The ABS Is Delivering The Marriage Equality Vote, And You Should Be Concerned

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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.

Please check your enrolment. If you're not enrolled, please do so.

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.



    How in gods name can a survey cost $122 million. Who is getting this money?

      Surveys commonly cost ~$40 per response. In this case, assuming ~50% response rate of all eligible voters (~15.9million), that's about 7.9 million responses. 7.9 million x $40 = $316 million.

      Bloody politicians are getting this $122 million money , I guess.

      Charge John Howard for the Postal Vote. He changed the definition of Marriage back in 2004. Take it out of his Pension. It amazes me why the Media doesnt pick up on this. He is entitled to his opinion but its an expensive opinion the tax payer now has to pay. Equal rights for everyone !

    I say the following as a member of the 2016 Australian Census Scanning Crew. My job with the department was to scan every single paper form that came through that year.

    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? Welcome to Australia. We have one of the worst networking infrastructures in the world. There is no server, or set of servers in this country that can handle a sudden influx of users that an event like the Census produces.

    but even experts are mystified as to why the ABS, not the AEC, is running the postal vote. The answer for this is quite simple. Because this is a vote that is taking place using paper forms, the ABS already has a large warehouse filled with industrial scanners that can be set up and used for something this large; producing a more accurate and faster result than the AEC system for vote counting which is a bunch of people in a room hand counting votes upwards of 5 times over and costs more in wages and time than running 20 scanners for a couple of months using maybe 40 people.

    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. As I mentioned before, there is already a place available for this exercise with machines ready to go. Or if the location isn't around, then the machines are already stored and take 48 hours to get up and running compared to having to hire hundreds of people in a few small weeks, background check and then train them for the exercise. ABS has trained staff ready to go for things like this.

    The unfortunate thing is that people who have never seen the system in action, who have never been in the offices when shit goes sideways, or have never even worked with the department make assumptions about something they frankly know nothing about.

      Wow, that was actually really interesting. Didn’t even consider that. Thanks for providing an insight into this!

        No problems. With luck I'm not risking any future positions within the ABS or AEC when the temp roles become available. The departments do not like people even knowing anything about the processes that go on with things like the Census. However by informing people about those processes, they usually understand the nature of the beast so to speak and when things go wrong, then there is more understanding on the whys.

      Do you think the AEC counted the senate papers by hand? They did not, they were all scanned in a few weeks.
      Scanning A4 responses will be much easier than the 1.2m Senate voting forms.

        Exactly! "In a few weeks" as opposed to in a few days with using the ABS machines and systems which are programmed to respond to something like this than the AEC systems.

        And yes, AEC voting does occur by hand many times during the process.

      Is there any reason that the EAC couldn't run the survey with the counting etc done by ABS staff? Or is that a disaster of conflicting management and empire builders waiting to happen.
      The main concern with having the ABS run things is that standard AEC rules will not apply so vote buying and false and misleading marketing is allowed.
      Lumped with the rest of the factors (Postal rather than digital or in person, not seeing relevant legislation before voting, etc..) I think the AEC is being pummeled as the face of the survey for everything people see wrong about this process.
      Although in the defense of those bashing the last interaction with the AEC was shambolic.

        The Government departments are extremely tightly run. They are not fool proof by any means and information buying has happened in the past. However, it's more about getting accurate results quickly versus taking extra time to provide a result and also less handling of the forms overall.
        (Note: During my 2 times with the Census, there was no accusation or evidence of information buying or leaking.)

        The Census process went along these lines: (My memory of the whole process is not 100% accurate since I worked in a specific area)
        - Envelope scanned to check it's a valid form and then opened
        - Edges are cut from the forms and a "cleaning" happens with a jiggling machine
        - Forms are sent to scanning where they are fed into the scanners
        - Complete scanned forms are processed automatically where possible, if not then they are sent to manual correction
        - Incomplete scanned forms are manually entered into the system by group managers
        - Snippets of information that the system cannot automatically recognize are placed into correct order/category by coders
        - Results are tabulated and processed for publication by the system

        At most, the forms are handled by 2-3 people maximum. In a process like this postal vote, it'll probably be reduced to 1-2 people maximum.

        As for the AEC method, there's a lot more cross checking and counting of forms, removal of incomplete or falsified forms (aka those "funny" people who draw dicks on the forms), then recounted to make sure the forms are all accounted for, then recounted at the whim of the area leader, then sent for tabulation at the main scanning center. Handling of forms here is 1-5 people at almost 2-3 times per person. A lot longer process.

