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Labor Contradicts Itself On Marriage Plebiscite Funding

"Having the plebiscite at all is a waste of taxpayer money."

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Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus appears to have contradicted himself on whether the government should fund both sides of the proposed February 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite.

Gemma Najem / AAPIMAGE

Despite arguing that there should be no public funding for either side of the proposed plebiscite, the shadow attorney-general once held the position that both 'yes' and 'no' camps of a referendum should be funded.

The government claims that the plebiscite will function similar to a referendum, the only difference being that the result is be non-binding.

In a 2009 report on the machinery of referendums, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which is chaired by Dreyfus, recommended that the government fund both sides of a referendum campaign.

LACA Committee / Via http://file:///Users/aliceworkman/Downloads/

The report determined that the government should remove the limitations on spending and "include provisions to ensure that spending is directed to referendum education and to equal promotion of the Yes/No arguments".

"The Committee considers it important to ensure that the same principles of equality and fairness continue to apply once the limitation on Australian government expenditure is removed. The committee therefore supports equal funding of the Yes and No cases, irrespective of their parliamentary support."

Dreyfus and the committee wrote that if both sides weren't funded it would be "a barrier to the development of a more engaging referendum process".

The committee concluded that the amount of funding provided to both sides of campaigns be "an appropriate decision for the government of the day".

It also recommended the establishment of committees to oversee the production of campaign material, similar to the model currently proposed by the government.

Chaired by Dreyfus, with former speaker Peter Slipper as deputy, the committee consisted of politicians from the Coalition and Labor, who all agreed to the recommendation.

"No" campaigners have previously called for public funding for the marriage plebiscite to match the amount provided in the 1999 referendum on the republic, which would translate to over $11 million for each side.

Dreyfus's 2009 comments are in direct contradiction to the argument he and Labor are now mounting against the plebiscite.

Gemma Najem / AAPIMAGE

The shadow attorney-general has been arguing that funding the "no" campaign would lead to "appalling abuse" of public funds. He said this is one of the reasons Labor will block the plebiscite in the Senate.

"The wording of the question is the idea of the right-wing of the Liberal Party. The public funding of the 'no' campaign is the idea of the right wing of the Liberal Party," he said.

"This funding is because the people that wish to run a hateful “no” campaign want to have public funds."

"This idea that there should be public funding of the 'no' campaign is something that takes this plebiscite even further away from something that Labor could support."

Dreyfus told BuzzFeed News his comments from 2009 have "absolutely no bearing on the current debate about public funding for the marriage equality plebiscite".

He argues the suggestion the plebiscite will operate like a referendum is a misleading attempt to legitimise the government's plan.

"Referendums and plebiscites are completely different things, despite the government’s attempt to conflate the two in an attempt to legitimise its $170 million glorified opinion poll."

"This plebiscite does not have to happen. It is a delay tactic, and a way for prime minister Turnbull to avoid standing up to his backbench and allowing a free vote in Parliament."

"Having the plebiscite at all is a waste of taxpayer money. Having public funding on top of that is even more ludicrous and unnecessary.”

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

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