SUBJECT: Marriage equality.



PETER VAN ONSELEN, PRESENTER: We're joined now, Kristina, by the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks for your company. 




VAN ONSELEN: I can't understand why Labor won't support a $122 million non-binding, non-compulsory, unprecedented postal plebiscite that's unnecessary when Parliament could pass same-sex marriage laws within the next hour. What is Labor doing?


PLIBERSEK: So very unreasonable. The way you describe it shows just how unreasonable we are…look we've said all along the best, cheapest, fastest way of resolving this is a vote in the Parliament. And of course it should be a free vote. The Liberal Party are normally the party that bangs on about how their members always have a free vote. Seems like they only have a free vote when the right wing of the Liberal Party says it's okay. 


VAN ONSELEN: You know that neither of us support either the postal plebiscite or indeed a plebiscite per se on same-sex marriage. Labor has been clear as to why it does, there's a variety of reasons, including Dean Smith's reasons why he doesn't, but just to play devil's advocate for a moment - did Labor at any point during this process, months of process, consider just to get it done in the hope that it's better than what we've seen transpire, courtesy of the Government in my view, just to support the plebiscite a while back, in the hope of avoiding all of this shmozzle that has occurred?


PLIBERSEK: Well in fact just before I came to your studio today I met again with parents and advocates of same-sex relationships. So I met with parents who've got young children, I met with Shelley Argent who's obviously the mother of an adult son who wants to get married. And these people tell us again and again that to have their own relationships, their own families, the relationships of their children or their parents discussed in this way is deeply hurtful and deeply harmful. So no we can't countenance it, we can't consider it, because even now you start to see some of the extremes using language that just doesn't have a place in this country. I think the vast majority of Australians, yes, can have a respectful debate, but when you start reading and hearing the types of things being said about same-sex couples, families with same-sex parents, at the margins, you can see why it would be hurtful and damaging.


KRISTINA KENEALLY, PRESENTER: You mentioned there parents and friends of gay and lesbian people, PFLAG, they have indicated they've got legal advice that a postal plebiscite is not constitutional and would be struck down by the High Court. Are you convinced by Mathias Cormann's argument that he has the authority to appropriate this money and to use the ABS in this way?


PLIBERSEK: Well the same people that brought you the census debacle. I mean, it's not very reassuring is it? I can't believe at a time when debt is heading to half a trillion dollars, in fact it's crossed through the half a trillion barrier, that we are now talking about spending well over a hundred million dollars on something that is unnecessary, that is wasteful and that the right wing of the Liberal Party have already said they'll ignore anyway, even if it is successful. What is the point of this survey when people are already saying they are going to ignore the results of it?


VAN ONSELEN: You'll reject the plebiscite when it goes to the Senate in the form that they took to the election, you'll then have this postal vote situation assuming that the legal challenge doesn't hold firm. What does Labor do? Does it recommend a boycott, does it recommend people participate, does it stay out of it? What's the plan?


PLIBERSEK: I think we're a long way from that at the moment. We actually need to know what the question is, what the rules would be about funding a yes/no case, what kind of debate it would be. I think it's a bit soon to be talking about boycotting or not boycotting. But we will be guided in this by the people who have the greatest stake in this, which is same-sex couples themselves and their parents, family members and friends, because they're the ones who're going to be bearing the brunt of this public discussion.


KENEALLY: The Minister there, Mathias Cormann, cited there in 1974 phone survey conducted by the Whitlam Government to determine our national anthem. He seems to say that is a precedent that he is going to rely on in putting in place a postal vote if it comes to that. I've got to say, I'm not convinced by that argument, I think if we held that survey again we might get a different result.


PLIBERSEK: Well here's another precedent for you - John Howard deciding in an afternoon that he was going to change the Marriage Act to specify that marriage is between a man and a woman.


VAN ONSELEN: It took him almost an hour to do that.


PLIBERSEK: And ramming that through the Parliament. I mean honestly, if it was good enough for John Howard to make a change to the Marriage Act in our Parliament, why is it not good enough for Malcolm Turnbull?


VAN ONSELEN: What about these words - the Attorney-General, I spoke to him in September last year here on Sky News and I asked him whether there was a way to achieve a plebiscite without legislation. He said no there is not. If there were not compulsory voting then whichever side was the losing side would be in a position to question the legitimacy of the outcome of it. Do you worry that's what's going to happen no matter what the result of the postal plebiscite is?


PLIBERSEK: Yeah well of course I think that people will question the legitimacy of it because it's a dodgy process. I mean, we know that both the plebiscite and now this voluntary postal plebiscite are dreamt up by people who are opponents of marriage equality to delay the inevitable. We know the majority of Australians support this, our Parliament should just get on and do it. And I think it's interesting that this approach was not good enough for Malcolm Turnbull when it came to the Republic, he was critical of this approach when it came to the Republic. It's not good enough for George Brandis, you know, just a few months ago. But once again, because the right wing of the Liberal Party are determined to block marriage equality come what may, we're now considering this proposition.


KENEALLY: Are you concerned about the potential for fraud or misuse somehow of ballots in a postal plebiscite?


PLIBERSEK: Well I think the Australian Electoral Commission has had occasional problems of its own, but it certainly –


KENEALLY: But they won't be running this ballot.


PLIBERSEK: No that's right. That is certainly an organisation that has a lot of checks and balances. We saw the problems that the ABS had with the census and now we're supposed to imagine that this unprecedented vote is best handled by the ABS.


VAN ONSELEN: Tanya Plibersek, I know you've got to go. Just a very quick final one - this is irrespective of this process, it could include if Labor moves to legislate same-sex marriage if this debacle goes nowhere when or if you are in government. Would you like to see any laws allowing same-sex marriage to be retrospective in acknowledging overseas marriages that've already taken place?


PLIBERSEK: Yes, of course they should. I think if we have same-sex marriage in Australia it is natural that we also acknowledge same-sex marriages that have occurred overseas.


KENEALLY: And what about Dean Smith's proposal to protect religious freedom? Will Labor be supportive of those types of measures?


PLIBERSEK: 100 per cent. We have said from the very beginning that churches should not be expected to solemnise any marriage that goes against the tenents of their church. When it comes to taxi drivers or florists or bakers or other people who might have an objection, that is not fair. People who just want to refuse to serve you because you're the wrong race or religion or gender don't get to discriminate in that way. They should not be able to discriminate in that way on the basis of sexuality either.


VAN ONSELEN: I couldn't agree more. Alright we're going to let you go, I know you've got to dash. Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Labor Leader.


PLIBERSEK: Thank you.