TRANSCRIPT: Weekend Today, Sunday 16 August 2015





SUBJECT: Marriage equality

DEBORAH KNIGHT, PRESENTER: Same sex marriage is the controversial issue that created an unexpected fire storm in federal parliament this week. It did open up deep divisions within government and put fresh doubt on Tony Abbott's judgment as leader. Opinions, however, are equally split on both sides of politics over this. The fierce debate does continue and to discuss this morning we're joined from Brisbane by the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, and here in the studio with us Labor Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to you both.



KNIGHT: Mr Dutton, to you first, polling does show that the majority of Australians support legalising same sex marriage. Are you and Tony Abbott out of step with the community by being against it?

DUTTON: Well, I think it's part of the reason the Prime Minister said during the week we should ask the Australian public what they think. I think if a vote had have taken place in parliament likely the vote would have gone down. The bill would have gone down and not become law. I think at that point the advocates for change in relation to gay marriage would have said the parliament is out of touch and we should hear from the Australian people. So I think the PM has been respectful and saying to people ‘you know my views but I respect that many people have different views and let's hear from you about what you think we should do in relation to this very important issue’.

KNIGHT: It was a heated party room debate. It went on for hours. We know that the Liberal Party prides itself on being a broad church encouraging varied opinions. Why not allow a free vote on this issue?

DUTTON: Well, we went to the last election saying we had a position in relation to gay marriage and that was not to change, that if there was to be a change we would put it to the party room. Now the PM’s honoured that election commitment. You can imagine of course if we went to the last election saying we were going to implement gay marriage and at this point turned around and said ‘no, we're not going to honour that election promise’, people rightly would be outraged. We're honouring what we said at the last election. What we're saying coming into the next election we believe that the Australian public should have a say. I think that respects both sides of what is a very emotional debate. It's a big change that's being proposed. I think people want to have their say and I think that is a reasonable position to take particularly given the commitment we gave at the last election.

KNIGHT: We know that a lot of leaks and information are coming out about what occurred within that party room meeting as well. New claims this morning that the Prime Minister knew about Warren Entsch’s impending same sex proposal before ambushing the cabinet on this. What's more information concerning, the leaks or the information itself?

DUTTON: Look I think Deb, the fact is that everybody knew Warren Entsch had a bill prepared. He'd made that public. He made his position in relation to being pro-gay marriage known on a number of occasions. I think everybody knew Warren's approach. The government's approach was well-known and the party room took a very strong position in relation to endorsing the policy that we took to last election. But at the same time saying this is an important issue. We respect the public's view. We want to hear from the public after the next election. I think it's a reasonable position. I think people need to be respectful on both sides of this debate.

KNIGHT: Well Tanya Plibersek I want to bring you in on this. Tony Abbott, he does say he wants Australians to have their say on deciding this issue. This is some of what he said.

TONY ABBOTT: If the people decide to support the existing definition of marriage between a man and woman obviously I'd be pleased. And I think everyone else should accept that.

KNIGHT: What is so wrong with letting Australians decide this issue?

PLIBERSEK: We're elected to parliament to make decisions just like this every day. A referendum or plebiscite would cost $120 million perhaps, and certainly delay this issue by years. The high court has already ruled saying that the Parliament’s the appropriate body to make this decision. You look around the world, countries just like us have gone down this path in recent years. Australia is one of the last countries to make this decision. We're not asking the people other important questions - like there's a debate at the moment about putting up the GST, are we going to have a referendum about that? Are we going to have a referendum about the $100,000 university degrees, the cuts to health and education? We are elected to make these decisions.

KNIGHT: If it's an issue that you and the Labor Party feel so strongly about though, if it's going to be voted down as opposed to having a plebiscite or a referendum, surely having the choice is the better way to go than killing off this issue altogether.

PLIBERSEK: Well, people will have a choice. I think that Warren Entsch's bill should have gone into the Parliament and there should have been a vote on it. But if there's not a vote on Warren Entsch’s private members bill, we’ve already said within the first 100 days of a Labor government we would introduce legislation for marriage equality. People will have a choice at the next election. They can go down this expensive delaying path that Tony Abbott's proposing or they can support Labor and have marriage equality within the first 100 days.

