A PLEBISCITE on marriage equality could cost Australians more than $500 million dollars — three times higher than figures currently quoted — according to research by a leading accounting firm.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia today released modelling estimates that indicated a standalone plebiscite on marriage equality — one that is not held on the same day as the federal election — would cost the Australian tax economy $525 million.

The modelling takes into account a number of costs associated with the campaign, including a taxpayer-funded $158 million to hold the plebiscite, $66 million for groups to fund campaigns in favour or against marriage equality, $281 million in lost productivity as people take time out to vote, and at least $20 million in costs associated with the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian citizens.

“The real costs to government, the economy and members of the community to hold a standalone plebiscite are more than three times higher than the numbers commonly quoted,” PwC Australia chief executive Luke Sayers said.

PwC economics and policy partner Jeremy Thorpe said: “Overseas examples show that spending on the ‘for’ and ‘against’ campaigns alone can reach over $6 per voter, as happened in California. That’s a huge waste of money that could be better allocated in our low-growth economy.”

The impact of a public campaign on LGBTI people would also “conservatively” cost $20 million to the health system as an estimated 50,000 people seek mental health services and potentially miss work.

“Arguments opposing marriage equality in the media and community forums will have an impact on mood disorders and mental health of LGBTI people,” PwC partner Suzi Russell-Gilford said of the findings.

“This will be devastating for a segment of the community already more susceptible to mental health issues as a result of discrimination.”

Remember PwC didn’t only predict the plebiscite would cost $500m but also will cause higher levels of discrimination & mental health #auspol

— Nick (@NSunners) March 13, 2016

Sayers said the modelling shows a parliamentary vote was the most cost effective way to decide the issue as it would only cost about $17 million compared to the a standalone plebiscite at $525 million. Meanwhile, a plebiscite held at the same time as a federal election is estimated to cost $113 million.

“It’s clear from these findings that a standalone plebiscite on marriage equality is a massive waste of time and money that will remove focus on the economy, growth and jobs which is the real priority for Australia,” Sayers said.

“The mechanism chosen to make this change is vital to minimise the cost to the economy and health and wellbeing of our communities.”

Marriage equality advocates have appealed to federal cabinet to reconsider the marriage equality plebiscite.

“Every single government minister must read this report before Cabinet considers legislation for a plebiscite,” Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Rodney Croome said.

“With the stakes so high for the economy and for the mental health of LGBTI Australians the Government needs to reconsider it’s position.

“It’s a sign of maturity and strength to change your mind in the face of new information. The plebiscite legislation will be a minefield of unexpected costs, unintended consequences, and complications about timing and public funding.

“More and more Coalition members are speaking out against a plebiscite and I encourage them to raise the issue in the party room as soon as possible.”

“The best way to resolve the marriage equality issue is with a free vote in the parliament as soon as possible.”

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