Why YES Voters Could Decide The Election
The Federal election on May 18 will be the first held since the legislation of marriage equality in December 2017.
The campaign for marriage equality saw a seismic shift in Australian politics, and the full force of this will be felt at the polls. The outcome for many seats will be swayed by a demographic thirsty for positive change and emboldened by a successful people-powered movement. Across Australia newly enrolled voters will make their voices heard and we are already witnessing the emergence of candidates who cut their teeth advocating for the reform.
The campaign for marriage equality saw more Australians than ever before engage with a social issue, determined to bring about change.
While politicians were slow to show leadership on this issue, Australians from across the country refused to accept this political intransigence. Records were broken for inquiry submissions. Politicians saw their inboxes flooded with MP meeting requests. We saw colourful and clever placards at rallies with more than 30,000 people and heard impassioned pleas from voters at meet the candidate forums.
Now, with the issue resolved, how will it impact this election?
Let’s start with voters. About 100,000 mainly younger and progressive voters enrolled for the first time during the postal survey, and this will be their federal first election.
But it wasn’t just young Australians who got involved. Marriage equality supporters of all age groups signed up in increased numbers or updated their details on the electoral roll as a result of the postal survey.
On 30 June 2017, there had been 15,930,593 Australians enrolled. On 31 December 2017, the roll contained 16,117,860 voters. In total, more than one million Australians either enrolled for the first time or updated their electoral details.
The electoral roll is now the largest it has been since Federation.
The impact of these new voters was felt recently during the high-profile Wentworth by-election, where marriage equality champion Kerryn Phelps won a stunning victory. Wentworth has one of the highest rates of new enrolment during the postal survey. This moment showed that those who championed equality attracted public support. Voters who made sure they were on the electoral roll to vote for marriage equality were keen to reward people who were active in the marriage equality movement.
Apart from the immediate increase in eligible voters, the campaign for marriage equality reshaped politics in other ways. The politicians who led the charge on the ground and on the floor of parliament will also be rewarded for their leadership.
Penny Wong shone as a leader within her party as she and other equality advocates worked to change the Labor party platform in earlier years. During the postal survey campaign, her personal story and commitment to achieving equality for families like hers across the country was powerful.
Nita Green, who was the Queensland field director for the YES campaign, is now Labor’s lead candidate in that state for the Senate.
South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, a decade-long ally of the marriage equality movement, has won the respect of many for her firm and enduring commitment to equality in this country.
Both Labor and the Greens have continued to move on the momentum of the marriage equality campaign and have put forward comprehensive LGBTIQ policies for the next term of government.
The Liberal Party’s rainbow rebels, Tim Wilson, Trevor Evans, Warren Entsch, Trent Zimmerman, and Dean Smith, who were once considered as political renegades for supporting marriage equality, are now celebrated by many in their party and constituencies. Andrew Bragg, who led Libs and Nats for Yes during the marriage equality campaign is now running for a New South Wales Senate seat.
The marriage equality movement also showed the effectiveness of one-on-one conversations in winning support. During the postal survey, the union movement and Labor’s field team lent their door-knocking and organising skills, and this election will see those skills and an energised volunteer base roll-out across the country.
Malcolm Turnbull left office with marriage equality legislated but his own role much diminished by his support for the non-binding and non-compulsory postal survey held first. His successor Scott Morrison has an even less impressive record on marriage equality in stark contrast to Bill Shorten’s record.
While Shorten sat front row for the vote in parliament after campaigning for marriage equality for many years, Morrison cowardly ran out of the chamber with Tony Abbott when the final vote was called.
History doesn’t forget the actions of hypocrites and the spotlight is firmly on Scott Morrison. After being a key supporter of the plebiscite, forcing Australians into an unwanted and unjust vote of the validity of their fellow citizens' relationships, and even after his own electorate returned a majority, he chose to be permanently recorded as absent for the final vote.
To call the entire nation to vote and then abstain was an anathema to Australians and our values. How could anyone planning to be a Prime Minister deliberately fail to vote with the aspirations of a nation they seek to represent?
After 18 months of same-sex weddings, the May 18 election will likely see more celebrations for those helped the reform. For those who sought to hinder it, voters may well and truly be ready for a divorce.