    This strikes me as the govt using a method that allows them deniability no matter what. Unlike a referendum or a senate vote. If they don't like the outcome they can justify doing something else claiming it's not truly representative of Australian's real desires.

    I'm just not sure which way they actually lean... I'm assuming (because of the amount of time it's taken) that they don't actually want marriage equality. Maybe not because they see anything wrong with it, but they're scared they'll lose support/votes because of it.

      Given that Tony Abbott is strongly against Marriage equality and he was the one that wanted a plebescite. Its obvious the process is designed to delay marriage equality as long as possible. If only turnbull would grow some balls and stand up to the conservative right within the LNP we could have a free vote in parliment.

        I'd prefer a referendum so the public actually get a say in it. Politicians are too open to various forms of coercion for my liking. And a plebiscite isn't binding. So seems like the best way.

          While we're at it, I'd like a referendum on whether people who have been married once should ever be allowed to again. Or those who have cheated in any way. You know, because of the sanctity of marriage and all that...

          I'm sure you wouldn't have a problem with me having a say about your right or ability to marry, right? I mean... clearly you don't have a problem with doing it to others.

            From the tone of your post I'm guessing you think I don't want marriage equality? If not then I apologize, sometimes tone doesn't carry well.

            I have no problems with marriage equality and will happily vote for it. I think a referendum is a better way to get a genuine result. Like I said, politicians are too open to coercion - so a couple "family first" types could swing the result by refusing to side with the libs (or labour) and basically blackmail them into voting No.

            And like I said, a plebiscite isn't binding so again you won't get a genuine reflection of the countries wishes, and the politicians can choose to ignore it if they want.

            As for the referendum, if enough Aussies vote No, then obviously as a *country* we're not ready for it yet. Same goes for your comments about refusing to let people remarry if they've been divorced. If the community as a whole thinks it's important enough an issue to raise then I have no problem with it being voted on *by everyone*.

            That's what democracy (any political system really) is supposed to be about - finding the will of the people and enacting it. And as public opinions change the politics and laws change to match them.

              You're right, tone doesn't really carry well online.

              Actually my point was that it's completely absurd that any of us should have ANY say in whether or not someone else gets EQUAL treatment in the eyes of the law. It's a huge waste of taxpayers money for something that should be a complete non-issue.

              If religious groups don't way "gay marriage", then don't "gay marry"...

              Freedom and equality of marriage are basic human rights. According to article 16 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

              Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

              Discrimination on the basis of race, nationality or religion is hence specifically forbidden regarding marriage. These are not, however, the only grounds on which discrimination related to marriage is currently forbidden under international human rights law. Article 2 of the UDHR also prohibits any sort of discrimination in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms otherwise set forth in it:

              Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

              Last edited 14/08/17 4:21 pm

                That's all fine, but the problem is existing *local* and *national* laws are already in place. So it's obviously necessary to bring those laws up to date with modern community ideals. If (once) we update the laws it removes the last possible objections that people can have.

                Yeah it's a pain in the ass, and yeah it costs a lot of money and takes too long but if it's done and done right there can be no (legitimate) arguments against SSM.

    I believe that the ABS has the expertise and experience required to complete a paper based postal ballot just fine much like all the previous paper based census collections they have done.
    My concern is the colossal waste of our tax payer money, personally I don't care which way the issue lands but many of my friends do so I'll be happy to cast my ballot in favour for them.
    I just wish guys like Tony Abbot would do their job, which is to reperesent their electorate and NOBODY ELSE!! Now that he is a backbencher the only input he should have in the matter is to cast the vote that the people in his electorate want him to.

    To the younger people who can't vote. Talk to your parents, make sure they vote. Explain why your views are important and why their vote needs to count.

      No idea why you got downvoted by @markisback. Upvote from me because he is cowardly. You made a fair point

        I'm a coward because i disagree, i don't think you should force your opinion on other people.
        not voting is a vote to, and i think we have a voting age for a reason. Boo hoo I'm a coward because i don't agree with you. Glad you are here to white knight

          I'm a coward because i disagree,

          No you're cowardly because you downvoted a fair comment which did not favour either side of the voted.

          i don't think you should force your opinion on other people.

          Oh grow up you sook. His comment was about people too you to vote informing their parents of the vote and why.

          You complain about views being forced on you. How about you think about same sex couples? They have your loony conservative views forced upon them not allowing them to marry.

          Grow up plebbington bear.

            seriously, down votes are not allowed for comments you disagree with?

            My views on voting some how give you incite to my personal views on everything, i will save money not going to the taro card reader anymore now that i have you in my life.

