TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Brisbane, Friday 11 March 2016






SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality, Safe Schools, PFLAG book launch, Clive Palmer, Iran, election

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I’m Terri Butler I’m the Federal Member for Griffith and it’s just wonderful to be here at Southbank today, this beautiful part of my electorate of Griffith. I’ve got with me Tanya Plibersek the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and Shelley Argent who runs PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. And it’s just such a pleasure to welcome you both and to particularly welcome Tanya who’s going to say a few words. So thanks very much.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Terri. It’s always such a pleasure to be here in Brisbane but particularly with my friend and colleague Terri Butler who’s been doing such a fantastic job in Canberra representing the people of her electorate. I’ve been in Queensland for the last couple of days, in Brisbane for the last couple of days and it’s been extraordinary to hear the issues that people are raising with me. The thing that’s been most extraordinary is the way that the people of Brisbane have gone off Malcolm Turnbull in recent times. We’ve got, of course, this terrible event in Townsville where it looks like 550 more people will lose their jobs because of the problems of Queensland Nickel, and Bill Shorten’s up there today talking to the workers who’ll be affected. But people in Brisbane all have connections with those people in Townsville who are at risk of losing their jobs and, in fact, the whole of the city of Townsville will be affected if these job losses go ahead. And people are saying to me, everywhere I go, “well, what’s Malcolm Turnbull’s plan?”, “What’s Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for jobs in Queensland?”, “What’s his plan for the economy?”, “There’s no clarity about the tax proposals he’ll take to the federal budget”. The only thing that they know about Malcolm Turnbull is that he’s committed to continuing on with the vicious cuts that Tony Abbott announced in the 2014 budget. So $12 billion cut from the Queensland health system, more than $6 billion cut from Queensland’s schools. One of things, of course, that they’re disappointed about with Malcolm Turnbull – it’s a list – I mean, he said that the NBN would be better, faster, cheaper. And it’s slower, more expensive and not working for many of the people who have seen the NBN roll out in their areas. They’re devastated that someone who said he believed in climate change and strong action on climate change isn’t proceeding with the sort of policies that would actually make a difference when it comes to climate change. One of the most heartbreaking things for many Australians is they thought that Malcolm Turnbull would actually be a bit better than Tony Abbott when it came to marriage equality. And instead, what we see, is that Malcolm Turnbull has adopted all of Tony Abbott’s policies: the cuts to health and education; the inaction on climate change; the cuts to the ABC and SBS. And now he’s adopted the policy of a $160 million wasteful and divisive plebiscite. There are families all over Australia who actually don’t want their kids growing up in an environment where they’re being told that being same-sex attracted, gay, lesbian, bisexual is a problem, there’s something wrong with it. And there’s a whole lot of kids already growing up in families with two mums or two dads who shouldn’t have to listen to months of being told that there’s something wrong with their families. I’m going to hand…[pause to wait for nearby traffic noise to stop]…Shelley Argent has done a fantastic campaign for many, many years, supporting same-sex couples, but most particularly saying that parents and friends who’ve got a kid who’s growing up gay or lesbian, bi-sexual, love their family members, want to support them and most particularly want them not to be discriminated against in our society and not to be discriminated against in our laws. And Shelley’s got some very exciting news today, she’s launching a new book and she’s going to tell you all about it.

ARGENT: Good morning, what we’ve been doing is, or what I’ve been doing for many years, is lobbying the government and the politicians about marriage equality. And when I first started there was the conversation about “they’ll want to marry the TV or the dog”, but now we’ve, fortunately we’ve moved on from that, and now the two main concerns are the tradition of marriage, and what about the children? So we’ve come to the conclusion that the children that they’re talking about are our grandchildren.  And so what we’ve done is we’ve put together a brag book, and it’s all about - and they’re genuine photos, they’re not mock-ups - genuine photos of grandparents with their grandchildren from same sex couples. And the message is that these grandchildren, our children, are fine. They are just the same as anybody else’s grandchildren or children, they’re loved equally, they’re no better, they’re no worse, they’re just children that are loved. And it’s also important I think when you look at the booklet, that you can see really fantastic little children and the love that they’re getting, not only from their parents but also their grandparents and extended family.  Really, there is no need to be concerned about the children.  And that is our message – don’t worry about the children.  And if you are concerned about the children, really, you need to allow marriage equality and you should be encouraging a free vote, because if you have a free vote there’s less stress on the family, less questions, less mental health issues...just, it’s just difficult.  And even for me, as a parent of a gay son, I find it really insulting to have my child and his morals and ethics questioned by people who don’t even know him.  And they don’t care. And if marriage equality comes in, you know, the people who were against it, they won’t lose, but my son will gain.  And if it’s prevented, the people who are against it, they won’t gain but my son will lose. And that’s wrong. And so this is why we want a free vote, not a plebiscite.  We don’t want this money wasted.  There are so much more that the government could do with this money than to waste it on a plebiscite because they’re not game enough to stand up and take a little bit of heat from a few of the opponents, but they would know they’re doing what’s right, not what’s easiest.

