TRANSCRIPT: ABC NewsRadio, Monday 1 June 2015






SUBJECTS: Marriage equality; South China Sea

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, the proposal from Labor today is simply to change a few words in the Marriage Act.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, that’s right. There’s a bill going before Parliament today that will change the definition of marriage being between a man and a woman to being between two people, and just additionally it further clarifies that no church will be forced to solemnise a same sex union.

BENSON: And the bill is obviously supported by people on both sides of the House and those people who support it, particularly some of the Greens, are saying ‘don’t go ahead with this bill unilaterally, wait for a bipartisan approach’. You’re not prepared to do that?

PLIBERSEK: We were absolutely prepared to wait for a bipartisan approach - I mean, 14 months ago, Marius, I wrote to all Liberal and National MPs asking them to co-sponsor a bill, very much like this bill, and in 14 months there’s been no movement. Last week we asked Liberal and National MPs to consider co-sponsoring the bill that Bill Shorten will introduce today and we are still very hopeful that one of them will do that today. But up til now, what the Liberals and Nationals have been telling us is that they can’t co-sponsor a Labor bill, there can’t be a bipartisan bill because in their party rooms there’s no free vote given on this issue. And until there’s a free vote given, they can’t co-sponsor a bill. They also say there will be no debate about a free vote in their party room until there’s a piece of legislation before the Parliament. So there’s been a classic standoff, a catch-22 if you like. We’re saying we’d like a Liberal MP to co-sponsor today’s bill and this is, I mean, it’s a very simple bill as I’ve described to you, it’s only a few sentences long. They’ve had it for some time now. They’re very well able to have made a decision by now to co-sponsor today but if not today, we’ll continue to work with them in the future.

BENSON: So are you ready to abandon this specific bill proposed by Labor for another that comes from both sides jointly framed if that has a better chance of success?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we’re not prepared to abandon today’s bill because this is the only thing that’s seen any movement, any progress, any advance on this issue in more than a year and a half. I think it is very important that we do introduce this bill today and it would be preferable if Warren Entsch or one of the other Liberal or Nationals were prepared to co-sponsor it.

BENSON: This bill is being proposed by Bill Shorten and people are accusing him of political opportunism, saying he just jumped on this issue as the train doors were closing.

PLIBERSEK: Well, Bill Shorten voted in favour of marriage equality last time the issue was before the Parliament. He’s been a long-time supporter of this issue and I think it sends a very powerful signal that the Leader of the Labor Party is the one proposing this bill. I think it shows that we are a party that backs marriage equality.

BENSON: Can I go to another issue which is Kevin Andrews, the Defence Minister, has spoken at an Asian security conference issuing a warning that Australia and other countries will respond if China persists with assertive action in the South China Sea, referring there to the expansion of facilities on artificial islands. Do you support Kevin Andrews in that position?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we need to be very careful about the language that we use around this area of tension. It is very important that countries in the region, Australia included, particularly our ASEAN neighbours, work cooperatively to deescalate tensions in the South China Sea. Of course, it’s important that we continue to see freedom of movement in that area, particularly freedom of shipping, but making sure that we use language that calms the situation rather than inflames it is very important.

BENSON: And has Kevin Andrews chosen language that calms or inflames?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think I’ll leave that for others to consider but I would say that our interests here as Australians is to make sure that this issue is resolved peacefully, cooperatively, using international laws and forums and the best thing that we can do is to deescalate tensions.

BENSON: Kevin Andrews says he wants a halt to the reclamation activities by China. Is that appropriate?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s important that countries in the region are able to express their concerns where they have them but-

BENSON: But should China stop reclamation activity?

PLIBERSEK: Well, certainly I think any suggestions that islands that have been reclaimed have seen military facilities built on them, that gives concern to people in the region, neighbours in the region. But I think importantly, Marius, Australia should be playing a role in deescalating tensions.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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