Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Australia, it is easy to forget the variability in public reaction to the 2017 Australian marriage law postal survey. Many critics who support marriage equality mocked the plebiscite as a complete WOFTAM. Even so, the survey enjoyed a decent turnout – each state’s participation rate exceeded 75 percent of eligible, volunteer voters.
Participation aside, responses to the marriage law survey varied across large populations. NSW is the most populated state, and its ‘yes’ rate (57.8%) is the lowest of all state and territory rates. Do responses vary at a finer grain of analysis? Well, survey counts are available for each of the country’s 150 federal electoral divisions (FEDs). Comparing ‘yes’ response rates by FED can hint at how relatively inclusive regional communities are.
Much of my research work focuses on the Mid North Coast region. I define this region as six coastal NSW local government areas, between and including Mid-Coast (south) and Coffs Harbour (north). The two main FEDs of the Mid North Coast are Cowper and Lyne. Cowper incorporates communities who live in the areas of Coffs Harbour (south from Sapphire Beach), Bellingen, Nambucca, Kempsey, and Port Macquarie-Hastings (north from the city of Port Macquarie). Lyne consists of the expansive Mid-Coast local government area, part of Port Macquarie-Hastings (south of the city), and Dungog shire.
You can see for yourself how your electorate participated and voted in the marriage law survey. Because of my near-pathological penchant for Excel, I took joy from making the table, below. It shows the percent of counted ‘yes’ responses for Cowper, Lyne, and FEDs that neighbour the Mid North Coast.
Looking at the table, the two FEDs that line up most closely with the Mid North Coast region – Cowper and Lyne – have a combined ‘yes’ rate of about 58 percent (57.7%). This is very close to the NSW total rate (57.8% ‘yes’ for marriage equality). Breaking this down further, 60 percent of Cowper’s respondents voted ‘yes’ for marriage equality, while only 55 percent of Lyne’s respondents said ‘yes’. Both rates are relatively low when ranked on the national scale. Cowper’s ‘yes’ rate is in the bottom 37 percent of all FED ‘yes’ rates, and Lyne is in the bottom 26 percent. So how did the vote fare in neighbouring electorates?
Richmond FED have the highest ‘yes’ percentage (67.9%) of the seven electorates sampled, placing it in the top quarter of all FEDs in the country. Richmond FED consists of north Ballina, Byron, and Tweed local government areas; it is the northernmost part of our neighbouring Northern Rivers region. Our more immediate northern neighbours in the Page FED have a lower ‘yes’ rate of 60 percent (59.7%), which is higher than the statewide rate but still low relative to the nation. Page includes people who live north from the Coffs Harbour suburb of Sapphire. The divisions of Paterson and Hunter – our neighbours to the south – have relatively high ‘yes’ rates (65.5% and 64.4%, respectively). In contrast, our western neighbours of New England FED have one of the lowest ‘yes’ rates in the country (52.5%), placing it in the bottom 15 percent of all FEDs.
In summary, inclusion among Mid North Coast communities is perhaps not as prevalent as it is in the regions directly north and south of us. Exactly why is a matter for further research, but it does correlate with our relative and collective preference for political conservatism. While there is still work to be done, it is encouraging to note government agencies, private employers and non-profit oganisations across our region are beginning to adopt inclusive policy and procedures.