TRANSCRIPT: ABC 774 Melbourne, Monday 1 June 2015






SUBJECTS: Marriage equality; Dual citizenship

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader, thanks for joining us.


EPSTEIN: Why not work more closely with the Coalition on this issue and ensure that what you want happens?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I wrote to all Coalition MPs fourteen months ago asking for one of them to cooperate on a bill that would actually do what we have suggested, and that’s change the definition of the Marriage Act to being between two people rather than a man and a woman. In that fourteen months, no Liberal or National MP has come forward and the reason, Rafael, is despite the fact that many of them support marriage equality, there could be no movement from individual Liberal or National MPs until this issue had been debated in their partyroom, until there was a decision in their partyroom to allow a free vote. Now, what Liberal and National MPs have told me was that it wouldn’t be debated in their partyroom until there was a bill before the Parliament. So there was an absolute impasse here, a catch-22-

EPSTEIN: Can I ask if people said that to you since the Irish referendum?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we were speaking to Liberal MPs last week and offered for one of those Liberal MPs or National MPs to cosponsor this bill today. So we have spoken to them, yes since the Irish referendum offering bipartisanship on this legislation or indeed, as I say, for fourteen months previously.

EPSTEIN: Do you think the votes are there? Putting aside what might or might not happen in the Liberal partyroom, are there enough MPs in the Lower House for this to become reality?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you can’t put aside what will happen in the Liberal party room because unless there’s a free vote, no there won’t be enough votes. But if there’s a free-

EPSTEIN: But if there’s a free vote?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I do think so. I mean, I’m obviously a much greater expert on how Labor Party MPs are going to vote than I am on how Liberal MPs are going to vote. But people in the Liberal Party tell me that there are large numbers of people who would like to vote for marriage equality and indeed many of those people have been public. Some have privately expressed that view to me. On the Labor side, we’ve got a lot of people who voted in favour of the existing definition of marriage the last time this issue came before the Parliament, who have now said very publicly that they would change their vote this time around. If there’s a similar trend in the Liberal and National partyroom then I think there’s no question that this will pass.

EPSTEIN: The Prime Minister said a number of times last weekend this week that it’s not a priority for this session of Parliament, the Budget is, national security is. Have you got any sympathy for that? They are things that matter to very many people.

PLIBERSEK: I agree. I think that of course our main focus as a nation has to be on the safety of our citizens, our economic prospects as a country, but the notion that the Parliament can’t deal with more than one thing at a time is nonsense. We very regularly have many pieces of legislation before the Parliament and we are able to consider all of them simultaneously. This bill’s been introduced today, it will be debated over coming weeks and the idea that we can’t think about this great and important social change at the same time as legislating for our economic future and for national security is nonsense.

EPSTEIN: It’s also about short-circuiting the issue from Bill Shorten, isn’t it? It stops you making this a policy issue for the ALP.

PLIBERSEK: I don’t really buy that argument. Like I say, it has been fourteen months since I last wrote to Liberal MPs offering to be bipartisan on this issue. Both Bill Shorten and I have been on the record many occasions saying that we are supporters of marriage equality. We both voted in favour of marriage equality last time this was before the Parliament. This is an issue whose time has come and if anything has changed in the last few weeks it’s the momentum that the Irish referendum has given the debate in Australia-

EPSTEIN: There’s definitely momentum but it’s a better look, isn’t it, for an Opposition Leader to be doing this than to be arguing with his Deputy about whether or not MPs in Labor could no longer have a conscience vote on this issue? That’s a much better place for Bill Shorten to be, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty cynical way of looking at it, Rafael. He’s a man who has supported marriage equality in the past very publicly who’s now the Leader of the Party saying this is the predominant position in the Labor Party on marriage equality. I think that’s a great thing, because it gives weight and substance to this argument in the Parliament- that the Leader of a major political party is prepared to put his name to such a bill. It certainly means that we can build on the momentum from the Irish referendum and say this is a change whose time has come.

EPSTEIN: Do you think the change will come by the end of the year? What’s your prediction?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I do. I mean, the only thing we’re waiting on really is for Tony Abbott to allow his MPs, many Liberal and Nationals MPs, who want to vote in favour of marriage equality to do that, and now there’s a bill before the Parliament. I frankly don’t see how they can delay having this debate in their party room. There’s been one excuse after another. I mean, Senator Leyonhjelm will tell you there were Coalition MPs urging him to introduce his bill because that would have prompted a debate in the Liberal partyroom and it didn’t do that sadly. Now, that we’ve had the Leyonhjelm bill, we’ve got a bill from a major political party, the Labor Party, it’s pretty hard to see how the Liberals and Nationals can continue to avoid having this debate inside their own party room when there are so many Liberal and National party supporters of marriage equality.

EPSTEIN: 1300 222 774 is the phone number. You are hearing Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Opposition Leader, working with Bill Shorten, Shadow Cabinet. Tanya Plibersek, before you go, just on counterterrorism and citizenship, the Government put forward a simple principle for you to support. You can’t be in an army fighting Australian forces overseas, they want to extend that power to those with terrorist groups fighting those who are with Australia, who are allies with Australia. That’s a pretty simple proposition to back, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the proposition that if you’re fighting with the army of another country and you lose your Australian citizenship that that proposition might be extended to non-state actors is certainly something that we’re very prepared to consider but of course we are interested in the further proposals that the Government have alluded to that have been the cause of so much controversy in the Liberal Party and National Party Cabinet.  We’ve had not just leaks from Cabinet but- it reads more like a transcript from the Cabinet meeting that discussed this, and indeed there have senior members of the Government’s national security committee who are alleged to have said they are not supportive and have been critical of the proposal. So it’s a little bit hard to be confident to talk about these debates and issues of principle when even members of the Government’s national security committee express concern.

EPSTEIN: Now, they’re united around dual citizenship, that question, can’t Labor put forward some simple backing to the Government on that? If you’ve got two citizenships, we’ll take one away if you’re fighting with a group like ISIS?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think our Shadow Attorney-General’s been very clear that we understand the parallels that are being drawn between people who are- lose their citizenship because they fight for the army of another country and people who lose their citizenship because they fight for a non-state actor particularly where Australia’s in conflict with that non-state actor. That’s a principle that we’re very prepared to look at. What we’re more concerned about are these additional proposals that involve potentially leaving people stateless. And the reason that we’re a bit nervous about that is because frankly, when you’ve got half a dozen members of the Government’s own Cabinet including members of its national security committee saying that it’s a bad idea, well, we really do want to read the fine print on that one.

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is the spokeswoman on foreign affairs for the Labor Party, she’s the Deputy Labor Leader as well. Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Rafael.