Marriage survey under budget, over expectations

By Harley Dennett

Wednesday November 15, 2017

For one day David Kalisch will be Australia’s most famous public servant. The Australian Statistician didn’t waste the moment.

Before delivering the highly anticipated result of the same-sex marriage postal survey, he was plugging the efficiency and outcomes of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“We had people working nights, working weekends,” Kalisch told journalists and the nation through the news conference broadcast on all networks and online. The ABS held morning and afternoon stand-ups on what they needed to achieve throughout the 8-week survey. There were also infrastructure upgrades that could also assist with other surveys and the Census.

The cost is still being calculated, but is expected to be under $100 million, well below the $122 budgeted figure.

Kalisch drew out the achievement of a 79.5% national participation rate, unprecedented for a voluntary survey. Only in the Northern Territory did participation dip below 60% of eligible adults.

A brief moment to smile

“We will have a fairly sedate afternoon tea this afternoon,” Kalisch said. “Public servants don’t rally too much.”

They will be celebrating the work and participation outcome, but not the result of the question put to the community — which by now few adult Australians wouldn’t had heard of the 61.6% ‘Yes’ return.

Commonwealth public servants are not permitted to celebrate the outcome of the survey at work, or on any social media that identifies them as a government employee. The Australian Public Service Commission reissued advice in light of the survey to remind federal employees of their obligations to remain and appear impartial. The ABS is no exception.

After this ostentatious display of banana cake and tea, ABS staff will go back to work, identifying what can be learned from the survey participation and outcomes to assist in the Census and other processes in the future.

In the Great Hall

A loud cheer went up from the 500 delegates at the IPAA national conference, being held today in the Great Hall at Parliament House, when the result was announced.

Frances Adamson, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary and IPAA ACT branch president, relayed the news to the room that the result had been announced – but didn’t immediately say which way the vote had actually gone until an audience member reminded her. Perhaps, she said, that betrayed the fact that she had already thought it was a “forgone conclusion” that the majority of Australians would say yes to marriage equality,

Political journalist Laura Tingle, one of the conference speakers, had also predicted a yes vote and said the 61% was a “thumping majority” in her view, taking account of how many people took part in the vote. She added that she hoped this would lead to more “niceness” around the issue in federal Parliament.

IPAA’s new national president Peter Shergold said it was good that the result reflected what previous opinion polling had suggested and there wasn’t a shock upset like with Brexit. “Myself, I wish we hadn’t had to go through this process,” he added. “I’m glad we got through it, and I hope this will mean we can soon put a line under this issue.”

Griffith University professor Anne Tiernan doubts that will be the case, and will be looking at the state-by-state breakdown with interest, given the Queensland state election (and a few more byelections) are coming up.

“I don’t think it’s over in terms of the backlash from the conservative wing of the [Liberal] party,” Tiernan said, pointing to Senator Matt Canavan’s comments on Fran Kelly’s ABC radio show this morning as a preview of the rhetoric that is likely to continue.

Same-sex marriage could cause an internal brawl in the Coalition and “fragment” the party of government in coming weeks, she suggested.

‘Unprecedented exercise in democracy’

A unprecedented exercise in democracy, is how Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the survey this afternoon. The public voted overwhelmingly and overwhelmingly yes: “Yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love.”

More to come…

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