SUBJECTS: Citizenship; Marriage Equality; Manus Island


FRAN KELLY: Well, as we’ve been discussing this morning, the ongoing citizenship disaster, which has plagued federal Parliament for months now, has just robbed the Turnbull government of its majority status. John Alexander’s resignation from the seat of Bennelong, from the Parliament, has reduced the Coalition’s number in the Lower House to 73 seats; that’s one less than the combined total for Labor and the crossbench. In yet another escalation of the political stakes, the Prime Minister vowed yesterday to refer Labor MPs to the High Court, prompting Labor to threaten it would go nuclear in response. The Government’s Deputy Leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann though, seemed to be stepping back from that threat this morning.

[MATHIAS CORMANN CLIP]: What I’m saying is that if individual Members of Parliament are aware that they were or are in breach of the Constitution and their constitutional requirements for election to Parliament, then obviously it is up to those individual Members of Parliament to make their own judgement.

KELLY: Senator Mathias Corman speaking to us earlier. Well the citizenship chaos will also collide with the outcome of the same-sex marriage survey this week; with conservative MPs threatening a new Private Member’s Bill if the yes vote wins. Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Labor Leader and she joins me in our breakfast studio, Tanya Plibersek, welcome back to breakfast.


KELLY: The Government’s now reduced, at least temporarily, to minority status. You can’t really argue that’s a problem for the Government given the minority Gillard Government was able to pass more than 500 pieces of legislation. It’s not a problem, is it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s certainly a problem because it’s happened due to the chaos of this citizenship debacle. We did, of course, pass substantial legislation, more legislation than Tony Abbott did during his time as Prime Minister; but we did it with a lot of negotiation, and a lot of hard work, and the predictability of going into Government knowing that we would have to work with the crossbench. 

KELLY: At this stage, the Government could still rely on confidence and supply from at least two of the crossbenchers, Rebekha Sharkie and Cathy McGowan, will Labor be testing their support when the Lower House is back at the end of this month? Will you bring on, for instance, a vote on, try and bring on a debate and vote on a banking Royal Commission?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we’re a couple of weeks before the House of Representatives resumes but I think we’ve been pretty clear all the way along; if there are things that we feel strongly about, yes, of course we’ll look at ways that we can push those through the Parliament if we possibly can and the examples we’ve used, as you say, a banking Royal Commission and penalty rate cuts. If we can propose, repropose the Private Member’s Bill that we’ve had in the past, we’ll look at doing that.

KELLY: Let’s go to the citizenship saga, there are four Labor MPs with question marks against their status: Justine Keay, Susan Lamb, Madeleine King, and Josh Wilson. If it’s good enough for the High Court to test the heritage of Coalition MPs, we’ve all seen that happen, why should Labor Members escape scrutiny?

PLIBERSEK: Because they don’t have question marks against them, Fran. All of these people took every reasonable step to renounce their citizenship before their nomination for Parliament. The difference between our people, who have all taken every reasonable step to renounce their citizenship, and the people who have been caught out on the Liberals’ side is that the people on the Liberals’ side stuck their head in the sand; they didn’t take any steps to renounce their citizenship. The only person who actually took some step to renouncing his citizenship was Malcolm Roberts, and he sent an email to an email address that didn’t exist. Stephen Parry, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, none of these people took any steps to renounce their dual citizenship.

KELLY: Yeah, but you’re not a constitutional lawyer, you’re not a High Court judge. The Government has expert legal advice from at least one QC, David Bennett, who has reviewed the cases of Justine Keay and Susan Lamb and concluded that they are disqualified given the latest ruling of the full bench of the High Court that that supersedes them.

PLIBERSEK: That’s not right because first of all: why would you trust any legal advice that the Prime Minister claims he has. The Prime Minister said that Barnaby Joyce would be fine - ‘the High Court will so hold.’ So, first of all, I don’t think we are going to be taking legal advice from the Prime Minister who thought all of his people would be fine, who has refused to share the legal advice from the Solicitor-General. We’ve got legal advice that says our people are fine because they took every reasonable step before nominating for Parliament to renounce their dual citizenship. The people who referred themselves on the conservative side have admitted that they took no steps to renounce their dual citizenship.

KELLY: If the Government does refer these four Labor MPs, it says Labor should refer them, if it doesn’t, the Parliament should do it. If the Government refers Labor MPs whose citizenship status they believe is in question to the High Court, will Labor respond in time? Will you go nuclear, which is the quote coming from a Labor source this morning?

PLIBERSEK: Two things: first of all, people, if they have doubts, should refer themselves and that’s what the Liberals have done, they referred themselves. We didn’t refer Barnaby Joyce or Stephen Parry or Fiona Nash or any of them. We say that there is a process that we’re negotiating with the Government now; it is ridiculous to be making threats to refer people before we’ve even gone through this disclosure process that both the Prime Minister and people on the conservative side and Labor say is necessary, and we don’t think that our people have any case to answer because they have taken all reasonable steps.

KELLY: I understand that you don’t think that but if the Government does refer, will Labor respond in kind? Will we see this tit-for-tat? Mutual destruction.

