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The truth is, both sides have struggled on marriage equality

The brouhaha over marriage equality has seen Malcolm Turnbull's Coalition trying to look modern while putting as many barriers as it can think of in the way of change.

It is a process driven primarily by internal considerations within the conservative base and Turnbull's assessment that his pushing through would imperil his leadership.

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Such dualism is not unique to the Liberal and Nationals parties. Labor MPs are hypersensitive to criticism of their mediocre performance when faced with the same question while in office.

Many Labor MPs who now back reform and stand strongly with same-sex couples arguing for equality as a human right, would rather forget past equivocations.

As they strafe Turnbull's unwillingness to impose his will, they bristle when reminded that just five years ago, their prime minister Julia Gillard, deputy PM Wayne Swan, and a slew of influential frontbenchers, voted "No", as they danced to the tune of the Catholic right wing.

Even now, if this issue makes it to the Senate, it is expected half a dozen Labor senators aligned to the shoppies' union, the SDA, will either oppose or abstain.


Indeed, a parliamentary vote, cannot be guaranteed to deliver marriage reform as the numbers in both houses are closer than many realise.

In any event, now that the compulsory attendance plebiscite has been scotched, the government is proceeding with plan B, the voluntary participation, postal survey.

Two points about where this leads.

First, there's the franchise question about the postal plebiscite and the expectation that the returns will strongly lean towards the older demographic and therefore the "No" case. The last voluntary postal ballot was conducted in 1997, to determine the members of the constitutional convention. Analysis of that does indeed show a strong linear relationship between age and participation.

The older you were - and remember this was before the Facebook generation and before commerce, and personal administration were shifted from the physical world to online - the greater the likelihood of returning a ballot paper.

Indeed, those aged 56 and above were 75 per cent more likely to lick the stamp than those aged 18 to 25 years.

The rate of return lifts in every category from 18-25 where it was 33.86 per cent, to 56 plus where it levelled out at 59.19 per cent.

You can see how this might skew the outcome on marriage reform in particular, especially bearing in mind the trajectory of opinion on this issue.

In political-speak, Labor MPs say their opinions have "evolved". Others might just admit to being wrong in the past.

Second, the government cites as precedent the Australian statistician's conduct of a 60,000-strong phone survey in 1974 to approve a switch from God Save the Queen to Advance Australia Fair.

The "Yes" case prevailed with just 51.4 per cent support.

More than four decades later, weare going back to technology that pre-dated the phone even, in a bid to delay an "advance" whose denial would be anything but "fair".

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