Same-sex marriage: Zero complaints made under post rules

Not a single complaint has been lodged under emergency provisions rushed through Parliament to protect Australians from vilification during the debate over same-sex marriage.

The revelation appears to quash arguments from some conservatives that the laws threaten free speech, but also raises questions about whether the safeguards were necessary.

Fairfax Media confirmed no formal vilification complaints had been received by the Attorney-General's department, and consequently none had proceeded to Attorney-General George Brandis for consideration.

The law requires Senator Brandis - one of the government's prominent "yes" advocates - to approve a complaint of vilification before legal action can be commenced in the Federal Court.

He said the dearth of complaints showed there was no basis for the concern from some opponents of same-sex marriage that the extra safeguards would erode free speech.

"The prediction by some spokespeople for the 'no' campaign that their freedom of speech would be inhibited has turned out not to be the case," Senator Brandis told Fairfax Media.

"There has been no inhibition, either by section 15 of the legislation or otherwise, of people freely expressing their view that the definition of marriage should not be changed."

A handful of diffuse complaints were received by the Attorney-General's department about the survey and its expense, but none were formal accusations of vilification.

The extra safeguards were rushed through the Parliament with the backing of Labor and the Greens to apply the normal procedures of a federal election to the unorthodox postal survey.

They also contained special protections against vilification, vehemently opposed by some free speech advocates including Liberal MP Tim Wilson, Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi and the Institute of Public Affairs think tank.

Senator Bernardi dubbed it "18C on steroids", referring to the controversial section of the Racial Discrimination Act prohibiting offensive speech. The IPA warned it was a "dangerous" law that Labor could seek to make permanent.

The special safeguards will expire after November 15, when the results of the same-sex marriage postal survey are announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Australian Electoral Commission is responsible for complaints about bribery, threats and authorisations of campaign material. It was unable to say on Saturday whether it had received any complaints.

Both sides of the same-sex marriage campaign, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have repeatedly called for "respectful debate", although that has at times been tested by hateful or homophobic material and physical violence.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the lack of formal complaints showed Parliament had sent a message about its expectations.

"You might say it shows that the Safeguard Act has worked to some extent by setting a standard," he told Fairfax Media.

Anna Brown, co-chair of the Equality Campaign, said her organisation had received and was investigating complains about "offensive 'no' campaign material, which is having a significant impact on LGBTI people and their families".

"We are investigating at least one incident which involves particularly nasty material, that is authorised, which may lead to a vilification complaint," Ms Brown said.

The Equality Campaign has also made a number of complaints to the AEC about anonymous and unauthorised campaign material. The Coalition for Marriage did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

This story Same-sex marriage: Zero complaints made under post rules first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.