TRANSCRIPT: ABC News Breakfast, Tuesday 11 October 2016





SUBJECTS: The marriage equality plebiscite, South China Sea

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


TRIOLI: The Government has thrown you a bit of a lifeline on the plebiscite saying come up with your conditions to hold one, including maybe suspending the public funding of campaigns, and they'll consider it. So, will you?

PLIBERSEK: I think this is an absurd, last-minute effort from the Government to try and suggest that they have been interested in consultation when all the way through this they've made it very plain - discussions between the Prime Minister and our Leader, discussions between the Attorney General and the Shadow Attorney General - that they're not prepared to compromise on the most fundamental elements of this plebiscite, including things like the question. So I don't think it's sincere. I think it's very typical of the Attorney General to release legislation last night at 11pm and say we want your answer today on what we released at 11pm last night. It's not well-handled at all. 

TRIOLI: But just looking at the material of what has actually been put to you - does that not change things for you? If the public funding of the potentially very divisive 'yes' and 'no' campaigns, if that was taken away and suspended, would that not make the prospect of a plebiscite a bit more possible?

PLIBERSEK: Well the public funding is only a very small part of the cost of running the plebiscite. We saw in the explanatory memorandum that the plebiscite that we thought was going to cost about $175 million in fact will cost $200 million. The public funding is about $15 million, so if we take away $15 million from around $200 million, we've still got a huge wasteful exercise for something that really should be determined by the Parliament. The High Court has said that the Australian Parliament is the proper place to determine the plebiscite. We didn't have a plebiscite when we last changed the Marriage Act; we didn't have a plebiscite when John Howard overturned the Northern Territory's voluntary euthanasia laws. We've never had a plebiscite no matter how hard these social issues have been - extending rights to women, extending freedom from racial discrimination. This is a matter of human rights and discrimination and the idea that we ask the majority of the Australian community to vote on the rights of a minority of the Australian community is anathema to our representative democracy. So it's the cost, it's the absurd 'making people jump through hoops to get their rights' element of this, and finally Virginia, nothing changes the harm that will happen to people who are - particularly young people - who are just discovering their sexuality, but also kids who are hearing that their two mums or two dads don't make a proper family. Older Australians have written to me in huge numbers - people who have been with their partner for 10, 20, 30 years who are saying, " why should the rest of the community get a vote on whether my relationship is a legitimate relationship?" I've got one of my constituents who has been with his partner for 49 years this year and he says, "let's wait. Let's wait and do this properly". 

TRIOLI: So in a nutshell, Caucus will be voting no?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course we will have our Caucus meeting this morning and I don't announce the outcome of meetings before they happen. But I don't think you have to be a genius to work out where the majority of feeling is in the Labor Caucus on this. Since George Brandis showed us the plebiscite legislation at the end of the last Parliamentary sitting week we've been consulting in our electorates. We've been talking to, obviously, gay and lesbian Australians, their families and supporters, but also mental health experts like Pat McGorry, also people who are supporters of the plebiscite. And in that 3 weeks we have, I think most of us, increased our level of concern about the potential harm of this plebiscite, rather than been reassured.

TRIOLI: But you do know that Malcolm Turnbull can't get enough party support for a Parliamentary vote, yet you persist in asking him to do so. So is it not fair for some Australians, at least, to conclude that you're simply attempting to wedge the Prime Minister and playing politics with an issue very dear to their lives and hearts? 

PLIBERSEK: I think that's completely unfair because Malcolm Turnbull from the beginning has said that the plebiscite is the wrong way to go. He's only agreed to the plebiscite to get the job of Prime Minister. He's been only allowed to keep the job of Prime Minister because he has caved on this, and a whole range of other issues, to the right of the Liberal Party. We can't run a Government, or a country, in a way that is all about whether Malcolm Turnbull keeps his job. We need to legislate for the benefit of Australians, and the best way to do that is through the Parliament. And we know that there are people in the Liberal Party who prefer a free vote in the Parliament. Our hope is that those people will continue to assert themselves, and perhaps become even more assertive over coming months, and demand a free vote from their own party. 

TRIOLI: Just to jump in there, Tanya Plibersek, I think that's actually the point that I was making, and I think you've just made it yourself: that ultimately this comes down to not bothering with whether the Prime Minister keeps his job or not, or potentially taking that job from him? 

PLIBERSEK: I don't think it's fair that we spend $200 million of taxpayers' money because Malcolm Turnbull has made a commitment to the right wing of the Liberal Party. We need to make decisions in this Parliament that respect Australians - their rights and liberties - and that's about gay and lesbian Australians not being subjected to a debate that they say will be harmful and divisive. And it's about good government: we don't need to spend $200 million on this. I've got health services in my electorate that have been there for 40 years closing because they've had $900,000 of public funding a year cut by the Federal Government. Closing, like closing their doors, a homelessness health service. And we're going to spend $200 million on a plebiscite. We know that there are great gaps in mental health services, in drug and alcohol rehab services. Our schools, our hospitals, our roads: all of these things need extra funding, would benefit from extra funding, but we're going to spend $200 million on an opinion poll that doesn't even bind the Parliament. 

TRIOLI: On just one other matter before I let you go this morning, Tanya Plibersek. The former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has criticised your Defence Spokesman, Richard Marles, for saying that the military should be used to determine freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. And he has further criticised Labor as being too compliant with US Military interests. Do you share his misgivings?

PLIBERSEK: No. I think his criticisms are actually based on a misunderstanding of what Richard said. Richard has been very clear that in any instance, it should be the Government that determines whether freedom of navigation operations are held. But the operational details of operations when they're under way - of course they're things that you would allow the military authorities to take charge of day to day. Labor has always had a policy of having good relations with both China and the United States. It's not in our best interests to be pulled back and forth between these two very important partners. 

TRIOLI: Alright. Good to talk to you this morning, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks very much. 

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Virginia.