The Northern Territory chief minister says learning the same sex marriage views of remote communities would always be problematic after it emerged voter turnout in the postal survey was lower than anywhere else in the country.
Only 58.4 per cent of eligible Territory voters took part in the marriage equality plebiscite, of which almost 61 per cent voted ‘yes’.
“I don’t think the postal survey was ever going to be a really functional method of canvassing the view of remote Territorians,” Michael Gunner said.
While almost 67 per cent of voters from the urban seat of Solomon – covering Darwin and Palmerston – took part in the survey, only half of those living in the sprawling seat of Lingiari, which covers everything else, participated.
Federal Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, flagged from the outset that getting the mail out to some of the nation’s most isolated communities was going to be fraught with difficulty.
He said many people in the bush weren’t able to have their say because they genuinely weren’t aware of the survey or couldn’t register in time.
“They don’t have regular mail services, and many have English as a second or third language and literacy is a problem,” Mr Snowdon said.
“It’s an indictment, and shows what a failure the process was.”
The ABS deployed field officers to about 200 remote indigenous communities across Australia to provide audio recordings of the survey in about 14 Aboriginal languages.
But in October, the ABC revealed that residents in the remote Arnhem Land community of Ramingining burned about 50 surveys because they misunderstood the question, believing they were being asked whether or not a man should be “compelled” to marry another man.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants federal parliament to approve same-sex marriage laws before Christmas.
Mr Gunner, a strong supporter for marriage equality, believes there’s no room for stalling, but noted that with Canberra consumed with the dual citizenship saga, it would be hard to gauge a timeline for legislative change.
“I wouldn’t be able to say with confidence how the Australian parliament is going to be able to meet and handle that issue,” the NT Labor leader said.
“But the sooner the better.”
HOW THE NORTHERN TERRITORY VOTED
* YES (60.6pct)
* NO (39.4pct)
* TOTAL VOTES (58.4pct)
* YES (65.3pct)
* NO (34.7pct)
* TOTAL VOTES (66.8pct)
* YES (54.5pct)
* NO (45.5pct)
* TOTAL VOTES (50.1pct)