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Aussie marriage equality plebiscite a waste of money, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says

Qantas CEO: We have hedging strategies to smooth out volatility

Australia should use use the money it plans to spend on a marriage equality plebiscite for more useful public services, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told CNBC.

On Monday, the Australian Government approved a plan to disburse $15 million in public funding to the "yes" and "no" campaigns taking part in a national poll that will ask Australians whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. According to the state broadcaster ABC, the plebiscite is expected to cost $160 million in total.

A vocal opponent of the plebiscite, Joyce was the first high-profile corporate figure to reject the government's plan for same-sex marriage, arguing that the decision should be made by lawmakers, not put to a poll.

Australia's Marriage Act 1961 defines marriage as "the union of a man and a woman," according to the Gilbert + Tobin Centre for Public Law at the University of New South Wales. A plebiscite result has no legal standing, and the act could be changed by the federal parliament without a test of public opinion.

"The country can spend on a lot of other things, whether it's health, nurses, skills, transport. And this should be the job of parliament. Parliament is there to lead the country, to make the decisions," Joyce told CNBC in an exclusive interview.

Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce announces the airlines annual results in Sydney on August 24, 2016.
Peter Parks | AFP | Getty Images

Joyce noted that in 2004 the Australian parliament changed the definition of marriage in the 1961 Act, so there was no reason why it should not do the same now. Instead, the plebiscite would spark a long-drawn debate on marriage equality that would be detrimental to the psychological well-being of the gay community, he said.

"I do believe that our mental health issues are associated with long, prolonged debates that could occur - that we need to be very conscious of, and very sympathetic to. And as a consequence of that, like most of the gay community in Australia, I don't support the plebiscite," he said.

Joyce said he and his partner of more than 18 years had several passports between them and the Australian one was the only one which they could not use to get married.

"We're behind on this. Let's catch up, let parliament do it as soon as possible and let's make the change," he said.

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