the worst part is that it’s going to cost $122 million. That’s a ridiculous amount of taxpayer money for something that few want, and is an awful idea for all of the reasons above. In other words, it’s a complete waste.

$122 million is a difficult number to quantify. What could you actually buy or do with that amount of taxpayer funds? Well, here are some examples of where we could better allocate them.

 

school kids, new matilda
(IMAGE: marco antonio torres, Flickr)

1. Send 1, 778 Kids to School (pre-school to 12)

That’s right, we could get over 1,700 children from their first day of pre-school through year 12 graduation (cue: Vitamin C – ‘Friends Forever’) in a government school. If we rolled that funding out now, by the time those kids get to high school, we’ll be teaching them all about the social inequalities visited upon the LGBTI community in history class.

 

Dr Christine Jeffries-Stokes and her Co-Chief Investigator, Annette Stokes showing a child the kidney health story. (IMAGE: Poppy Van Old Granger)
Dr Christine Jeffries-Stokes and her Co-Chief Investigator, Annette Stokes showing a child the kidney health story. (IMAGE: Poppy Van Old Granger)

2. Pay for 1,564,102 GP visits

Over 21 million people in Australia see a GP every year, so this one makes a lot of sense. We could get 25% of retirees to their local doctor or all of infants under the age of four. If that doesn’t work, $122m could pay for the vaccination of about 200,000 people. Sorry, anti-vaxxers.

 

A screencap from John Pilger's film Utopia. Lurid and sensationalised reporting by the ABC's Lateline program played a key role in paving the way for the NT Intervention.
A screencap from John Pilger’s film Utopia. Lurid and sensationalised reporting by the ABC’s Lateline program played a key role in paving the way for the NT Intervention.

3. Fund the ABC for 6 Weeks

The ABC is a world-class media institution and provides our nation with everything from entertainment to news, to the absolutely legendary Tony Jones on Q&A every week. More than that, it forms a part of our national identity. Six weeks might not sound like a lot, but it seems like money better spent.

 

Vasectomy-Doctor

4. Graduate 500+ Doctors or 2,500 Teachers

While uni is not cheap for anyone involved, we could get a serious amount of medical students through their tertiary education for $122m. Alternatively, we could graduate 2,500 teachers, or pay the salary of around 3,300 minimum wage workers.

 

Leading Seaman Aviation Support Justin Prasad directs HMNZS Canterbury's NH90 helicopter to land on HMAS Canberra's flight deck during Exercise Talisman Sabre. (IMAGE: LSIS Helen Frank, Department of Defence)
Leading Seaman Aviation Support Justin Prasad directs HMNZS Canterbury’s NH90 helicopter to land on HMAS Canberra’s flight deck during Exercise Talisman Sabre. (IMAGE: LSIS Helen Frank, Department of Defence)

5. Fund Military Expenditure for just over a day

That’s right, our annual military expenditure for 2017-18 will be a whopping $34.6 billion, making us the 12th largest spender in the sector internationally. So, $122m would only get us almost 31 hours’ worth. This is another conversation on exorbitant public spending in and of itself. But regardless of where you stand on the military, it’s probably still more useful than a postal plebiscite.

 

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: Veni, Flickr).
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: Veni, Flickr).

6. Pay Malcolm Turnbull’s Salary for 235 Years

Yeah nah. Look, I’m not sure anyone would think this is a good idea other than Malcolm himself. But, we could pay the base salary of the House of Representatives for around 4 years, or alternatively pay for Pauline, Tony and Cory to take a nice, long trip somewhere far, far away.

 

(IMAGE: moises.gonzalez, Flickr)
(IMAGE: moises.gonzalez, Flickr)

7. Cover 100% of the 2017 National Mental Health Budget

Outside of the NDIS, the government pledged $106m to mental health in the 2017-18 budget. That covers rebates for mental healthcare, suicide prevention programs (e.g. Lifeline), telehealth for regional children, and research. We’d even have an extra $16m to invest in a sector that’s surprisingly undervalued.

 

The No Pride In Detention float, at the 2016 Mardi Gras in Sydney.
The No Pride In Detention float, at the 2016 Mardi Gras in Sydney.

8. Fund Sydney Mardi Gras for 152 Years

The city of Sydney and the NSW Government gives around $800,000 to Sydney Mardi Gras each year. Based on that, we could use $122m to support it for a long, long time. Because, after all of this, it seems like the least we could do.

 

Regardless of how we may feel about the plebiscite, it’s still an opportunity to have our voices heard on an issue that shouldn’t really be an issue at all. If it’s going to come down to this, we may as well do it right. You can find all the information you need on enrolling to vote here.

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Matt Steyn

Matt is a freelance writer, communications professional, and an amateur political commentator. His main areas of interest are foreign policy, education, and public health.

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