TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Parliament House, Wednesday 2 March 2016






SUBJECT/S: marriage equality

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: This weekend is the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and it’s a celebration that attracts visitors from all around the world. But the first Mardi Gras was quite a different proposition: a few thousand people marching, demonstrating against the discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians in Sydney in those days. Since 1978, of course, we’ve won many battles. There have been great advances for the gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual and intersex community. But there’s one great piece of unfinished business. When Labor was last in government, we removed discrimination from every piece of Commonwealth law other than the Marriage Act. And it’s time for the Marriage Act to be changed now as well to recognise same-sex relationships properly. This could happen now. My colleague, Terri Butler has a Bill before the Parliament right now that could amend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples who love each other and want to marry, to marry. There is no reason for delay. If you take a little trip back in history, in March 2014 I wrote to all Liberal and National MPs and asked them to co-sponsor a bill. I knew at that time that the best chance we had of getting marriage equality through the Parliament was a bill that was bipartisan, that could allow members from all political parties to support it. Not one of those Liberal or National MPs responded to my request at that time to co-sponsor a bill. After that delay, Bill Shorten and I decided that we would introduce a Labor Bill – moved by Bill, seconded by me – in early 2015. And Tony Abbott’s response at that time, as Prime Minister, was “this is not an issue that should be owned by any one political party”.   

So Bill and I stepped aside and Terri, who has been such a great campaigner for marriage equality, along with Warren Entsch and others, worked as backbenchers to progress a bipartisan bill for marriage equality that should have been able to be voted on by the Parliament at that time. Well Tony Abbott betrayed Warren Entsch, and instead of allowing the bill that he himself had asked for – he’d said that a bill supported, a cross-party bill supported by backbenchers was the way to proceed – well he betrayed Warren Entsch on that and instead he kicked off this issue to a divisive and expensive plebiscite. A $160 million plebiscite that the conservatives in the Liberal Party have already said they would ignore the results of, should they not be happy with the results.

So, at every stage we’ve had an effort from Labor to be bipartisan, recognising that there are many supporters of marriage equality in the conservative ranks – both those who are supporters of marriage equality and an end to discrimination against the gay and lesbian community, and those who are simple, traditional Liberals who don’t think the Government has no place in people’s bedrooms. There’s support amongst the conservatives for marriage equality. At every stage we’ve sought to be bipartisan, to work cooperatively, to bring this issue to the Parliament, and at every stage, the conservatives in the Liberal Party have kicked off this issue into the long grass. Well, the time has come. We could have marriage equality by the weekend. There’s a bill before the Parliament, Terri could bring it in at any moment, we could vote on it and get this through, and imagine what a celebration Mardi Gras would be on the weekend if we actually had the opportunity to celebrate marriage equality.  Terri, do you want to say a few words?

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much. I would love to see a Mardi Gras celebration of achieving marriage equality. And I would love to see a Mardi Gras celebration of all the parties in our Parliament coming together to achieve marriage equality. That’s what I would love to see. I would be very disappointed if we went to a plebiscite. Whenever a plebiscite was held, it would necessarily lead to a campaign with the sort of language that we’ve been hearing lately from some of the hard-right conservatives in the Coalition and elsewhere. The sort of language where the Safe Schools program, for example, was described as being basically tantamount to grooming. The sort of language in the pamphlet that has been distributed recently, where it was suggested that LGBTI people were somehow more prone to drug use or to STIs. The sort of situation where you’d ask our population to vote on whether some kids’ parents could get married and other kids’ parents couldn’t. That’s really what we are talking about when we are talking about a plebiscite. A great big national divisive discussion about whether all families were equal or not. We don’t need that. We don’t need to spend the money, it’s $160 million but more importantly we don’t need that national division because actually we have an opportunity for national unity on righting a wrong. We can do it now.

I’ve said very clearly, I’ve said it to my colleagues, I’ve said it in the national media that this week before Mardi Gras I’ll ask the House of Representatives for a suspension of standing orders to bring the cross party bill on for a vote. It’s a cross party bill. It’s a moderate bill. It’s a pragmatic bill. It’s a bill that can give effect to marriage equality right now. It’s something that the whole community can get behind. It’s something that we can all get behind.

I would be delighted to have the whole Parliament, including of course our friends on the Coalition benches, be able to stand up and say “you know what?  We did our job”. The High Court told us we could legislate, we didn’t squib it, we didn’t outsource it. We came in, we got it done. It’s done. Let’s now move together and let’s move forward together. That’s what I’d like to see happen this week in relation to this cross party bill. If we don’t do that we’ve lost an opportunity. Well people might say to you “ oh people just need to wait a bit longer, they need to wait just a bit longer for marriage equality.”  How much longer do people have to wait? Last week we had Shelley Argent here, the head of PFLAG.  She’s 66. How much longer does she has to wait for her son to have the right to marry? How much longer do my friends in their 70s and 80s who have been in long-term same-sex relationships have to wait for marriage equality? How much longer do my family members have to wait and their kids have to wait before they can get married? How much longer does my Grandmother have to wait before my cousin can get married?  How much longer do my friends who have been together for a decade have to wait before their kids can be the flower girl and page boy at their wedding? Why can’t this be done now? There is no reason except for the cave in to the hard right. It’s time that Malcolm Turnbull showed some leadership. It’s time that Malcolm Turnbull delivered a free vote in his party room. It’s time that Malcolm Turnbull stood for something. I know he supports a free vote because in August he advocated for it. And in September he became Prime Minister. He didn’t become Prime Minister in a popular vote. He became Prime Minister through representative democracy. I believe in representative democracy. John Howard believes in representative democracy. He’s said so himself. If you don’t believe in representative democracy what are you doing here? Let’s get this done. Let’s do our jobs. Let’s stop sitting on this. Get our act together, stop dithering, pass marriage equality for this country. And let’s do it before Mardi Gras so we can celebrate together. Thanks very much everyone.

