A half-billion dollars will buy you roughly 15 small islands, 525 private Beyonce concerts, 15 of the most expensive Ferraris ever, or 500 Orca whales.


Or a plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is sticking with Tony Abbott's pledge to put the issue to the vote at a non-binding plebiscite “as soon after the election as can be done”. It appears that only a Labor victory, or hung parliament at the polls will stop the plebiscite from going ahead.


The estimated cost to the Australian Government? One hundred and fifty-eight million dollars. And that just for the plebiscite itself. Associated costs, including campaigning, loss of productivity and mental health expenditure by LGBT groups nationwide is expected to chew through another $367 million.


Labor's Matt Thistlethwaite holds the marginal Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. It's cheek by jowl with Malcolm Turnbull's seat of Wentworth. The two men even share the share initials. But they hold diametrically opposed views on the plebiscite.


“A plebiscite on gay marriage? I think it is unnecessary. I think it is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Thistlethwaite told a student media election forum at the University of New South Wales early in the campaign, adding that "the money would be better spent on schools and hospitals."


A cheaper, less divisive option would be a free vote in parliament, he says. “We’re elected to represent our communities and I know what the views of the community are, and I will represent that in parliament….If the government offered a free vote, I’m confident it would get through the parliament.”


Michael Feneley, the Liberal candidate in Kingsford Smith, was unavailable for comment.
In the United States some states put the issue of marriage equality to public vote in a similar fashion to the proposed Australian plebiscite. Gay and lesbian individuals in these states reported a 37% increase in mood disorders, a 42% increase in alcohol abuse and a 248% increase in anxiety disorders due to the public homophobic and anti-gay campaigns run in the media.


A PwC study has estimated additional costs of $20 million by LGBT people on mental health care if marriage equality is put to a plebiscite.


The last plebiscite in Australia in 1977 concerned the national anthem, and took seven years to implement.