TV Networks Will Be Forced To Run Anti-Marriage Equality Ads Under A New Government Proposal

The government will fund the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns to the tune of $15 million.

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The federal government has finally unveiled key details about the proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, but it’s still uncertain whether it will even go ahead. The federal cabinet has signed off on a plan to hold the plebiscite on February 11 next year and provide millions of dollars in funding to both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides of the campaign.

The question put to voters will read: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”. Both sides of the campaign will receive $7.5 million dollars in public funding to get their message out. The submission put to the cabinet also included a provision to force TV networks to run ads from both sides of the campaign.

The decision to fund both sides of the campaign is a pretty big victory for the ‘No’ team, led by the Australian Christian Lobby. The pro-marriage equality campaign was opposed to public funding. They were confident in their ability to raise campaign funds from individuals and businesses supportive of marriage equality. Conservatives were worried that they would be outgunned during the campaign and had been lobbying Malcolm Turnbull to provide public funding.

Public funds provided to both campaigns are likely to be spent on staff and advertising. So not only will the public fork out an expected $160 million to run the plebiscite, we’ll also directly fund the production of anti-marriage equality ads. High profile marriage equality campaigners including Alex Greenwich, Kerryn Phelps and Rodney Croome are in Canberra this week lobbying MPs to oppose the plebiscite and settle the issue with a free vote in Parliament instead.

With the Greens and Nick Xenophon Team opposed to a plebiscite, it’s now up to Labor to decide whether the legislation enabling one to go ahead will pass the Parliament.

Bill Shorten has been ramping up his rhetoric against a plebiscite in recent days. He’s warned that it could lead to an increase in suicides. “The idea of young people, perhaps yet to come out, seeing the legitimacy of their identity debated on the national stage – that is not an ordeal we should inflict on any citizen when we have a better path,” Shorten said.

The decision to award public funding and force TV networks to run ads against marriage equality is likely to cement Labor’s opposition to the plebiscite. If Labor decides to block a plebiscite there’s a good chance marriage equality will fail to pass Parliament for the next three years.

On ABC Radio National this morning, Australia Christian Lobby representatives acknowledged that they would use plebiscite funding to campaign against “programs like Safe Schools”.