Vox Popping the Question

Friday October 06, 2017 Written by Genevieve

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Listen up, Plebeians! This is Democracy callin’. If you’re reading this in Australia, chances are you’ve been hearing a lot of the word plebiscite lately. Not to be confused with plimsoll (an old-fashioned canvas gym shoe) or Plibersek (that’s the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party who gave a killer speech in parliament about the plebiscite and why we should just legislate for marriage equality already). 

But what exactly is a plebiscite? Turns out, it’s basically a glorified vox pop which is not legally or politically binding in any way. There haven’t been too many of these in Australia’s history. There was one back in the First World War about whether we should have conscription, and in 1977 there was one to help decide what our national anthem should be. (Spoiler alert: Song Of Australia lost.)

The other giant national opinion poll comes in the form of a referendum, which is enforceable and would result in constitutional change – but parliament already has the power to change marriage laws (they did it in 2004), so we don't need to pull out the big guns for that to happen. 

For a snappy run-down of the last three (aka the only other) plebiscites held in Australia, head to this SBS feature. And to put this whole ‘debate’ in context, read the compelling article 'A History of Marriage in Australia' by Rodney Croome, reminding us that only a generation ago it was Aboriginal people who were being denied rights to marry.

Image: Charis Tsevis