Opinion: A few days ago, Australia’s government committed to an informal postal vote for the inexplicably ongoing debate around marriage equality before holding a proper vote in parliament. It’s also one year since the ABS ruined the 2016 Census.
Remember the Australian Bureau of Statistics? You know, the government-run organisation that has such a great reputation after destroying the credibility and effectiveness of the Census with a series of extremely high profile server errors?
It’s extremely concerning to many that the ABS is being used by the government to organise and carry out the informal survey of Australian citizens, at a cost of $122 million, rather than to allow a vote on a government bill or private member’s bill to sort the matter out once and for all. The issues with a postal vote are many: it’s not a referendum, and by design it’s not going to accurately survey the entire Australian population nor a cross section of it.
Yesterday, the AEC received 68,000 electoral roll enrolments versus the average daily intake of 4000 — 17 times more than usual. People are mobilising in a big way to get ready for the marriage equality ballot. The AEC’s servers can handle it. I don’t have the same faith in the ABS to complete any task.
It’s not clear how Australians overseas will be able to vote. It’s not clear how thousands of silent electors, whose addresses are not on the electoral roll, will be able to vote. It’s not clear how younger Australians, under-represented in electoral rolls, will be able to vote equally as older Australians.
The precedent for the legality of the marriage equality vote is another question entirely — it’s a 1974 ring-around vote to change the national anthem responded to by just 60,000 households, which as precedents go is just mental — but even experts are mystified as to why the ABS, not the AEC, is running the postal vote.
As it stands, the ABS — an organisation without the expertise of the AEC, and with a reputation in tatters — will have a scant few months to organise and deliver on a hundred-million-dollar exercise of a massive scale. The last nationwide enterprise it undertook was a farce. You should be concerned.