JOURNALIST: How do you feel you’ve been going getting traction in the community with the booklet like this?

ARGENT: Well I think this is just a reminder, because we already know that the vast majority of Australians want marriage equality. They are either in favour of it or they’re past caring, and the number of people that say to me ‘what is wrong?  Why are they taking so long?’ And these are people I don’t even know, and they’re standing giving me a lecture on what the government should be doing. And it’s just silly. I really don’t know what the government’s fearing.

JOURNALIST: With the review of the Safe Schools programme expected out today…


JOURNALIST: …if it is trimmed back or cut, how would you feel about that?

ARGENT: Oh, that would be a disaster, because the Safe Schools programme is fantastic.  You’re hearing all this scaremongering about how it’s encouraging children to be gay, or it’s encouraging children to do whatever…you know, it’s nonsense, absolute nonsense.  And it’s a programme that is voluntary, it’s not compulsory.  It’s a programme that’s given to the teachers and the staff to help them with the children who may identify as trans, or are lesbian and gay. And it’s basically also for high school children, or the high school teachers to talk to the children about diversity and difference.  But it’s the scaremongering, and that is what is really wrong, and the groups that are doing that should really be ashamed of themselves.

JOURNALIST: An outcome that might happen is that there could be tweaks made.  Is there any scope for slight changes?

ARGENT: Well, I’d want to know what the change was first, and that’s the thing.  I’d want to know what that change was before I commented.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek can I ask you…

PLIBERSEK:  Yeah sure

JOURNALIST: …about Safe Schools as well?

PLIBERSEK:  Yeah you can.  Well, we know Malcolm Turnbull made a deal on a plebiscite instead of a vote in the Parliament when it came to marriage equality.  He made that deal to become Prime Minister - he sold out to the right wing of the Liberal Party a belief that he has had publicly and privately for many years. What really surprises me as that he’s jumped on the bandwagon when it comes to the Safe Schools Coalition.  This is basically a programme saying that kids should not be bullied for their sexuality at school. It amazes me that anyone would be arguing against an anti-bullying programme.  Now people are saying ‘well, what about sexist bullying? What about racist bullying?’ – there are programmes for other types of bullying.  There should be no bullying in our schools.  Every child should feel safe and accepted in their school.  We know that young people who are same-sex attracted or transgender are 6 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the community.  We know that 80% of those kids say that they haven’t always felt safe at their school.  It’s completely wrong for those individual kids to be frightened if they’re going to school, frightened when they get home about what their friends are saying about them on the internet - you know, the kids are bullied 24 hours a day, 7 days a week these days – it doesn’t stop at the school gate.  And of course it doesn’t just affect the psychology of these young people, with elevated risks of depression and alienation, but of course it affects their school work as well.  Nobody can be learning properly at school when they’re fearing for their safety or fearing exclusion or bullying at school.  So it is deeply distressing to have a Prime Minister – sure, he’s sold out on marriage equality – he could have made a stand on bullying of children at schools.  He hasn’t done that.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Clive Palmer, what do you make of his businessmanship? We’ve got his resort at the Sunshine Coast in dire straits now, Queensland Nickel.  What do you make of him as a businessman and an MP?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’d say it’s for other people to judge his business success.  When you look at more than 200 people who’ve already lost their jobs in Townsville and another 550 jobs really on the line today; as you say the resort that he took over, that seemed to be a going concern when he took it over, it doesn’t seem to be such a going concern now. But it’s for others to judge his business acumen.  I’d say that our concern has to be for the workers today, in Townsville, who are facing the loss of their jobs.  We believe that the Government should be doing much more to ensure that they keep the jobs they have or they are smoothly transition to other work.  Labor has announced a Townsville Stadium that will create 700 jobs in its construction for a start.  But this isn’t an issue that the Federal Government can wash its hands of.  If you take hundreds of jobs like this out of a city like Townsville, it’s not just the people who lose their jobs and their immediate family that are affected.  It’s the whole Townsville economy, the whole city of Townsville suffers when these jobs are taken out of the local economy.  So it can’t be a hands-off approach, it can’t be the same sort of turning a blind eye that we saw from the Federal Government as the car industries have closed down in Victoria and South Australia. We really need to see some leadership from the Federal Government here.

