Nine Things The Government Should Fund Instead Of The Dumb Postal Plebiscite

$122 million is A LOT of money.


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“Live within our means” was the government’s budgetary catch-cry during last year’s election campaign. This year, that same government will be spending $122 million on a non-binding, non-compulsory postal plebiscite on marriage equality.

All that this huge amount of money will buy is a damaging campaign for the country’s LGBTIQ+ community and will probably just lead to a free vote in parliament on the matter — something that the government could do now, for free.

It’s a lot of money for a useless and entirely redundant process, especially from a conservative party that prides itself on responsible economic management.

And when you compare it with some of the other things the government is providing much less funding to, like Indigenous legal services and women’s refuges, it becomes even more clear how much of a bad idea it is.

Indigenous Legal Services

The plebiscite will cost more than seven times what the government is giving Indigenous legal services.

It took a sustained campaign from advocates and human rights groups to convince the Turnbull government to shelve its plans to cut funding for Indigenous legal centres, with the government announcing it would be instead contributing $16.7 million over three years in April this year.

But it isn’t nearly enough for these centres that provide legal assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with Indigenous Australians represent only three percent of the total population, but more than 27 percent of the prison population.

The federal government will be spending $105.5 million more on the plebiscite than it is currently giving to the organisations fighting to change these statistics.

Women’s Refuges

The plebiscite will cost $12 million more than what the government gives to women’s refuges.

The federal government contributes $110 million towards refuges for women and children escaping domestic violence as part of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, but there isn’t nearly enough according to Homelessness Australia.

The organisation estimates that refuges are forced to turn away nearly 3,000 women every year, and an extra $33.8 million is needed to provide just the baseline level of services needed.

The government is spending nearly four times that on a non-binding postal plebiscite.

Community Legal Centres

Image: Mark Riboldi

The plebiscite will cost more than double what the government gives community legal centres.

It took a tiring, two-year campaign to convince the federal government to back down on its planned cuts to community legal centres around the country.

The government announced it would be restoring $55.7 million in funding for the sector across three years, but the organisations are still strained, especially with the added pressure from this year’s robo-debt debacle.

Upon announcing the funding, Attorney-General George Brandis said it came despite “budgetary pressures”, but the government seemed unfazed about splashing out more than double that on a postal plebiscite.

Domestic Violence Campaigns

The plebiscite will cost more than four times what the government spent on a national domestic violence campaign.

Launched last year, the federal government contributed $30 million towards a nationwide campaign aiming to reduce violence against women and children.

According to the government’s own statistics, on average, one woman is killed every week at the hands of a current or former partner, while one in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

But the government seems to value a non-binding, non-compulsory plebiscite four times more than what they were willing to contribute to the campaign aiming to prevent this.

Programs To Help Close The Gap

The plebiscite will cost more than twice what the government is spending on an employment program for Indigenous Australians.

This year’s budget included a total of $146.9 million over four years to facilitate the “delivery of innovative and effective support for Indigenous business and entrepreneurs”.

Out of this, $55 million will be going towards employment programs for Indigenous Australians, which will provide for youth mentoring and support for those looking to work.

This year’s Close the Gap report found that the unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians is almost four times more than the non-Indigenous rate. The $122 million going towards the plebiscite would have gone some way towards closing that gap.

Victims of Child Abuse

The plebiscite will cost nearly four times what the government contributed to a fund for victims of child abuse.

As announced in May this year, the federal government has stumped up an initial $33.4 million for a national scheme to compensate child sexual abuse victims.

This number could be increased to $153.4 million if the government redirected the funding from the useless and harmful plebiscite.

Custody Notification Services

The funding going towards the plebiscite could fund the Custody Notification Service for 244 years.

The Custody Notification Service is a life-saving scheme currently operating just in New South Wales and the ACT. If an Indigenous Australian is arrested, police are required by law to call a trained lawyer at the Aboriginal Legal Service, who will then identify any potential health risks and inform the individual of their rights.

This has been proven to save lives and provide vulnerable people with assistance and legal advice. But its funding has been a constant struggle. Last year, the government chipped in $1.8 million to fund the service until June 2019.

With the service costing approximately $500,000 per year to run, the money going towards the plebiscite would account for its operations for the foreseeable future, or facilitate its expansion across the country.

The Fight Against HIV

The plebiscite will cost nearly four times what it would take to end HIV transmissions in Australia.

A plan put forward by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations this week claims that $32.5 million in government funding per year would end the transmission of HIV in Australia.

The plan calls for the funding over the next three years.

The 15-point plan will be delivered to Parliament this week, and given how readily the government dished out $122 million for the plebiscite, you’d think they’d be pretty open to this.

Denham Sadler is a freelance writer based in Melbourne who has been published by The Saturday Paper, ABC and The Guardian. You can follow him on Twitter.