Is mob rule what we want?

August 11, 2017

Labor Senator Sam Dastyari kisses Derryn Hinch's Justice Party Senator Derryn Hinch after cutting a Marriage Equality Cake outside Parliament House yesterday.

So it seems if you are a member of parliament full to the brim with righteous conviction you can bypass parliament to get what you want.

The Senate has said no to a formal plebiscite on gay marriage — but that doesn’t matter because the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Electoral Commission can join forces and conduct a postal ‘‘survey’’ of our opinions.

Clever stuff.

People in dark little cupboards off the corridors of power have thought about this and are not giving up the idea of preserving the white bread sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

Most of us have no problem with others holding differing views.

If people believe that marriage is sacred between a man and a woman — so be it.

Equally, if some wish to prolong life until the bitter end, then that, too, is their right.

However, when some have to suffer because of the ardent convictions of others then we have a problem.

It feels as though Australia at the moment is being held to ransom by a cabal of five or six people who carry Old Testament convictions underneath their blue ties.

Malcolm Turnbull and his cabinet are terrified of this Opus Dei club.

So now we are spending $122million on the issue of gay marriage to keep the righteous people happy.

Meanwhile everyone else seems either annoyed or just bored by the whole thing — unless, of course, you are gay and you want to get married.

Then it becomes vital that everyone who supports the idea of gay marriage uses the postal vote to make their views plain.

Not that it will matter — because the postal vote is not binding.

Of course the Opus Dei cabal wants a plebiscite because they believe the majority of the Australian public have not moved forward since the 1950s and hold similar conservative views when it comes to marriage and sexual behaviour.

They may very well be correct in their thinking.

But here’s the rub — is a plebiscite the best way for a nation to decide where its moral compass lies?

For instance, if we were to ask the nation if it wants the return of capital punishment, I would not be surprised at all if we suddenly found ourselves employing hangmen again.

In other words, is the idea of pure democracy such as a plebiscite nothing more than mob rule?

In a representative democracy the will of the people is delegated to politicians and conducted through the reasonable channels of debate and committee.

This process is designed to smooth the rough edges of radicalism and hurt.

To be governed purely by the direct will of the people would be terrifying.

I just do not have complete faith in the reasonableness and decency of any large group of people — whether they happen to be Australian, American or tribal Amazonians.

Facebook is testament to the cruel judgements delivered by the hysterical mob.

So a plebiscite on gay marriage would serve nothing other than to fuel the most ill-informed and judgemental elements of our society.

Politicians should not just mirror the bigotry and fear they find in their constituents.

As our elected representatives, they are entrusted to think through the complexities of the gay marriage issue in a sophisticated manner.

They should appeal to the reasonable, to the inclusive and to the generous in us all. And they should then damn well vote and set the matter to rest.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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