The Australian Bureau of Statistics has begun work on the $122 million voluntary poll, with ballot papers due to be posted by September 12, completed by November 7 and a result to be announced on November 15.
A private member’s bill would then go to parliament by the end of the year.
Marriage equality activists are launching a High Court bid to head off the ballot, saying it breaches the constitution, and funding the vote exceeds the government’s power.
Asked what would happen if the court struck down the ballot, Turnbull told reporters: “Our policy is very clear. We will not facilitate the introduction of a private member’s bill on this matter unless the Australian people have given their support through a ‘yes’ vote through this national vote.”
Labor has begun encouraging voters to check their enrolment and get behind the ‘yes’ campaign, but shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus voiced fears the ballot would not have the same legal protections as an election.
Dreyfus said campaign material would not have to be authorised – so voters could not tell who has sent it to them – and there was nothing to stop a person from filling in someone else’s ballot paper.
There was also no way to question voting irregularities or dispute the result through the Court of Disputed Returns.
“It’s more proof that a postal survey is an expensive, inaccurate and divisive waste of time,” Mr Dreyfus said.
Some marriage equality advocates are weighing up a boycott of the ballot.
Former High Court judge Michael Kirby wants the plan abandoned, saying he was happy to wait to wed his partner of 50 years instead of having the public postal vote.
“I feel as a citizen I’m being treated in a second-class way,” he told ABC radio, referring to the ballot.
“It really is a shocking thing to me we’re thinking of putting this into our law-making process in Australia.”
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and marriage equality advocates Shelley Argent and Felicity Marlowe have initiated the court action, having been advised there are constitutional problems with the Australian Bureau of Statistics running the poll and the government paying for it without parliament’s approval.
Tony Abbott says he’ll respect the outcome of the postal vote whatever the result, but will be advocating the “no” case.
“In politics you win some, you lose some,” the former prime minister and leading Liberal conservative told Sydney’s 2GB radio.
However he will put the case that the traditional definition of marriage should not change.
But a fellow federal Liberal MP pushing for a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage rejected Abbott’s claim the issue is about political correctness.
Trent Zimmerman is encouraging Australians to have their say in the planned postal plebiscite, despite it not being his first option to settle the long-running debate.
“We do have a pathway now that will see this issue resolved before Christmas,” he told reporters in Canberra today.
“This is simply about whether every loving relationship should be treated equally before the law.”
Nationals MP Andrew Broad, who has threatened to quit the government if the coalition changes its plebiscite policy, is pleased Australians can still have their say.
Asked about a possible boycott of the postal ballot, the MP told reporters: “There were people who chose not to vote for Donald Trump because they walked away from it, and they got Donald Trump didn’t they?”
“Democracy is something that is a gift.”
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop says the ballot is an opportunity for Australians to have their say, but refused to outline her personal position.
“I’ll be talking with my electorate, with the people in my constituency and I’ll be encouraging them to lodge a postal vote,” she told reporters.
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong, who yesterday made an emotion-charged plea during a speech in parliament for “no” campaigners to leave children out of the debate, is hoping “good-hearted” Australians prevail.
“My experience… is that most Australians are far more generous spirited, have a lot more honour than many of the people who are arguing this in the parliament from the other side,” Wong told Sky News.
“I worry about those not of good heart and want to use children as political pawns in this debate, and I think that is objectionable, it’s also illogical.
“It’s a pretty low way to approach this debate.”
Treasurer Scott Morrison defended the $122 million price tag of the postal ballot, insisting “keeping promises is money well spent”.
But Labor’s finance spokesman Jim Chalmers dismissed that claim as “telling”.
“If Scott Morrison thinks wasting $122 million on a divisive and harmful and non-binding opinion poll is money well spent, is there any wonder that the budget is in such awful condition on his watch,” he said.
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