South Coast teen’s plea to voters as same-sex marriage survey begins

South Coast teenager Eddie Blewett, who has two mums, made an emotional return to Canberra on Tuesday to ask Australians to remember to vote in the same-sex marriage postal survey.

His visit came as the the Australian Bureau of Statistics sent out about 600,000 of the 16 million postal survey forms. 

[Scroll down for details about the survey, including key dates]

The 14-year-old travelled to the nation’s capital for the second time in two years with his two mums Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett, meeting with Labor leader Bill Shorten and deputy Tanya Plibersek outside Parliament House.

Eddie, from Tathra on the NSW South Coast, said he was worried people were bored of the debate and wouldn’t vote in the survey.

He said he just wanted everyone to see his family the same as they did everyone else’s.

“People who know us know that there is nothing wrong with my family,” he said.

“I have two parents that love me and each other.

Eddie Blewett with his mums Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Picture: Andrew Meares

Eddie Blewett with his mums Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Picture: Andrew Meares

"We play soccer in the winter and volunteer for our surf club in the summer.

“Everyone has to see they don't need to make a big fuss about it, they'll just get to see other people as equals.”

Eddie became a public face of the same-sex marriage debate last September when he came to parliament with Rainbow Families, a support group for LGBTQI families.

He said it had been hard to have his family's private life in the spotlight but the fight for equality was ultimately worth it. 

While his community had been largely supportive, he said he still had to deal with taunts in the schoolyard. 

Eddie Blewett in Canberra in 2016. Picture: Andrew Meares

Eddie Blewett in Canberra in 2016. Picture: Andrew Meares

“To hear they were going ahead with the postal survey was pretty disappointing. 

“I don't think we can change the fact it's going to go out but we can change how people vote.”

Eddie said he wanted other country kids who couldn't speak up themselves to know they were not alone and that they deserved respect. 

“People are saying stuff about our families, they are saying we aren't normal, that we are second rate - don't listen, be yourself,” he said.

Eddie’s mother Neroli said she believed Australians would resoundly vote yes if they participated in the survey.   

“We know our towns are better if we're equal and diverse,” she said.

Mr Shorten said people who were tired of the debate should vote yes in the survey. 

“We have a chance to just get on with it,” he said.

“We need to just have the vote and be done with it.

“Please vote, change in this country only ever happens when people participate in the change, please don't leave this change to other people.

“They're raising their kids, they're in loving relationships and they just want the same deal that all other families have.”

KEY DATES FOR THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE POSTAL SURVEY

September 12: Mailing of forms and collection begins.

September 25: All survey packages (which have a staggered delivery schedule) should be received by this date. The ABS says not to contact them until after September 25 if you have not received your form in the mail.

Also on September 25, telephone and online response options open for people who cannot complete the paper survey. Survey forms will be available for collection in capital city and regional locations.

October 20 (6pm local time): Final day for requesting or picking up replacement survey forms, or for requesting a Secure Access Code to access telephone and online response options.

October 27: Mail your form back to the ABS by this date to make sure it counts.  

November 7 (6pm local time): The survey closes. If your survey is received after this, it will not be counted.

November 15: Survey results published on the ABS website.

Source: ABS

FACTS ABOUT THE SURVEY

Who can participate?

You can participate in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey if you were enrolled on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll, or made a legitimate application for enrolment, by August 24, 2017 and be eligible to vote in a federal election as at August 24, 2017.

Is voting compulsory?

No. Unlike elections, voting is voluntary and you won’t be fined if you don't fill out the form but non-voters are being encouraged to destroy their forms to prevent them from being used by others.

The ABS advises if you choose not to complete the form, please destroy it

Is it a postal plebiscite?

No. The Turnbull government failed to get its plebiscite legislation through the Senate so it decided to hold a postal survey which doesn't require legislation to be passed. The result is a postal survey which is non-binding.

When will I get the form?

The ABS will send the forms over a two-week period from September 12.

What question will be on the form?

The survey form asks only one question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

What if I’m away during the voting period?

Contact the ABS information line. You can arrange to have the form sent to a nominated address or authorise another person to vote for you. In limited circumstances, voters will be able to lodge a paperless response using a secure access code.

If your survey is lost or damaged you can ask for a replacement up until October 18.

When are forms due in?

The ABS is strongly encouraging voters to return their forms by October 27. Forms received after November 7 will be deemed invalid.

Do I have to pay for a stamp?

No. The package containing the survey form will include a reply paid envelope.

What about my privacy?

The identity of voters will be kept separate from their survey responses. Each survey has a barcode but it's being used for "mark-in" purposes only and cannot be used to identify voters.

The completed survey material and envelopes will be securely destroyed within 60 days of the publication of the survey results.

But I’m a silent elector

About 113,000 silent electors will be sent their forms by the Australian Electoral Commission. Details of silent electors will be kept confidential.

The AEC has established a hotline for silent electors with questions about this process.

Can I insert glitter/complaints/political views in my response?

Preferably not. The ABS says: “The survey envelope is designated to be for the survey response only and is not a channel for correspondence, complaints or other communication. Any extraneous material inserted in the envelope with the survey form will be destroyed and, due to processing machinery or possible contamination, may result in the survey form also being destroyed and therefore not processed.”

When will we know the resut?

It will be published on the ABS website on November 15.

What happens then?

The result of the survey is non-binding but a “yes” vote will lead to a conscience vote on the issue in Parliament.

If the survey vote is “no”, then no vote will take take place in Parliament and that will be the end of the matter.

MPs are not required to vote along party lines or in accordance with the outcome of the survey.