Tuesday 7 November 2017

The issue of marriage equality has been a big topic of conversation amongst Australians in recent months.  Much of this has been driven by the Australian government’s decision to undertake the Marriage Law Postal Survey, which comes to an end on 7 November, with the result to be released on 15 November.  The Survey asked one question on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.  In announcing the Survey, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull said that the survey ‘is a great example where every Australian can have a say and we can, as a Commonwealth of Australia, embrace this important social change, consider it and make a decision’.

It is often assumed that when something like a survey is undertaken, every person will be able to access it.  This is often not the case for people with disability.  It was crucial that if everyone was to have a say, as the Prime Minister has said, that the survey be accessible to all.  The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that people with disability have a right to participate in political and public life.  This includes the right to vote, express opinions on civic matters, receive information in accessible formats and to vote by secret ballot.  By signing up to the CRPD, the Australian government has a responsibility to ensure democratic processes are accessible to all people with disability.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the organisation running the survey, sought to make the Marriage Law Postal Survey accessible to people with disability, and within a short time frame.  This included a registration process to obtain a secure access code to submit a paperless response, either via phone or online, which was used by people who are blind or have low vision.  People with disability could also ask the ABS or a trusted person (a family member or friend) for assistance in completing the survey. People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment were also able to complete the survey via the National Relay Service.

For too long, people with disability have been denied opportunities to participate in democratic processes.  Every person should be presumed to have the capacity to participate in expressing an opinion about important social issues.  Many people take this right for granted, forgetting that not all people can simply get up and speak, or fill in a paper form and take it to a mail box.  In fact, there are many barriers in place that prevent people with disability participating seamlessly in these processes.  If you have an intellectual or cognitive disability, you may have needed assistance with understanding the question being asked in the Survey.

The ABS showed real and proactive leadership in ensuring accessibility of the Survey.  I commend the ABS for their commitment to enabling access for people with disability to participate in the Marriage Law Postal Survey, and making the rights under CRPD real.   It is encouraging to see the commitment of the ABS to accessibility, and I look forward to seeing this type of commitment to accessibility extended by governments and businesses throughout Australia in the future.

For information on accessibility of the Survey, click here.

For people interested in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s position on marriage equality:

The Australian Human Rights Commission considers that civil marriage should be available to all couples, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. More information about the Commission’s position on marriage equality is available here.