PLIBERSEK: Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, do you think that it’s possible that Malcolm Turnbull has a secret agenda just sneaking marriage equality in while Cory Bernardi is off at the United Nations for three months?

PLIBERSEK: Well that’d make sense of Cory Bernardi going to the United Nations which is quite an unusual decision on Cory Bernardi’s part given what he’s said about the United Nations being undemocratic and unrepresentative. Look I, sadly I don’t think the PM has a secret plan to bring on marriage equality. I wish he did.

JOURNALIST: Ms Butler you’re talking about this week, are we talking about today to try and bring on this vote and what are the chances of us getting to a vote because you’d need the government MPs to agree to that procedure.

BUTLER: I will seek to move a suspension motion at the best possible opportunity. Things change very quickly in Parliament so I’ll do it at what I think is the best possible opportunity under advice of course from my senior colleagues. The prospect just depends on the Liberals and Nationals. We’re united on our side. It just depends on the Liberals and Nationals. It’s something peculiarly within the knowledge of those people. I hope that they search their consciences and do the right thing.

PLIBERSEK: I just want to follow up on that. We know that there are supporters of marriage equality in the Liberal and National parties. They’ve said it. They’ve been public about it. Indeed, you know a number of them are co-sponsors of this bill and have spoken in the Parliament about the fact that they support marriage equality. Some of it has been very personal. We’ve heard members of the Liberal Party in particular talking about friends and family members that have convinced them that marriage equality is fair and that it’s time for marriage equality. This Bill is uncontroversial in as far as it’s a multi-party Bill, it’s had the support of Members of Parliament from across the political divide. There is absolutely no reason for it not to be brought forward. The Liberal Party has always prided itself on being a party where people can vote with their consciences – it would be great to see that this week, people voting for marriage equality this week.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek you talked about the 78ers, they received an apology last week in NSW Parliament. It was telling that Premier Mike Baird didn’t speak in the chamber, nor has he been a great supporter of marriage equality. Doesn’t that make it hard seeing as he himself said he won’t go on Saturday to one of the biggest events that Sydney holds?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that’s something for Mike Baird to respond to. On the point you make about this being one of the biggest events in the Sydney calendar, this isn’t just an important political and symbolic celebration, this is actually a major tourism event for Australia. It brings people from all over the world who spend up big when they are in Sydney.  They have a great time. It’s a great advertisement for the city of Sydney all over the world. So of course we would expect the state government to recognise the benefits that the month long festival of Mardi Gras brings for Sydney. As for the NSW Premier’s personal views and the fact that he didn’t speak on the 78ers debate, that’s not a matter that I want to comment on, other than to say this apology was a very important statement that things have changed since that first Mardi Gras. The first Mardi Gras was broken up quite violently by the police and a number of people who marched were outed by the Sydney Morning Herald and other newspapers publishing their identities, listing the names of the people that had been arrested. For some of those people who were listed in media organisations at that time, this was the first their families and their employers knew of their sexuality. A number lost their jobs, many had their family relationships challenged by that revelation, so I’m so glad that we have come to a place where we recognise that that behaviour was wrong then. But we need to take the next step forward. There have been great advances since then – when Labor was last in government federally we got rid of every remaining piece of discriminatory legislation, superannuation, immigration, family law, Centrelink benefits, right across the board we made big changes. But marriage equality is a change that is yet to happen. It could happen today if this Parliament were allowed to vote.

JOURNALIST: Warren Entsch has expressed some disappointment that Labor is bringing on a vote now, he doesn’t see that as in keeping in the spirit of the cross-party grouping. By doing this is Labor destroying that goodwill that existed between the sponsors of this bill?


PLIBERSEK:  Well the problem’s not Labor. Warren Entsch was convinced by Tony Abbot that if this was not Bill Shorten’s Bill, if it was a backbencher’s Bill that was cross-party, then it could be debated in the Parliament. He was obviously deceived by Tony Abbott. The problem is not Labor, the problem is you first had a Prime Minister in Tony Abbott that wanted to delay marriage equality by introducing this notion of a plebiscite, and what’s even worse, Malcolm Turnbull, a man who has clearly said he supports marriage equality, who has argued in the past for a free vote in this Parliament is now prepared to adopt the policies of the right wing of the Liberal Party and delay this. There is no need for delay, this could be done now. Terri?

BUTLER: I was just going to add, I’ve spoken to Warren.  He and I remain of the same mind that we want to see marriage equality. We’ve got a different view about process. I’ve got some very firm views about plebiscites which I’ve expressed. I’m particularly concerned about the effect on children of same-sex couples in the event of a plebiscite and therefore a national campaign continues. I think I’ve made it really clear why I don’t support a plebiscite but if there’s more information needed about why a plebiscite is a terrible idea, just look at the PFLAG resource that they’ve published about the concerns that PFLAG have about the effect on children and grandchildren when it comes to a national divisive debate, where some families are either implied to be or just overtly said to be less valuable than others.

PLIBERSEK:  Thanks everyone.

BUTLER: Thanks everyone.