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Shortly afterwards Abbott was replaced as prime minister in an internal party coup by Malcolm Turnbull, a declared supporter of marriage equality.
But on taking over as PM Turnbull agreed to continue with the plebiscite policy.
The postal vote is technically a collection of statistical information, which the government believes it has the power to order the ABS to conduct without new legislation.
The Australian Electoral Commission, which conducts ordinary elections, cannot conduct the plebiscite because legislation for it was blocked.
In 2004 John Howard’s government changed the law to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Weeks after Britain legalised “civil partnerships” for same-sex couples and as some states in the US and Canada legalised same-sex marriage, the Marriage Act was amended.
After the Senate again blocked a bill in August for a compulsory plebiscite the Turnbull government proposed a voluntary postal survey as a second-best option to fulfil its commitment not to facilitate the introduction of a same-sex marriage bill until the Australian people have had their say.
Why is the Australian Bureau of Statistics running the postal vote?
In 2013 the territory government in Canberra passed a law permitting same-sex marriage, and several couples held weddings, but they were ruled illegal by the high court because of the Marriage Act.This is also why we’re now calling the process a postal survey – not a plebiscite.The bits of paper voters will use to give their views are “survey forms” not ballot papers.They will be able to vote without the ABS knowing their address.There will also be sites in capital cities from which eligible people can pick up survey forms. We don’t have a precise breakdown of costs, but on 7 September David Kalisch told a Senate inquiry that so far the survey has cost .1m.