SUBJECT: Marriage equality.

AHRON YOUNG, PRESENTER: Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek now joins me live from Sydney, afternoon to you. Of course, a pretty long campaign for same-sex marriage, it is now finally law. Just tell us, what was it like to be in Parliament yesterday?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It was really a fantastic feeling in Parliament yesterday. Very long day, lots of amendments, proposed amendments, lots of divisions on those amendments, and I could see the galleries were packed with people all day just waiting for that final vote. So a lot of joy when it happened. But also I think it's really important to acknowledge this has been an incredibly difficult campaign for a lot of people. The postal survey brought up all sorts of conflicts within families, within communities, that really didn't need to happen. So yesterday the Parliament did its job and voted on marriage equality. I think there was a lingering question of why it took so long and why we had this expensive, divisive postal survey when the whole way along Parliament had to vote anyway.

YOUNG: You're right. We saw these pictures of parliamentarians patting themselves on the back, the rainbow flag there in the Lower House as well, the House of Representatives, but as a parliamentarian what do you say to those people who found the whole thing really traumatising? 

PLIBERSEK: I really sincerely, deeply apologise. I think this is something that we, as parliamentarians, ought to have done a long time ago. But this postal survey…I had constituents of mine who had their home graffitied, I had people who were physically intimidated, verbally assaulted. And worse than all of that I think is the people who told me that they had conflict with their families, their parents perhaps were voting no or brothers and sisters were voting no, the hurt that goes with that is really, really difficult to explain if you haven't felt it, I think. And that's why we opposed the postal survey from the very beginning. We were absolutely delighted that the Parliament has finally done its job and legislated for marriage equality, but I think we could have got there much faster, much cheaper and with much less pain.

YOUNG: The PM's been out today accusing Labor of playing petty politics, Labor's accusing the Prime Minister of gloating on this?

PLIBERSEK: Well honestly. Like I say, we had a vote in 2012, the Prime Minister voted no then. So it's pretty rich for him to be saying that Labor's been trying to stop this when last time he had the chance to vote for marriage equality he voted no. We know that the postal survey was designed by the opponents of marriage equality to try and stop marriage equality or at least to delay it, and it came with a very high price. I had a homeless medical service in my electorate close because the Government couldn't find $800,000 a year to keep it open, but they could find tens of millions of dollars a year for a postal survey that hurt a lot of Australians. So I don't want to take away from the happiness of this time, the fantastic result in the Parliament yesterday with an overwhelming majority of both sides of politics voting yes for marriage equality, but I think it's a bit rich for the Prime Minister, who was missing in action during this campaign, to now be claiming credit. 

I give a lot more credit, frankly, to people like Eddie Blewitt, a 14-year-old boy who stood up again and again and said "why can't my two mums have their relationship recognised in the same way as the other parents of the kids at my school". I give a lot more credit to people like John Challis in my electorate, who's been with his partner Arthur for more than 50 years, who has been campaigning for marriage equality, and just general equality, for decades now. And to people like the '78ers in my electorate who've been working for equality for decades. I give credit to those people, and to the Australian community at large. 

YOUNG: We saw a pretty overwhelming result for people who were voting yes. As a parliamentarian who's been, of course, in Parliament for a while, do you think it's suddenly changed? There's been this talk, even five years ago, we look back to Julia Gillard, many people who believe that Australia simply wasn't ready, say, five years ago, all of a sudden we seem to be ready now? Do you think that is the case or do you think that parliamentarians' politics dragged its feet on something that Australians were ready for and we are now looking back at politicians saying were you out of touch?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. I think Australia was ready, I don't think the Parliament was ready. I think Australians have led the Parliament on this and led their parliamentary representatives. All of the polling that we've seen for many years now has said that a majority of Australians have been in favour of marriage equality. And the last vote, as you point out, was in 2012 and at that time I think it was about 43 parliamentarians voted yes. The majority were Labor MPs, but at that time of course, the Liberal and National parties were bound to vote no. So in that circumstance the bill couldn't possibly succeed because so many people were bound to vote no. So I think Australia would've been ready in 2012, I don't think our Parliament was. But can I give some credit to people who voted no at that time who switched their vote to a yes vote yesterday. Because it takes a lot of growth and bravery as a human being to be on the record as voting no and then to have the chance to reflect, to listen to your constituency, to look deeply at your views and to be brave enough to change and to change publicly, that's a gutsy thing to do too. 

YOUNG: You can look to Labor and point that out as well, of course. Do you kind of look back in history and say this could have been a Labor victory, we had our chances, the Prime Minister has been pointing out, as many people have been pointing out, I don't ask you to stand up for Julia Gillard but in 2011 she made her point quite clear and then changed it in 2015 when she was no longer Prime Minister. There are a lot of Labor supporters who are very frustrated with that.

PLIBERSEK: Don't forget that in 2012, we had a vote in the Parliament and the majority of people who voted yes in that vote were Labor parliamentarians. There were no Liberals and no Nationals as far as I can remember who voted yes at that time. If we'd had a few of those Liberals and Nationals voting yes at the time then we conceivably could have had marriage equality in 2012. And indeed, the Prime Minister voted no at that time too. So yes I'm sorry that we actually didn't get this done earlier. I know it has been a real struggle for a lot of people. It has taken too long. I'm proud of what we did achieve when we were in government, 85 pieces of Commonwealth law changed so that they wouldn't discriminate against the LGBTIQ community. Very important to do that, but I'm sorry we didn't get this last big thing done earlier. And I'm particularly sad that this postal survey has been so very difficult for people. I know that actually this Christmas is going to be really hard for a lot of families. There will be people who are really hurt by the fact that family members didn't vote to recognise their relationships, and as a nation I think we need to look at that and accept it and make sure in the future, when we are pushing forward on issues of equality, that we don't put people in this terrible situation of having to beg for the same rights that everybody else has.

YOUNG: I get that point. What do you say then? What do you think should be done? Is there anything that could be done to help these people in this situation? Because there are, as I said, a lot of people who are still extremely traumatised. Yesterday may have been a celebration, as was that Wednesday morning when we heard from the ABS, but at the same time it continued, it prolonged, it made people feel like their sense of being was being determined by other people, whom they don't even know. And as you mentioned, now heading into the Christmas period, meant to be a time of celebration, what can politicians do to, I suppose, look back and say "we're sorry. This was just to keep conservatives happy."

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Look I think the one thing that we absolutely should've done, and I don't think it's too late, is to increase the financial support to counselling services. We know that there has been, I think some reports suggest a 40 per cent increase in calls to counselling services like the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service, Lifeline, and others, from people who in many cases have been out and getting on with their lives and living their lives and who have said to me "I felt like a 15-year-old again. I felt like that kid who felt different to all the other kids at school." I mean, it has been a difficult time. Counselling services are one thing, and I think, look, it's done now and we're going to start, in the new year, to see the first marriages and I think that will be a really important part of the healing too.

YOUNG: OK. Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for talking to us today.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.