            I actually don't care about same sex marriage, in the sense that a government should be involved in it at all. But all you bullies around the issue demonizing people that disagree with your view is shameful.

            But to say the government can validate or invalidate anyone's love is a bit rich.

              I actually don't care about same sex marriage, in the sense that a government should be involved in it at all. But all you bullies around the issue demonizing people that disagree with your view is shameful.

              So i assume you were just as outraged when John Howard changed the definition because an Australian same sex couple had gotten married overseas and was coming back to Australia and he did not want their marriage recognised?

              You want to know why i demonize people against same sex marriage? Because they have no factual nor logical reason to be against other than loony religous beliefs or plain homophobia

              Lets summarise some of the common oppositions:

              1: Same sex marriage will affect children

              False, Same sex couples can already adopt, Deny them marriage wont change that

              2: Same sex marriage will invalidate Hetrosexual marriage

              False, It only invalidates your marriage if you are a moron

              3. Something something bible something something jesus

              False. Your beliefs should not be forced on others who do not follow your beliefs. What right does a religous person have deny someone rights because of an imaginary person in the sky they believe?

              If you want to be treated fairly in the debate. Come up with a proper argument. Gay marriage has passed in loads of countries and they sky has not fallen in those countries. All that happened was a bunch of homophobes and fringe religous lunatics had a sook.

                mate you need to spot spitting chips, Stop with the over to top loony comments. Calm down if you want to chat.
                Yes at the John Howard point it would have been a great time to scrap it all, I don't believe people should get get government help for being in a relationship gay or straight as opposed to single. (now that's discrimination) anyone raising a child should be entitled to the same level of help, as all children matter to the government as taxpayers etc.
                that's the basics of my view on the issue.

                Your arguments put forward are just based on beliefs, they are two sides of the same coin.
                "Our definition of marriage wont invalidate your love" etc etc
                I think poor arguments on both side.
                "Gay marriage has passed in loads of countries" the opposite is also true

                What we are getting in places like Canada is not equality of beliefs and ideas, rather one new dominate view replacing the old that cant be challenged.
                So you support SSM but do you also support peoples right to disagree with supporting it or classing it as a sin? serious question

                the point is do you support all people being able to do what the like really (within the confines of civil society obviously) or people doing what you decide is really the right answer.

                  I support SSM and i do not support Priests being forced to marry SS Couples. I however dont believe SSM should be stopped because a couple of people believe in a certain god out of thousands that supposedly exist.

                  I always say this to people who dont like homosexuals or gay marriage:

                  "Dont like gay marriage? Then dont have one. Simple"

    I hate this debate. Spending money on something that quite frankly shouldn't even be a debate. This is a non-issue being dragged on by people who can't get over their own personal issues. People need to grow the f up and let others in society live their life how they would like.

    We certainly do not need a postal vote. Time for the pollies to grow a backbone and just say yes to marriage equality. Perhaps then Australia can focus on more important things.

    And if you think No is reasonable because of your religious beliefs just remember Jesus had two dads and he turned out alright.

      without commenting on the issue at hand. There was a parliamentary vote a few years back that made marriage defined as between a man and a woman.

    Apparently we can't even refer to it as "marriage equality" anymore, it is supposed to be "same-sex marriage". What a rort; the inequality of same-sex couples not being able to marry is the entire issue. Calling it SSM makes it seem like asking for something 'extra' when it's asking to include something everyone else already has.

    That's all beside the point though. The point is, there are plenty of younger people who have never mailed a letter in their life, who will probably be a large number of the 'yes' voters, that (while it isn't difficult), the method is clearly intended to weight it more in favour of responders who will say no, along with relying on it being non-compulsory so people who don't have a care either way, but that it won't affect, won't bother to answer. Which just isn't fair.

    Plus it's relying on everyone to do the right thing, and while this is veering into difficult territory, and personal conjecture, I have a friend who worked at the ABS, who is gay, but is staunchly against gay marriage (he's a very messed up person, but that *also* is beside the point). With this many hands involved, I can see bits ekeing away here and there, the way someone skims a few cents of large payments; they all add up in the grand scheme :/.

    If the result comes back NO they will say its legally binding and kill it off. If it comes back YES and it sure as hell should they will just say its not legally binding and ignore it for as long as possible..

    All after wasting $122M on something that shouldn't even be an issue after all, legalising same sex marriage effects no one apart from people who are gay

      the whole reason people are rejecting a plebaside is because they are worried it will come back NO. You don't oppose a winning vote.

        the whole reason people are rejecting a plebaside is because they are worried it will come back NO

        This statement alone shows your ignorance.