JOURNALIST: Just got a couple of questions on Iran from our Canberra office. Are you comfortable with the Government’s diplomatic engagement with Iran?

PLIBERSEK: Well I certainly think we need to have diplomatic engagement with countries right across the world, whether we agree with all of the things that their governments do or not. Iranian culture is ancient, Persia was one of the great empires of the world and Iranians today are still proud of that history.  And despite the fact that they’ve had an oppressive Government for many years, there are intelligent, hardworking people in Iran who continue to fight for democracy and continue to fight for a government that doesn’t trample their human rights in the way the Iranian Government does.  What amazes me is that the Foreign Minister has been so quick to welcome engagement with Iran, we suspect because she hopes that 9000 Iranian asylum seekers will be returned involuntarily to Iran if the relationship goes well. And so prepared to turn a blind eye to the anti-American rhetoric of the Iranian Government, the anti-Israeli rhetoric of the Iranian Government, to the human rights abuses, where people are locked up for their sexuality, for following a religion that’s not approved of by the regime, and most particularly, for political organisation against an oppressive Government. So yes, we understand that Iran is an important country in the region.  We will need to work with Iran on issues like political settlement in Syria, but that does not give us the ability to turn a blind eye to those human rights abuses and to the continued sponsorship of the Iranian Government of conflicts in the region where they are funding and arming groups that are engaged in serious conflict in Yemen, in Syria, and in other countries across the region.

JOURNALIST: I just have a couple of other quick questions – is there internal discontent within the Labor Party about Linda Burney’s preselection?

PLIBERSEK: No, there’s - we are delighted to be welcoming Linda Burney to the Labor Party and of course we have very high hopes that she will be elected to the Federal Parliament whenever Malcolm Turnbull should deign to call an election.  Linda Burney has a long and distinguished career as an activist for Aboriginal people, as the first teaching graduate from Mitchell College, as someone who has been a very senior bureaucrat in State Governments, who has been a fantastic Deputy Leader of the Labor Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament – she will be an asset to Federal Labor, just as she has been an asset to State Labor, just as she was an asset to the state bureaucracy before that, just as she has always been an asset to the fight for indigenous equality in this country.

JOURNALIST: And just finally the PM issued what amounts to be an ultimatum on holding a double dissolution.  Is it time for Labor to verify its position?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think our position’s pretty clear.  We think that the Liberals and the Greens have done a pretty nasty deal to facilitate a double dissolution election that they think will benefit the Liberals and the Greens at the expense of the minor parties.  We see evidence of this across the board in the Senate voting reform changes that the Greens were so quick to agree with the Liberals on.  They’ll benefit Labor and the Liberals and the Greens, but pity help anyone who’s an independent or a minor party.  And what really concerns me about this is if you think about the type of things that will be shoved through a joint sitting of a Parliament after a double dissolution election.  Yes we’ll have industrial relations legislation that takes us back to the bad old days of Workchoices, but we’ll also have many of the things that have been held up by the Senate, like $100,000 university degrees, like further cuts to family tax benefit and pensions, shoved through a joint sitting of the Parliament.  The thing that particularly alarms me is a number of environmental measures that the Greens say they support, that we’ve been able stop in the Senate, the Liberal’s destroying, will be, we expect to be pushed through a joint sitting of the two Houses as well.  So all of the things that have been held up by negotiation across the cross-benches – well, a double dissolution means all of them can be passed.