Plebiscite a costly exercise from any angle

The late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that a democracy was the worst form of government – except for all the other types.

In a democracy, the majority rules.

Their needs are, for the most part, fulfilled.

That leaves little opportunity for minority groups to feel they have the ear of the ruling class or a representative voice at the highest level of government.

That’s exactly the situation that is playing out with the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

Without showing any real support, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made same-sex marriage a key election issue by pledging to hold a plebiscite in his next term if re-elected.

But a growing disdain for the plebiscite from within Labor, the Greens and the minor parties has seen that promise look shaky at best – if not dead in the water altogether.

In fact, the plebiscite appears to be already doomed, with the Opposition parties set to vote it down in the Senate – where the government doesn’t have the numbers to push through its legislation.

Instead, Labor would prefer the ruling Liberals give their members a conscious vote on SSM in both houses.

In reality though, with a strong Right faction pulling the strings from within, there’s virtually no chance of that happening. 

So unless Mr Turnbull can make certain concessions with other pieces of legislation to bring Labor back on board, the plebiscite for now looks dead in the water.

Ultimately that means that unless the Liberals can somehow swing the numbers in the Senate, there will be no vote on SSM at all during this federal election cycle.

Any chance of it succeeding after that will rely instead on Labor winning the next election or having enough numbers along with the minor parties in both houses.

Of course, even if a plebiscite is held some time before 2019 – the next expected date for a federal election – it won’t be binding, which has also been a bane of contention for many supportive of same-sex marriage.

Then there’s the sheer cost of the exercise – a staggering $160 million, which doesn’t include the $7.5 million in public funding allocated to both the no and yes campaigns this week.

Of course, none of this would be required if our federal politicians were simply allowed a conscience vote on the floor of parliament.

That’s the true definition of democracy.

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