        "You know nothing john snow"

          i am sorry you don't like the truth,
          or perhaps labor are opposing it for political advantage?
          Whats there current reasoning? "it would be harmful to have a public debate"
          We are already having one that is dragging on much longer the a plebaside would.

          And if you believe they care about wasting money (government=waste) we have already had parliamentary votes on the definition of marriage.

          argue the point not the person mate.

        To elabortate. People are against the plebescite because they dont want their relationship debated in public. They dont want themselves and young homosexuals exposed to the rampant homophobia that will be spoken publically by organisations like the Australian Christian lobby. We dont want teenagers committing suicide just so some lunatics can spout hatred about homosexuals.

        Thats why people are against the plebescite. You only need to look at whats being distributed already to see why people are against the plebescite. Groups like the Australian christian lobby claiming same sex couples are more prone to abusing or neglecting children even though they have no statistical evidence to back up their claims.

          Suicide rates are climbing across the board and its shit, but we cant ban all things even if they are contributing factors. tho i disagree debate around SSM is the same of teens struggling with sexual identity. Suicide/mental illness are more complicated then mean words.
          One of the most current physiological treatments that shows great success is Cogitative behavioral therapy, and that's about dealing with/confronting issues not avoiding them. So you could argue having public debate can bring issues into the open.

          men have a far higher rates of abusing children.
          And lesbian relationships have the highest rates of domestic violence.
          Statistics are pointless or always corrupted but ideology from both sides
          a quick google search will reveal whatever you're looking for

            you should probably actually read the article if you're using it as a basis to support your stance against same-sex marriage. The "draws fire from experts" should have been a clue.

          While I sorta agree with you (yes the negative publicity generated can be harmful) I'd also argue the opposite is true. Especially if (hopefully *when*) it's decided in favour of SSM. It's like a slap in the face of the those same homophobes - "hey guess what people, most of Australia disagree with you and agree with the gays".

        A plebiscite is non-binding. Which means if it comes back YES the Govt can still refuse to legalise same sex marriage. In effect it has the same problem as the postal vote, ie: the Govt can discredit the result and just do whatever they want.

        That makes it a waste of time and money and no guarantee to produce a valid result *for either opinion*.

      I saw an interview with one of the liberal politicians who is involved in the organization of this (can't recall guy's name though), and it was at least promising to hear him say that if the result did come back as a yes, it's extremely likely that they will push it through, and also said something along the lines of 'it would be stupid and counterproductive to go against the wishes of the majority of the population'.
      I certainly don't take that to mean that it's guaranteed, but at least it's promising to hear that at least there are people in the party who seem to have their heads on straight. Guess we just need to cross our fingers, wait, and hope for the best.

        They know it's going to happen eventually, the idea is to delay it for as long as they possibly can to appease the conservative base.. bunch of asshats

        That is good to hear, but sadly there is often division within the ranks of pollies. They're often expected to toe the party line and vote with leadership direction not their own opinion (or the wishes of their constituents).

    Wow ABS bash much? Get over it, the Census was delayed a few days because of a server issue in another country run by IBM. Are you disappointed cause the ABS didn't have a magic way back machine they could deploy after things out of their hands fell over?

      Spot the ABS employee!

        Hardly. The ABS (as an organisation) have been running paper based polling (which this will be) perfectly fine for longer than many people that will be responding to this poll will have been alive for.

    I don't know why or how this is still an issue in Australia, but I can't be bothered voting for this. Politicians wont' listen, even if the evidence is overwhelming that Australians want marriage for everybody.

    ..which as precedents go is just mental
    Mental, really? Aren't you an editor?
    Last time I talked like that was in Year 9...

      No offense but this is a website not The New York Times. If you don't like that quote you'd better not read too many other articles on Gizmodo :)

    Who do politicians represent? Themselves? An imaginary being? The people in their electorates? A self-elected group of 'power brokers', organised religion? Some or all of the above? Never again can they use the term mandate with any justification. Not that they ever could. Vale democracy.

      It should be "The people in their electorates" but I think ultimately it's "Themselves". Any satisfaction that any other group (people, churches, companies, whatever) get is simply the end product of the politicians making sure they get paid first. Any benefits to other parties is just a side effect of that.

    Is this mandatory? It's not an important issue for me, I don't care either way.

    If its not mandatory I won't be wasting my time filling out any forms.

      No its not mandatory. Apparently the rule is that if you don't vote you can't complain. I don't follow that rule.

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