Same-sex marriage: Postal survey's higher-than-expected turnout secures legitimacy

Same-sex marriage: Postal survey's higher-than-expected turnout secures legitimacy

Same-sex marriage: Postal survey's higher-than-expected turnout secures legitimacy

Updated 3 October 2017, 18:20 AEDT

Australians' unlikely reacquaintance with the humble post box has vindicated Malcolm Turnbull's decision to push ahead with a non-compulsory vote on legalising same-sex marriage, writes political editor Andrew Probyn.

Australians' unlikely reacquaintance with the humble post box has vindicated Malcolm Turnbull's decision to push ahead with a non-compulsory vote on legalising same-sex marriage.

Just three weeks into a nine-week voting period, 57.5 per cent of eligible voters have already cast their vote.

This is well beyond expectations of both sides for this stage of the campaign and suggest that by November 15, when the survey results are published, more than 70 per cent of those eligible will have had their say.

But even at 57.5 per cent, as it was by last Friday, the postal survey has secured its legitimacy.

It is already higher than proportion of Americans who voted in last year's presidential election (55.5 per cent).

And it is already within striking distance of the 60.5 per cent turnout achieved in last year's Irish referendum to legalise gay marriage.

By comparison, 68.7 per cent of Brits turned out for June's general election, and 74.5 per cent in the second round of the French presidential election.

It turns out that Australians have embraced an unorthodox exercise in democracy.

The higher-than-expected turnout tells us a few things.

Firstly, the various get-out-to-vote campaigns have worked.

Secondly, it suggests that the majority of people have well and truly made up their minds on this issue and have not had the need for a two-month debate to guide them.

If this is deemed reflective of a national mood, it may affect the way the Yes and No camps frame their campaigns hereon.

The Yes campaign, which has been buoyed by weekend polls showing strong support for legalising same-sex marriage among those who have already voted, now fears complacency.

It knows the get-out-to-vote campaign has been especially successful among younger Australians more likely to favour changing the Marriage Act.

Ballots yet to be posted are either stuck on fridges among other to-dos, lost in life's mounting paperwork, or since discarded.

Getting the ballots from the fridge door to the post box will now be the focus.

The No campaign will feel it can narrow the contest in the weeks ahead if it can motivate those who have been slow to respond.

But whatever the result, a turnout north of 60 per cent will carry sufficient authority to warrant Parliament's attention.

If it is a majority Yes vote, the Prime Minister will swiftly move to amend the Marriage Act before Christmas, glad to remove the rainbow distraction from his Government.

Watch too for Malcolm Turnbull getting more involved in the campaign towards its conclusion if polls consistently predict a strong win for the Yes campaign.

Being on the right side of an issue with popular support would be a grand way to end a difficult year.