TRANSCRIPT: ABC Lateline, Monday 1 June 2015






SUBJECTS: Marriage equality; Joan Kirner

STEVE CANNANE: Labor Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek seconded that private member's bill on marriage equality today and she joins us now in our Canberra studio. Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for joining us.


CANNANE: I'm well, thanks. Now why was this private member's bill introduced today? Why didn't you wait and why didn't Bill Shorten wait until you had a co-sponsor from the Government?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think same-sex couples in Australia have been waiting an awfully long time, Steve, and in fact our whole community has been ahead of our Parliament. The Parliament's been dragging its feet. I wrote to Liberal and National MPs about 14 months ago asking one of them to co-sponsor a bill with me. In 14 months I've had not a single response. I've spoken to individuals, I've chased them up and all of them have said to me, even the supporters of marriage equality in the Liberal and National party rooms, which I know there are a number, have said that they could not co-sponsor a bill with me or with Labor until there was a decision for a free vote in their party room, but there could be no decision in favour of a free vote until there was legislation before the Parliament. So we've had a stand-off, a classic catch-22.

CANNANE: Okay, so you wrote to them 14 months ago, but since the momentum shifted with that Irish referendum, have you gone back to them? Have you got on the phone, for example, to Warren Entsch, who I would've thought would've been the obvious candidate to be a co-sponsor?

PLIBERSEK: And indeed, that's why Bill specifically approached Warren at the end of last week. I offered to stand aside as the seconder if we could get a Liberal or National MP to co-sponsor because my interest in this is just getting it done. And of course Warren is an obvious person because he was in the media last week speaking about this, and of course, I'm very pleased to see that he's said today that he'll work with Bill on either this bill or another one like it. But, as I say, I mean, it's been us chasing Warren Entsch and I'd be delighted if he were able to come to the table and say he's able to co-sponsor this bill.

CANNANE: Okay. Well the Prime Minister says he understands legalising same-sex marriage is important, but the coming parliamentary week should be about implementing the Budget and Warren Entsch has said that he thought he would have a draft bill ready by August. It seems like you may only have to wait a couple of months?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Stephen, it's extraordinary to say that Warren will have a draft bill ready by August. I mean, this bill is only a few sentences. It does the simplest thing in the world. It changes the definition of marriage being between a man and a woman to being between two people. And, in addition to that, it specifically says that no church will be forced to solemnise a same-sex union. Two very simple propositions. It would take you five minutes to read the bill that we've got before the Parliament. Nobody on the Liberal or National side have said that there's anything wrong with this bill as it stands, and, I mean, I'm perplexed at why it would take months to draft a different bill. I think it's also important to say- you mentioned that the momentum has changed. The Irish referendum has done something very important: it's reminded Australians that we are one of very few countries like us that have not taken this step. About 22 countries, Ireland most recently, New Zealand, UK, I think about 38 states in the United States, many European countries around the world have taken this step and it is extraordinary to say that we have to wait months, many more months again when this has been before the Parliament for 14 months now and for years in one form or another.

CANNANE: So, do you believe Tony Abbott should grant a conscience vote on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. I think it's a very important step for the Liberal party room to allow people who are supporters of marriage equality to express that support publicly.

CANNANE: So, why do you think they should have a conscience vote in their party room when you don't want a conscience vote in your party room? You're taking it to conference, I think, next month that you want a binding vote on this.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'll tell you, Steve, I have always said on this that it is an issue of legal equality, of being able to say that we will not discriminate against one group in our community. We will not deny them the legal protections and status that marriage brings, nor the social recognition that it brings. But a conscience vote in the Liberal party room would be a big step forward for the Liberal and National party rooms. It's a big advance on where they are now. And I've also said from the very beginning what interests me, Steve, is the outcome of this debate, not the tactics in Parliament, not the toing and froing about who's going to sponsor which bill when. We are interested in getting this done and today was a historic step forward because we've had, for the first time, the leader of a major party taking this proposal to the Parliament.

CANNANE: Now, there has been seemingly a big shift in your party. Five senior Labor right MPs who voted against same-sex marriage in 2012, Wayne Swan, Chris Bowen, Tony Burke, Joel Fitzgibbon and Ed Husic are now supporting marriage equality. What do you put that shift down to?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think they've been listening to their communities. The last public polling we saw on this had 72 per cent of Australians in favour of marriage equality. It takes people a while to get used to what is really a big social change. I understand that people have to think it through, talk to their communities. But as they've got used to the idea, as they've had more discussions with the people that they represent, I think many members of Parliament have learnt that the Australian community is ahead of the Australian Parliament on this issue.

CANNANE: So, have they listened to polling rather than argument?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think they've listened to their constituents and that's one of our jobs here in the Federal Parliament, Steve, is to represent the people that put us here.

CANNANE: Okay, do you think the Marriage Act will change by the end of the year?

PLIBERSEK: I very much expect so and I think it could happen a lot sooner than that. The simple thing that has to happen is for Tony Abbott to grant the Liberal and- Liberal members of his party and the Nationals to grant a conscience vote, and once that conscious vote or free vote is determined, then I think this has a very good chance of passing the Parliament very quickly. And I'd also say that this nonsense that you mentioned earlier about how we should be focused on other issues and this is too much of a distraction- we agree that the economy is the most important thing facing us as a nation. We agree that the last budget that increased debt, increased the deficit, increased taxes, increased unemployment and smashed confidence is the main thing that we should be debating at this time. But the idea that we can't do an economic debate and a social debate at the same time is nonsense.

CANNANE: Now, before I let you go, news broke tonight that the former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner has died. She was the first female premier of Victoria, the second female premier in Australia behind Carmen Lawrence. What are your thoughts on the passing of Joan Kirner and her contribution to public life?

PLIBERSEK: Well, she'll be deeply missed by her very many friends and her very loving husband and family. She was a great leader. She and Carmen Lawrence obviously both broke political records, being female premiers at a time when they were really trailblazers. But it wasn't just Joan's work as Premier and her work before that as Education Minister, it was what she did after she left Parliament that was so important too. She was a friend, she was a mentor to many women. And I don't think we've got two Labor governments that have basically equal numbers of men and women on their frontbenches today. I think it's the work of Joan Kirner, Emily's List, the organisation she helped found, and the great number of her friends and supporters that have made those big advances for women possible in this country.

CANNANE: Tanya Plibersek, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Steve.