TRANSCRIPT: ABC Capital Hill, Wednesday 2 March 2016





SUBJECT/S: Pat Dodson; Joe Bullock; marriage equality; Safe Schools; senate reform

GREG JENNETT, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, Labor has a new Senator-elect in Pat Dodson, how long has the party been interested in him as a potential recruit?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: A lot of Labor people have been friends with Pat for a long time and all of us have admired him. He's made a contribution to reconciliation and to a number of issues for many decades now. He is a fine person, a fine Australian and we are very lucky that he's chosen to throw his hat into the ring, so to speak 

JENNETT: He's spoken a lot this morning about Indigenous affairs which is obviously been his passion for most of his adult life but how do you see his role in the Labor Caucus?  I think Indigenous representatives when they've come here before have tried to walk that line between not being pigeon-holed either into exclusively advocating in that cause?

PLIBERSEK: Pat obviously is known as the father of reconciliation in Australia and has been involved in reconciliation since the 1970s but he’s much more than that. He's had roles in economic development in the Kimberley and the north-west of Western Australia, he has said to me and said to Bill that of course he's interested in issues like reconciliation but he's also interested in economic development in the north, not just for Indigenous Australians but for all Australians. He was talking today, for example, about some of the health services that are missing from quite large centres like Broome - having just recently got its first dialysis machine, so I'm sure that as well as the issues of reconciliation which he is so very well qualified to campaign on, and to speak about, he does have a much broader interest in services for remote communities and regional communities and particularly for the north of Australia.

JENNETT: Ok, so as far as the preparation goes, it looks like Joe Bullock has started to make his intentions known, what, a week or so ago, or was it longer than that?

PLIBERSEK: Well he’s obviously been discussing these things, with Bill in particular, for a little while now and I think he’s done a very dignified thing. He made a very dignified and eloquent speech last night.

JENNETT: But has Joe Bullock, rather than be bound by a party position at a later time on same-sex marriage, has he set the standard for everyone else who couldn't in the Labor Party bring themselves to support mandatorily same-sex marriage?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's kind of getting the timeline wrong a little bit because we know that if there was a vote today in the Parliament, the majority of parliamentarians - the majority of Labor parliamentarians and a fair number of conservative parliamentarians as well - would support marriage equality.

JENNETT: Are you sure about that?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I am sure about that and so is Australian Marriage Equality. That's why this $160 million divisive and expensive plebiscite is not just a waste of money, but a thumbing its nose at the wishes of the Parliament. Even John Howard admitted this week that the Parliament should be deciding on the issue of marriage equality. So, we could decide it now and if we decided it this week, Labor parliamentarians would have a free vote. What we will do if we are elected at the next election is introduce legislation at the time of – after the next election, first 100 days. At that time, we would expect, of course, the people who are supporters of marriage equality to be overwhelming in number in the Parliament.

JENNETT: That's still a conscience vote for Labor - your 100 day timeline is still on a conscience vote?

PLIBERSEK: The election after next is when we're looking at moving beyond that, but this will be legislated well before then. We could actually legislate it this week. This is the issue. We could legislate it today. We've got the numbers in the Parliament today. That's why a $160 million plebiscite is such a ridiculous waste of money.

JENNETT: So in that sense, is it called into question the exact reason why Joe Bullock is leaving? I mean, he gave this as a reason, but you're in effect saying that's academic or theoretical?

PLIBERSEK: I think his words speak for themselves. I don't want to take away from what was a very dignified speech last night by getting in the middle of his words and trying to reinterpret them. I think the key point here is he has made a decision. We thank him very much for his service. We know that it is hard on individuals and on family life to be flying from Western Australia to Canberra. A lot of our WA members of Parliament have expressed that over the time, that it really takes a toll on them and their families, and we thank him for what he's done and we also have the opportunity of welcoming someone of Pat Dodson's character and contribution to our Senate team and that's a wonderful thing, too.

JENNETT: On Safe Schools, a similar and related issue to do with gender equality and diversity. There's been some fairly spirited debate in the Parliament and Malcolm Turnbull just made the point yesterday, it's fine to examine a bullying, an anti-bullying campaign just to see whether it's working. Do you object to the argument that he put yesterday?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's disappointing that someone who before he became Prime Minister would have stood up to the bullies in the Liberal partyroom and said, “There’s nothing wrong with teaching kids that it's just fine to be who you are, that if you're same-sex attracted, if you're transgender, that's just fine". That man's gone. People thought that Malcolm Turnbull would change the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party has changed Malcolm Turnbull. The man who is now saying it's OK to waste $160 million on a plebiscite that the right-wing of the Liberal Party are going to ignore anyway is also saying that there is something that  we need to examine and be careful of - if we say that it’s normal to be gay or lesbian that's something that needs to be challenged.

JENNETT: He denounced bullying across the board yesterday, he said in all its forms, whether it's at school, on the bus, for racial or religious reasons - why is that not convincing?

PLIBERSEK: Same-same. He says one thing and does another. He says that bullying is a real problem. We know that same-sex attracted, transgender kids are six more times more likely to suicide. All this program does is say it's OK to be who you are if you're same-sex attracted. And somehow that’s social engineering – Marxist social engineering, I believe.

JENNETT: That's the expression used. Now we’ve been talking about Pat Dodson and the Senate. There is much chatter around this place about a double-dissolution election. Just to put down some markers about Labor's position, were one to be called. We'll take it as read that Labor would never block supply 'cause there would be need for some supply bills to go through very, very quickly if this was called in May?

PLIBERSEK: We have always said we wouldn't block supply, that it's a highly irresponsible thing to do – and we know, because it was done to us.

JENNETT: What about running the clock down, trying to use some procedural trickery to get past that sitting in May and try and frustrate this? The only reason I ask, it's been speculated upon in articles that while Labor may not block it they may not facilitate its passage - would you seek to do that?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't even know the sort of tactics you're talking about and how they would be applied.

JENNETT: They're not tactics that would have been discussed?

PLIBERSEK: No. What we say is that the proposition that the Greens and the Liberals have combined on when it comes to Senate voting reform is an effort to deny millions of Australians a say in the Senate and yes it would benefit Labor, it would benefit the Liberals and it would benefit the Greens. I think it's extraordinary that the Greens want to pull the draw bridge up after them. If these rules were in place when they were getting their first representatives they wouldn't have got their first representatives and I think it's highly cynical to say, "well, we're alright now, we've got enough heft and public funding that we can run large campaigns and, you know, bugger the rest of you".