Voters overwhelmingly want a direct say on issues such as gay marriage and to not leave the decision to politicians, according to a new study that endorses the position accepted by Malcolm Turnbull to hold a plebiscite.
The findings by the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University show seven out of 10 voters do not agree with Labor’s pledge to have parliament decide on the issue of same-sex marriage within 100 days of the election, and instead prefer the position set by former prime minister Tony Abbott.
It comes as fewer than 50 per cent of voters say they have trust in federal politics.
The study, to be released today at a Griffith University conference about the future of the federation, reveals only 44.8 per cent of people said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in federal government, while 52.4 per cent said they had no trust or not very much trust.
The study of 1222 people, taken early last month, found 70 per cent believed the people should vote on the issue of same sex-marriage, only 19 per cent believing it should be decided by parliament.
And, despite the opposition’s vow to dump the plebiscite if it wins the election, the survey showed 72.7 per cent of Labor supporters backed a people’s vote on same-sex marriage, with 23.4 per cent favouring Bill Shorten’s position to have a vote by MPs.
There was also a clear majority for a people’s vote on other issues.
Some 81 per cent said the people should decide whether Australia should become a republic and 70 per cent want a public vote on whether terminally ill patients should have access to physician- assisted suicide.
A smaller majority supported a public vote to decide whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be recognised in the Constitution (58 per cent); having fixed four-year terms for federal parliament (54 per cent); and deciding how many levels of government Australia should have (60 per cent).
Voters were more comfortable with parliament deciding technical and policy matters, 57 per cent saying it should set levels for climate change emissions and 58 per cent for MPs to determine the responsibilities for each level of government.
AJ Brown from the Centre for Governance and Public Policy said the public’s position on same-sex marriage and physician-assisted suicide could reflect a view these were moral issues where politicians had no special expertise or frustration that parliament had failed to act despite public opinion showing support for change.
“People want to have a direct say on fundamental questions about the structure of our federation, but they are happy to leave details of its operation to parliament,” Professor Brown said.
“These results reinforce voter demand for the parties to map out their vision on big issues, including federal reform, especially in light of the demise of the Abbott government’s federation reform process.”