A plebiscite is a national vote, initiated by the federal government, on a particular topic. Unlike with a referendum, the government does not have to act on the results of the plebiscite – that is, if the majority vote for one thing, the government can do the opposite.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would like to hold a plebiscite (vote) on whether Australia should legally allow same-sex marriage. This sounds like a sensible option for gauging the opinion of the Australian public; however, a number of issues have been pointed out.

  1. Extensive polling by different groups has already found that as much as 70% of the Australian population is in favour of gay marriage. [Source]
  2. Even if the plebiscite is held and the majority of voters want same-sex marriage, the government can still choose not to legalize it.
  3. The plebiscite, if carried out, is expected to cost $160 million – a high price for a vote which may not yield satisfactory results. [Source]

Those who are opposed to the plebiscite say that parliament should be allowed to conduct a “free” or “conscience” vote: that is, a each member of parliament can vote according to what they believe, rather than be bound by what their party as a whole believes.

There is support on both sides of this issue: those who say there should be a plebiscite, and those who say there should be a free vote in parliament. As yet, no decision has been made either way.

If you would like to have a say, contact your local federal MP and let them know what you think.