The party for fiscal conservatives has decided to allocate $7.5 million in taxpayer funding to each side in the proposed $175 million marriage equality plebiscite debate. This funding will be used to launch advertising campaigns that TV stations will be forced to air, and to print millions of flyers that will question the legitimacy of same-sex couples.

[How Coalition homophobes could set marriage plebiscite up to fail]

There are better things that the money could be spent on in these financially constrained times, including:

  • Restore the $14 million in funding taken away from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Service since 2014;
  • Conserve Australia’s history — restore most of the $20 million in funding cut to the National Library of Australia’s online archive Trove;
  • Restore a fraction of the proposed $1 billion cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency;
  • Restore some of the funding cut from CSIRO;
  • Restore the $9.2 million cut from the Managing Farm Risk program in this year’s budget;
  • Fund Meanjin, (even) Quadrant, and the $1.4 million needed for community radio and have plenty of change left over for more funding for the Australia Council; or
  • Fund the Safe Schools program (whose funding runs out this financial year) for close to another eight years.

The government will table the legislation containing all the details of the proposed plebiscite tomorrow, after the matter goes before the Coalition party room for debate. Several Coalition members including Trent Zimmerman, Dean Smith, Warren Entsch and James Paterson have said that public funding is not required for the plebiscite, but the allocated funding is viewed as a sop to the right of the party. Conservative MPs such as Eric Abetz have expressed concern that the churches and other groups opposed to marriage equality would be otherwise outgunned in the debate without public funding.

[Five ways to make the marriage equality plebiscite suck less]

It has been reported that in addition to this restriction, the government will also restrict tax-deductible donations to $1500 for the campaign. Australian Marriage Equality’s Alex Greenwich said this morning that the No side of the debate would simply funnel tax-deductible donations to the No side through churches and would have an advantage over marriage equality groups.

On ABC radio this morning, Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton indicated his side would use the $7.5 million to link marriage equality to surrogacy and the Safe Schools program — something his organisation has done for the past few months.

The fate of the plebiscite rests in the hands of Labor, with the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team, and Derryn Hinch stating they will block the plebiscite legislation in the Senate. Labor leader Bill Shorten introduced a marriage equality bill into Parliament yesterday, but Labor has not completely ruled out supporting the plebiscite. Several Labor MPs have, however, expressed that the plebiscite would need to be self-executing and contain no public funding. Neither of those conditions is part of the proposal signed off by the Coalition cabinet.