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Plebiscite could cost Australian economy $525 million

14 March

A standalone plebiscite with a compulsory vote on marriage equality could cost the Australian economy $525 million according to modelling released by PwC Australia today.

The modelling estimates that a standalone plebiscite - not on the same day as a federal election - will cost the taxpayer $158 million to facilitate, $66 million for the community to fund the “for” and “against” campaigns, $281 million in lost productivity as people take time out to vote, and at least $20 million in costs associated with the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian citizens.

“The real costs to government, the economy and members of the community to hold a standalone plebiscite are more than three times higher than the numbers commonly quoted,” PwC Australia CEO Luke Sayers said.  “Total economic costs have not been considered before and should be part of the debate on the best way to achieve a resolution to this issue.”

PwC economics and policy partner Jeremy Thorpe said: “Overseas examples show that spending on the ‘for’ and ‘against’ campaigns alone can reach over $6 per voter, as happened in California.  That’s a huge waste of money that could be better allocated in our low-growth economy.”

The modelling quantifies the direct cost to the health system through the increased use of mental health services and the indirect cost of absenteeism in the workplace to estimate the total cost associated with mental health and wellbeing as a result of the public debate of a plebiscite.  The total cost is conservatively estimated to exceed $20 million with an estimated 50,000 LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) people negatively affected.

“Arguments opposing marriage equality in the media and community forums will have an impact on mood disorders and mental health of LGBTI people.  This will be devastating for a segment of the community already more susceptible to mental health issues as a result of discrimination,” PwC partner Suzi Russell-Gilford said of the findings.

The modelling costs three parliamentary mechanisms for change on marriage equality: a standalone plebiscite with a compulsory vote on marriage equality ($525 million), a plebiscite held concurrently with the next Federal Election and then followed by a Parliamentary vote ($113m), and a Parliamentary vote where further campaigning is required and which would not require a plebiscite to be held ($17m).

PwC Australia CEO Luke Sayers said the modelling shows the plebiscite will be a drain on the economy and bad for business, calling instead for a parliamentary vote.

“It’s clear from these findings that a standalone plebiscite on marriage equality is a massive waste of time and money that will remove focus on the economy, growth and jobs which is the real priority for Australia”.

“The mechanism chosen to make this change is vital to minimise the cost to the economy and health and wellbeing of our communities”.

“Our modelling points to a parliamentary vote as the best mechanism for change.”

Momentum from Corporate Australia to resolve this issue is building with over 800 large and small organisations having now signed the corporate letter of support for marriage equality.  

PwC was Australia’s top LGBTI employer in 2015, as ranked in the Pride In Diversity Australian Workplace Equality Index.

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Rachel Mulholland

Head of Media, PwC Australia

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