The High Court has begun hearing a challenge to the federal government's planned voluntary postal survey on same-sex marriage, with two groups opposed to the policy arguing it has not been properly funded, ABC News reports.
Just a week before the first survey forms are sent to households, the full bench of the High Court is hearing challenges against the survey from two separate groups.
It was standing room only in the Melbourne courtroom – modified to accommodate the court, whose usual home in Canberra is under renovation.
The main focus of the challenge is that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann sought to use a funding pool set aside for urgent or unforeseen matters, which could be used without parliamentary approval to pay for the $122 million survey.
The survey was announced by the government last month, after the Senate twice rejected a compulsory plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
One of the groups opposing the survey is headed up by independent MP Andrew Wilkie, the other is comprised of Australian Marriage Equality and Greens senator Janet Rice.
Ron Merkel, who is representing the group led by Mr Wilkie, told the court yesterday there was nothing urgent or unforeseen about the plans.
But he said his main argument against the survey was that the executive government had been given power to determine how the funding was allocated.
He said the Constitution required acts to include provisions that revenue be appropriated by a vote of Parliament.
"The Parliament has impermissibly conferred power on the Minister," he said.
Mr Merkel said that power had allowed the Minister to change the items, add items and alter the amounts to be spent in a way which the legislator has not provided for.
The government maintains the appropriation of money was appropriate, as the survey met the definition of unforeseen and urgent.
The court also heard arguments from Mr Wilkie's lawyers that the government was asking the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect opinions, when it is bound by legislation to only collect statistics.
The case is expected to continue today, when the court will hear submissions from the Commonwealth, defending the plans for the survey.
Marriage survey forms printing under way (News.com.au)