‘Politicians should get to work on what we elected them to do’

‘Politicians should get to work on what we elected them to do’
Image: Michael Kirby has spoken out against the plebiscite. Picture: Australian National University

A PROMINENT Australian judge has joined the ranks of an increasing number of voices who are speaking out against the proposed marriage equality plebiscite, favouring a parliamentary vote in its place by our elected officials.

Michael Kirby, who served as a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1996 to 2009, detailed his objections to the process in an opinion piece published in The Australian.

“Australians should reject the proposal to hold a plebiscite as a precondition to the enactment of same-sex marriage legislation by the federal parliament,” Kirby writes.

“The elected politicians should get to work on what we the people elected them to do — to decide on the law, one way or the other, in parliament. Not at the hustings. Ten reasons have brought me to these conclusions.”

Kirby argues that the plebiscite is an exception to Australia’s constitutional procedure and is not the way things are generally done.

“Under the Constitution we make laws in parliament, through decisions voted on after recorded debates by the parliamentarians we elect to represent us,” he writes.

“A plebiscite has no place in the constitutional arrangements that, since 1901, have governed the way we make laws.”

The former judge suggests the process of a plebiscite is destined to fail, going into the precedents set in Australia over the past century.

“The proposed plebiscite on marriage is the first such attempt in nearly a century,” Kirby writes.

“Our record on constitutional referendums is abysmal. Only eight have succeeded in 115 years despite 44 attempts.

“There is no reason to think a plebiscite on same-sex marriage will be different, particularly with several political parties opposing a yes vote.”

Kirby believes that whatever the outcome, a dangerous precedent will be set that can’t be undone.

“Complex, sensitive, issues are better decided after debate in parliament, not in the heat of public division and emotional campaigns in the community,” he writes.

“If a plebiscite is held, it could become a bad precedent to be copied when other controversial questions come before parliament. This would further weaken our governmental institutions at a time when they need strengthening, not weakening.”

He went on to echo sentiments spoken time-and-time again by advocates against the public vote, who argue that a plebiscite would be a harmful process that would subject minorities to bigotry and hatred.

“A plebiscite campaign unfortunately would be likely to bring out hatreds and animosities in our country that are bad for minorities generally and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minority in particular,” he writes.

“It is exceptional and wrong in principle to commit decisions on the basic human rights of minorities to a majority popular vote, especially in a country such as Australia which, exceptionally, has no entrenched constitutional guarantees for equality or fundamental human rights to protect minorities.

“For protection, minorities look to parliament to protect them. It should not shirk from that duty.”

Kirby believes those behind the push for a costly plebiscite aren’t hoping for a favourable result.

He was of the opinion that marriage equality is inevitable.

“A defeat in parliament alone would do no more than delay the inevitable for a short time,” Kirby writes.

He suggested that Australia would only be damaging their reputation on an international stage in the mean time.

Kirby, who came out as a gay man in 1999, went on to speak about his own relationship. While still being undecided on whether he wants to get married himself, he believes LGBTI people deserve that choice.

“After so much time, our relationship is not doubtful for us,” he writes.

“However, we certainly consider that marriage in Australia should be available to LGBT citizens, the same as for other personal relationships, to help sustain the couple, families and good health in a country whose Constitution provides for a secular society.”

Kirby called on the senate to deny their support for a plebiscite.

“This would release the Prime Minister from his commitment to a plebiscite that he inherited on his election to that office,” he writes.

“It would return Australia to its normal constitutional arrangements. Under these, Australians do lawmaking in parliament, not plebiscites.”

Michael Kirby spoke to Star Observer last year about his own coming out process and his long term relationship with his partner.

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3 responses to “‘Politicians should get to work on what we elected them to do’”

  1. Some people, like John Abbott above, are so ill-informed, and ignorant on this subject!

    Firstly, Justice Kirby joined the High Court in 1996, homosexuality was not against the law! He ‘came-out’ in 1999, and kept his position till 2009.

    Secondly, Justice Kirby, like many who agree with marriage equality, see the waste of $170M , when we have a ‘budget crisis’. Also no matter the outcome, if the plebiscite had over 70% acceptance, the government can still reject it! Showing a total waste of that money.

    Not all same sex couples want to have children, so millions of ‘our children’ will be safe! In case you didn’t know Mr Abbott, there are quite a lot of same sex couples already raising their ‘own’ children!

    The term LGBTIQ incorporates more than gays, or queers, that you have stated! By the way, historically, those terms were the work of the hetro-sexual community, more as derogatory terms. Which you seem to still believe.

    And lastly, why have a plebiscite to change the marriage law?
    John Howard didn’t use a plebiscite to discriminate against same sex couples in his change of the marriage act in 2004.

    Read up a bit and listen to some of the conversations, before you make blanket statements!

  2. Mr. Kirby has not indicated how he deceived the people of the Commonwealth of Australia in that at the time he took his seat as a High Court Judge he was an active homosexual which at the time was against the law and thus, by all probabilities, Michael Kirby deceived his way to sit as a Judge of the High Court while existing laws deemed him a criminal. Now, Mr. Kirby wants to deny me of a chance to express my concerns at homosexuals adopting our children by opening the final door to adoption – marriage.
    Mr. Kirby also neglects to discuss how the issue of so called same sex marriage which in actual fact is the union of homosexual couples has been before our Federal Parliament more than once and indeed many times and each time rejected and each time brought before the Parliament again and again.
    Time to stop the guess work and let us the people decide. After all, if homosexuals are so proud to be homosexuals let them say so and not use deceptive words such as “gay” or LGBTIQ community which includes queers (Q) and if these people’s claims that the majority of Australians agree with them getting married then why shy from a plebiscite – another deception? Could it be that they have been lying about most people agree with same sex marriage??

    • So many stupid, ignorant statements in one comment. Absolutely wrong on every single count, what’s it like being a complete fool you idiot !!