TRANSCRIPT: ABC Capital Hill, Wednesday 12 August 2015





SUBJECT: Marriage equality.

[Audio cuts in]

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: This is a ridiculous proposition [a plebiscite] from a desperate Prime Minister. We make really important decisions in the parliament every day of the week. Just yesterday, the debate started again about whether we would go from a 10 per cent to a 15 per cent GST rate, is the Prime Minister going to take that to a plebiscite or his pension cuts or his $100,000 university degrees? I think it's a sign of desperation and another delaying tactic because we know from a variety of surveys that the majority of the Australian population support this. I think in effect the next election is a plebiscite on this issue because Bill Shorten says within the first 100 days of a government he would lead there would be legislation for marriage equality.

GREG JENNETT, PRESENTER: But if you accept that there is a degree of division in the broader community, what's wrong with getting some sort of binding expression of that community view?

PLIBERSEK: I don't- it's not that I would oppose a plebiscite, I just think it's a waste of taxpayers' money, so it will cost millions of dollars, and I think it's a delaying tactic from the Prime Minister. I think there's a clear degree of community support for this and what is it about our parliament that makes us incapable of deciding this one thing when we decide critical things every single day of the week?

JENNETT: You talk about delaying procedures but Labor's almost got one of those themselves, don't they, as far as I think your preferred position was that it be bound in support of same-sex marriage but that's been delayed for several years hence?

PLIBERSEK: I think the internals of the Labor Party are kind of irrelevant at the moment. What's happened is the Prime Minister has knocked on the head a proposal to allow his members a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality. We know that there are two bills before the parliament at the moment. If they were voted on tomorrow, this legislation would pass. There are enough people in the Labor Party and enough people in the Liberal Party to pass this legislation tomorrow. We’ve also said-

JENNETT: Enough people in the Liberal Party prepared to - what are you saying - cross the floor?

PLIBERSEK: No, if there was a free vote in the Liberal Party, there would be enough people in the Liberal Party and the Labor Party together to pass this legislation tomorrow. We also have said very clearly that within the first 100 days of a newly elected Shorten Government, Bill would introduce a bill for marriage equality that I would second. There is no point in talking about the never-never with the ALP. This could happen tomorrow if Tony Abbott got out of the way.

JENNETT: Okay, well let's talk about at least one of those bills which is the Warren Entsch one. Is there anything Labor can do to get through the intricacies of procedure and committee selection processes to try to get that to a vote?

PLIBERSEK: I think that we do very seriously need to look at the standing orders to see whether we can bring on a vote on the Entsch bill or on a bill like it in the Senate. I think there is a strong feeling and demand in the Australian community for this issue to be resolved sooner rather than later. I think the message from last night to the Australian community out of the Liberal and National party room, a lot of people would have heard that refusal to have a vote on this issue as a message to gay and lesbian Australians that they're second-class citizens and that their relationships are second-class relationships and I don't want that sentiment to stand in the Australian community. I want same-sex-attracted teenagers to understand that their government and their nation accepts them as they are, for who they are. So I think bringing a discussion into the parliament sooner rather than later is critical.

JENNETT: So sooner could mean Monday because that's when Warren Entsch is going to speak to his bill and introduce it. What sort of options might Labor consider to bring on a debate or expedite one that day?

PLIBERSEK: We have to look carefully at the standing orders and see whether there is the possibility of bringing on a vote and to have that discussion but I really do think that there are people of goodwill in the Liberal Party who have said that they are considering crossing the floor. We do have to support them in that effort. It is a very brave thing to do and I know it puts them in a very difficult position but we heard reports from the party room, Liberal and National party rooms last night, that there are people considering doing that and we want to support them in that brave effort.

JENNETT: And in the expectation that were some of them to come over and support same-sex marriage you would still lose anyway in the House of Representatives?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can't tell you how many people in the Liberal Party Room would be prepared to do such a brave thing. I don't know.

JENNETT: But you want to make the point that they had crossed? Is that part of the endeavour in trying to bring this on as a debate?

PLIBERSEK: I think they deserve the dignity of being allowed to express their very firmly-held views. They've taken a lot of political risk to make their case. There was a 6-hour debate last night in the Coalition party room; that means there are a lot of people who feel very strongly about this. We believe from reports that about 16 members of the front bench would vote for marriage equality or for a conscience vote at least. We know that a large number of Liberal backbenchers would vote for marriage equality. I think this issue's come to a head now and trying to cram it back into its box, as Tony Abbott is doing, I think really devalues the issue itself, it sends a very negative message to gay and lesbian Australians and I think it's going to be a very difficult political thing for him to do. The Prime Minister said that he's prepared to adopt tricky tactics to stop this happening. Well, I think that there's a real potential that he'll face a backlash in his own party for that.

PRESENTER: That's Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek.