Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann

Minister for Finance

18 September 2013 to 30 October 2020

Commitment To A National Plebiscite On Same Sex Marriage

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


The Turnbull Government is committed to deliver on its pre-election promise to give the Australian people a say on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. 

Our preference is to deliver on that commitment through a compulsory attendance plebiscite as per the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 (the Plebiscite Bill) and for such a plebiscite to take place on 25 November 2017.

Today I'm giving notice of a motion in the Senate to give the Senate the opportunity again to support a full compulsory plebiscite on those terms this week.

If the Senate again fails to pass this Bill for a compulsory attendance plebiscite, the Government will proceed with a voluntary postal plebiscite for all Australians enrolled on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll with final results known no later than 15 November 2017.

The Commonwealth has the necessary Constitutional power and the ABS and the Australian Statistician have the necessary statutory power to request information from Australians enrolled on the electoral roll about whether or not they agree that the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry.

In 1974 the Whitlam Government used the same Constitutional head of power and provisions under the relevant legislation to fund and conduct a phone survey of 60,000 randomly selected Australians, to ask them their opinion on Australia's National Anthem, whether it should be changed and if so to what.

As it happened 51.4 per cent of Australians surveyed by the ABS on that occasion expressed an opinion in favour of changing Australia's National Anthem to "Advance Australia Fair" and our National Anthem was indeed changed as a result. 

We are proposing to use the same Constitutional and relevant equivalent legal powers of the ABS to collect statistical information in order to give all Australians enrolled on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll a say by voluntary postal vote on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry.

The appropriation to the ABS will be made by the Minister for Finance from the Finance Minister’s Advance appropriated by the Parliament in the Appropriation Act (1) 2017-18  

The ABS will make arrangements for the secondment of officers from the Australian Electoral Commission to assist the Australian Statistician with this process as required.

Should the Senate fail to pass the Plebiscite Bill, the ABS, supported by AEC officers as appropriate, will make relevant announcements about timetables and practical arrangements, including the opportunity for all Australians to update their details on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll.

In the case of a positive result in support of change under either approach, the Turnbull Government would enable consideration of a relevant Private Member’s Bill.  The vote on such a Bill can occur before the end of the year.

Media Contact(s)

Karen Wu - 0428 350 139