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s not tit-for-tat, the Attorney-General has said previously that it would be a very dangerous thing for people to start nominating along political lines to the High Court. We have our doubts over people like Nola Marino, who may have got Italian citizenship by marriage and others that have been mentioned on the conservative side - Julia Banks. But we think that it is more appropriate to go through the process, we’d like to see a strong, swift process with a disclosure date of the first of December that looks at things, at not just the parents of Members of Parliament but grandparents which the Government so far has balked at. We want to see that strong, swift disclosure process.

KELLY: And if that strong, swift disclosure process is not allowed to play out, let me just ask you one more time, if the Government does refer four Labor MPs, will Labor wait for the disclosure process or will it refer in kind – go nuclear, as is the quote in the papers today.

PLIBERSEK: Well, if the Government was trying to drag Labor MPs into the mess that their MPs are in, we would have to consider all our options of course we would. 

KELLY: It’s thirteen past eight on Breakfast; our guest is Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek, we get the same-sex marriage result on Wednesday, if it’s a yes, how soon do you think we’d see the Marriage Act changed to reflect marriage equality?

PLIBERSEK: We can get it done by Christmas. There is a consensus Bill that was developed by a Senate Inquiry, the ‘Dean Smith Bill’, the Liberals support it, Labor supports it, Nationals, Greens, Xenophon Team, that Bill should be voted on before Christmas.

KELLY: We now have another Bill, so there’s two Private Member’s Bills. Conservative Coalition MPs have come up with the Bill.

PLIBERSEK: There are a dozen of them, Fran if you want to have a look at the ones that have been presented to Parliament.

KELLY: This is one that supports same-sex marriage but it beefs up religious protections, should both of these Bills be debated?

 PLIBERSEK: No, there is a Bill that has gone through an extensive Senate Inquiry process and I don’t think it’s reasonable or rational to get the opponents of marriage equality to think that they can draft the marriage equality Bill that’s presented to the Parliament.

KELLY: Well they have drafted a marriage equality Bill…

PLIBERSEK: And it shouldn’t be supported.

KELLY: …and the person who’s drafted it said he’s a yes voter but he’s concerned about religious protections.

PLIBERSEK: This is one more delaying tactic from the people who brought you the $122 million waste of money postal survey that we have just subjected the nation to. Why should we accept one more delaying tactic from the opponents to marriage equality? Having one person who says they’re a yes voter as the front-man for this Bill doesn’t hide where this Bill comes from.

KELLY: If there is a yes vote on Wednesday, but if it’s a relatively narrow margin say it’s 55:45, would you, would Labor, countenance some more religious freedoms? Would you, in a slight show of respect for the many Australians who are uncomfortable?

PLIBERSEK: Fran, what do we mean by religious freedoms? The ‘Dean Smith Bill’ and all of the Private Member’s Bills that have been presented on the issue of marriage equality specifically say that no church will be forced to solemnise any marriage against the tenets of their faith. There is a specific category of religious celebrant also included in this consensus Bill from Dean Smith and the other Senators that says that marriage celebrants can say that they will not marry people on the basis of their religious beliefs. Are we really saying, in Australia today, that you can refuse to serve someone because they’re gay? You can refuse to bake them a cake or drive them in your car? Honestly, that is a bridge too far, you cannot say, ‘I’m not going to bake you a cake because I don’t agree with a black person and a white person getting married. Or I’m not going to bake you a cake because you’re too old to get married; it’s my personal view that marriage should only be between young people who want to have children. Or you’re divorced and my faith says that divorced people can’t get remarried.’ It is a bridge too far to say that goods and services provided in the normal course of business should be allowed to be provided on a discriminatory basis based on someone’s sexuality.

KELLY: And do you believe we’re going to get into a debate over the numbers once we see the results of this survey. Tony Abbott has already said that 40% is a moral victory. I mean, is there a line? How definitive do you believe this needs to be to quell debate? Or is 51% good enough?

PLIBERSEK: I think that the opponents of marriage equality will use any tool in the toolbox to say that it’s not legitimate, it’s a problem, but I think the vast majority of Australians are absolutely over this debate. They just want the Parliament to get on and legislate. We’ve spent $122 million; we’ve put people through the trauma of forcing this argument into family homes, into communities instead of just dealing with it in the Parliament as we should have. I think people will regard any more delay and obfuscation very poorly indeed.

KELLY: Can I just ask you finally, Manus Island, there is still I think something less than 400 men now still in the detention centre that’s been closed, all the services cut off. The PNG authorities have issued this deadline for today for those still there to leave and there is an indication that they’ll be forced to leave if they don’t. Are you concerned this could end in violence?

PLIBERSEK: I am deeply concerned and I have been concerned for years for the safety and the mental health of the men left on Manus Island and the men left on Nauru, for both and it is one of the worst failures of this Government that there is still not resettlement for these people. If the offer from New Zealand had been accepted years ago, many of these people could have been resettled in New Zealand. I don’t understand why the Government has allowed the arrangement with the United States to drag on so slowly, and why other third country options have not been explored. This Government is now in its fifth year of office and the fact that they have not found permanent homes for these men is an absolute failure on their part.

KELLY: Should our Government step in today to urge the PNG authorities to not use violence?

PLIBERSEK: Our Government has abrogated its responsibility to these people.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Education Minister and Deputy Labor Leader, you’re listening to RN Breakfast.