Australian Plebiscite: An Appraisal of Democracy

Australian Plebiscite: An Appraisal of Democracy

Historic Australia…

December 7 is a historic day for Australia. It will remain so in the years to come. The country exults and celebrates; the public gallery of the Australian House of Representatives had erupted into a cacophony of overwhelming applause; the streets of Melbourne in front of the State Library became embroiled in the vivacious warmth of the rainbow flags and joyous cheers.

Indeed, on December 7, Australia passed a law, legalizing same-sex marriage. As the Sydney Morning Herald states, Malcolm Turnbull punched the very air in declaring the magnitude of the historic day, declaring ‘Australia has done it. What a day for love, for equality, for respect. This belongs to us all. This is Australia – fair, diverse, loving and filled with respect for every one of us. This has been a great, unifying day in our history.’

For, this day is not only a momentous shift in Australia’s burgeoning acceptance and state of non-discrimination but stands as the very bastion of democracy, heralding the values of equality and dialogue.

The lead up to the plebiscite was embroiled within an onslaught of bizarre and offensive campaigns. The ‘No’ campaign seemed entrenched within an intransigent battle against Australia’s progression towards equality. Publicised on the Melbourne Catholic website, Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart crafted an open letter, promulgating what he deemed the unequivocal Catholic position: “that marriage is a natural institution established by God to be a permanent union between one man and one woman, intended towards the formation of a family in which children are born and nurtured”.

In a further bizarre incident, the Guardian reports that conservatives condemned Macklemore for his performance of his hit Same Love at the National Rugby League (NRL) grand final, deeming it an inappropriate politicisation of Australian institutions. The plebiscite itself was a compromise for these anti-LGBTI groups, where the informality and voluntariness of the plebiscite in the form of the postal survey aimed to undermine its legal importance.

But despite the onslaught of obstinate intolerance and the bizarre public campaigns and the scornful conservatism, the plebiscite attained a ‘Yes’ vote of 61.6%. It demonstrated a country willing to persevere, willing to question the pervasively suffocating discourse of hate and nevertheless prevail.

In the plebiscite’s soaring participation rate of 81%, the Australian people have proven their tenacity for democracy, using the opportunity of the plebiscite to necessitate an interactive dialogue with the government and emphasizing their accountability. This is a country who has proven that the very best and most enduring social change can germinate from the hearts and minds of the people.

For, through the plebiscite, it was the people who were able to present an unmistakable, unequivocal mandate to their elected representatives: that free of their party constraints, the marriage law was imperative for Australia’s need for equality and dignity. It was the people who were able to use their voices and ensure the pertinence of the Australian Constitution, as John Howard’s prior amendment of the 1981 Marriage Act finally becomes nullified by the High Court.

December 7 is an exultation of the power of the people, a power that is integral to every democracy. Yet it simultaneously exults and calls for the people to do more, to continue upon their democratic trajectories and egalitarian missions: the people must ensure the continued efficacy of the Australian government in implementing the plebiscite and the continued protected rights of the LGBTI community,  for the very crux of democracy lies upon it.


About The Author

Isabella Wang

Isabella Wang is a writer, born and raised in Australia but currently residing in France. She specialises in politics and culture, but at heart of this her aim is to write, discover and truly understand the intricate narratives of the world around her in order to contribute to a greater discourse.

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