The federal government has confirmed the estimated $160 million price tag for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage in its 2016/17 federal Budget.
Attorney-General George Brandis last night announced a provision of $160 million in the contingency reserve for the potential public vote. The contingency reserve is an allowance for anticipated events that cannot be assigned to individual programs in the preparation of the budget estimates. Funds in the reserve can only be used once appropriated by Parliament.
A 2015 Senate committee report into the same-sex marriage plebiscite cited evidence from the Australian Electoral Commission which estimated a separate vote or plebiscite on the issue would cost approximately $158.4 million.
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) national director Rodney Croome reiterated his call for the government to drop the plebiscite.
"The Budget has confirmed just how costly a plebiscite will be, and how wasteful given Parliament could pass marriage equality tomorrow," Mr Croome said.
“Corporate, political and religious leaders, and mental health experts, have all raised concerns about a plebiscite.”
Australian Greens senator Robert Simms said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could easily inject $160 million back into the Budget bottom line.
“It’s absurd that after harping on for years about a so-called budget emergency the Liberals are progressing with a $160 million plebiscite on marriage equality,” Senator Simms said.
Senator Brandis told Senate estimates in February that he had begun consultations with stakeholders on a possible plebiscite. Details on the mechanism and wording of the question are not expected until after the forthcoming federal election, should the government be returned by voters.
A successful public vote in favour of same-sex marriage would still require Parliament to approve a change to the Marriage Act. Labor has promised a vote on marriage equality within 100 days of the next Parliament, should it win government.
AME will be running pro-marriage equality campaigns in more than 30 seats at the next federal election.
“If the Coalition remains committed to a plebiscite and is returned to government we will run a 'yes' campaign that unites Australians behind a reform that reflects our nations’ values of fairness and equality," Croome said.
In March, PwC Australia released modelling claiming a standalone plebiscite with a compulsory vote on marriage equality could cost the Australian economy $525 million, taking into account potential funding for the “for” and “against” campaigns, lost productivity, and costs associated with the impact on the mental health.
A contingency reserve of $160 million for the referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians was also confirmed by the government.