TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop interview, Sunday 31 May 2015






SUNDAY, 31 MAY 2015

SUBJECT: Marriage equality

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: We’ve seen a terrific turnout today for this rally in support of marriage equality. Tomorrow Bill Shorten will introduce a bill into the Parliament calling for Australia to change its Marriage Act from a marriage act which specifies that a marriage must be between a man and a woman to saying that marriage would be between two persons. The bill that Bill will introduce tomorrow also makes it very clear that no church would be asked to solemnise a marriage between two men or two women. It’s very important for us in Australia to see this change occur now. More than 20 countries around the world have made this change. Countries a lot like Australia: the United Kingdom, New Zealand, last weekend we saw Ireland, the majority of states in the United States, many European countries have already made this change. There have been bills like this in our Australian Parliament and sadly they have not been passed. So what we need to see over coming weeks is bipartisanship on this issue. Because bipartisanship is so very important for this issue to succeed, I have offered to stand aside as the seconder of this bill, should a Liberal or National MP be prepared to second the bill. I know that Bill Shorten has spoken with Warren Entsch who has been a very prominent supporter of marriage equality and talked to him about whether he would be prepared to second the bill. But if not Warren Entsch, then I know there are other Liberals and Nationals who are supporters of marriage equality. Ideally with the support of a Labor leader, Bill Shorten, and prominent Liberal or National and of course the support of the minor parties, this bill could succeed. I’d like to see this change happen in Australia before Christmas.

JOURNALIST: Do you know how those talks are going with Warren Entsch? Is that something that’s likely to happen before the bill is tabled or possibly not?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it should. This bill’s been public now since the end of last week. It’s very, very short. The changes only go to those two things that I mentioned; it changes ‘a man and a woman’ to ‘two people’ and it specifies that no church would be asked to solemnise a marriage that they felt uncomfortable with. It’s only two very short changes to the Marriage Act in Australia. You could read the whole thing in 5 minutes. I know that Warren and others in the Liberal and Nationals parties have had access to this for several days now and I imagine that talks are progressing in Liberal and National circles. That’s the reason I’ve offered to step aside if we can get a seconder from one of the other major parties - that gives this bill a much greater chance of succeeding. To me it’s impossible to understand if there are supporters like Warren Entsch who have been given the go ahead by the Prime Minister now to campaign on this issue, why they wouldn’t be prepared to second the bill. One of the problems has been, for 14 months now we’ve had a standoff. In March last year, I drafted a bill to change the Marriage Act and I wrote to all Liberal and National MPs asking them to co-sponsor the bill. I had many of them say to me that they would be very pleased to co-sponsor a bill except in the Liberal and National party rooms there was no free vote on this issue. So they couldn’t co-sponsor a bill with me because there was no free vote. Now when I talked to them about how we would get a free vote in the Liberal and National party room, they said they couldn’t get that until there was a bill before the Parliament prompting the debate in their party rooms. So we had a classic catch-22 standoff. Bill Shorten and I have decided to push through that standoff, particularly on the back of the momentum caused by the great celebrations in Ireland when marriage equality was won last weekend. But as I say, this issue has the best chance of succeeding if there is an opportunity for bipartisanship. So if there is a Liberal or National who comes forward tomorrow, that would be the best of all possible outcomes.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has indicated he won’t be sponsoring it. What’s your message to him?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that’s a matter for Tony Abbott and I’m not going to lecture him or anyone else. I believe very strongly that this is an issue of legal rights. Of course for many people, marriage is a sacrament and I understand that for those people, they’ll have trouble supporting this measure. But for people who are not religious, there is also a really important legal status that marriage holds, and there’s also the symbolism of celebrating your love for your life partner in front of your friends and family. So marriage is for some people a religious sacrament, but it’s much more in our community as well. It’s a legal obligation for two couples to respect and look after each other and it’s an opportunity to celebrate the lifelong commitment to your partner.

JOURNALIST: Having had bills go before the Parliament before and failed [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think if there is a free vote in the Liberal and National party rooms, this bill will pass. There is a very strong momentum in the Australian community. The last polling I saw had almost three-quarters of Australians supporting marriage equality. And I know that many people on our side, the Labor side of politics, who had voted no in the past, have said publicly that they’ve changed their minds, that they’ve spoken to their friends, their families and to their communities and changed their mind on this issue. And I know that there are Liberals and Nationals who feel the same way. They’ve seen what’s happened overseas, they’ve seen well over 20 countries make this same change, they’ve seen the celebration that comes with it. And they’ve come to understand that marriage is a legal institution and that no Australian should be denied equal treatment under the law. So I believe there’s been a lot of movement in our Parliament and I think the Parliament has almost caught up to the Australian people on this issue.

JOURNALIST: You were talking about pushing through that standoff before, Tanya, but it could’ve easily backfired. Do you think you got lucky with Warren Entsch now that you’ve got that support now to go forward?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think we had an impossible situation where Liberals were saying that they wanted to support a bill for marriage equality but they couldn’t get a free vote in their party room until there was a bill before the Parliament and so we needed to take the next step to break open this deadlock. I hope now that common sense will prevail and that the issue will be debated first thing tomorrow in the Liberal and Nationals party rooms and that during this week, certainly tomorrow, we’ll see a Liberal or National put their name as a seconder to this bill. And once the bill is introduced of course it will sit on the table for some time. Those intervening weeks will be the opportunity for people across the Australian community to make their feelings known to their representatives about their feelings about marriage equality.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] week or so to get someone to second [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: No, the bill will be introduced tomorrow, and there’ll be a mover and a seconder tomorrow. The Liberals and Nationals have had days to consider Bill’s proposition, and frankly they’ve had 14 months since I introduced an almost identical bill to make up their minds about whether one of them is prepared to cosponsor. I would very much hope that one will co-sponsor this bill. It’s very simple, it takes 5 minutes to read, it’s not hard to see that the changes are absolutely minimal. They simply change the Marriage Act specifying that marriage is between a man and woman to saying that marriage is in between two people and the additional sentence in there makes very clear that no church would be forced to solemnise a marriage between two men or two women. It’s an absolutely simple approach to this issue of marriage equality and as this has been debated for years, as my own bill was available for scrutiny for 14 months, as this very short bill has been available for days now, I don’t think any suggestions that we need more time to consider it really stands up to much scrutiny. It will be introduced tomorrow, it will be debated over coming weeks and I hope that by the end of the year and sooner than that, we’ll actually have marriage equality in this country.

JOURNALIST: What do you think are the chances of this bill passing?

PLIBERSEK: I think the chances are very good. As long as the Liberal and National parties have a free vote from their party rooms, the chances of this being law by Christmas are very strong indeed.