KNIGHT: Well, Warren Entsch is set to introduce his private members bill. It seems like he'll be introducing it possibly this week. Peter Dutton, do you expect any ministers will be willing to challenge the Prime Minister and cross the floor on it?

DUTTON: I don't think the vote will come on for this bill. I think that’s an important point to make. There's a process that needs to be gone through in relation to private members bills and the government's made its position clear and that is we don't want to deal with this bill now. We want to have a process which allows the Australian public to speak their mind after the election. Tanya rightly points out that Mr Shorten has put out his position about the first 100 days. But Labor had six years in government; Julia Gillard was opposed to gay marriage, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating when they were Prime Ministers, as was John Howard and now Tony Abbott opposed to gay marriage. I think what we're saying is that we do genuinely want to hear from people because it's a vexed issue. It's not like a GST debate where you can go to an election saying this is the tax policy that we want to change or that we want to cut taxes here and increase them there. It's a very different issue. It's a more emotive issue than that. I honestly believe if the bill was to come on and it was to be voted down within that first 100 days if Mr Shorten was elected at the next election, I honestly believe that people would be saying ‘no, the parliament got it wrong’ and we want the Australian public to make their decision to have their say. I think we're sort of fast forwarding to that position. I think it's reasonable given that it is a very emotional and personal issue for a lot of people. As I say, I think there needs to be respect on both sides of this debate. I think we can have that through a process where the public has their say and the issue is resolved one way or the other.

KNIGHT: Your response to that?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important to understand that the reason that Warren Entsch's bill won't come on is because the Prime Minister is stopping it coming on. There could be a vote on this next week if the government allowed it but they are deciding not to. Peter keeps talking about what a vexed issue this is. Let's talk about really what the issue is here. Nobody is saying that churches should be forced to marry same sex couples. We're simply saying the government should not discriminate against same sex couples, that two people who love each other should be allowed to declare that in front have of their friends and family and to have that legally recognised. There shouldn't be discrimination against one group of law-abiding citizens in our country just because of who they love.

KNIGHT: Is it as simple as that, Peter Dutton? It seems to have been that other countries, the US, Ireland, the UK, they've all moved on this, thinking it is an issue that is simple and can be resolved.

DUTTON: Well, in Ireland of course it went to the people. In America, it wasn't decided on by President Obama or even a state governor. It was decided on by the Supreme Court. So very different processes in those two countries-

KNIGHT: But the outcome has been that same sex marriage is legal.

PLIBERSEK: And Ireland had a referendum because marriage is in their constitution-

DUTTON: And the outcome is if we put it to people here, in a vote- now, Tanya points out the Prime Minister doesn't want this bill to come on because that's the position we took to the last election. That's exactly the position that Tanya presided over when she was in cabinet for six years.

PLIBERSEK: But Peter, you also went to the last election and said no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no new taxes, no change to the pensions, the Liberals said all of that before the last election. They've broken every one of those promises and now they're saying this is the thing that has to go to the people for a referendum. It's expensive, it will cost at least $120 million. Is that really how we want to spend taxpayers’ money? It will take years rather than days. This could be resolved in days if they allowed a vote.

KNIGHT: A lot of voters too are wondering why so much of parliament's time is being consumed by this issue because there are crucial issues, the economy, the jobs to be focused on. Are we basically taking oxygen away from more important issues with this one?

DUTTON: No, I think that the government is dealing with all of that debt that we inherited from Labor-

PLIBERSEK: You’ve doubled the debt, Peter.

DUTTON: As Tanya points out, she was part of a cabinet that decided for six years that they weren't going to bring a bill on-

PLIBERSEK: Actually there as a vote in 2012.

DUTTON: She was part of a cabinet that decided not to bring a bill on because Julia Gillard was opposed to gay marriage. I don't want to have a tit for tat. I want to discuss what is an important issue. I think the government can deal with all these issues that are important to people. We've reduced electricity prices. We've dealt with all those important issues that we inherited including the abolition of the carbon tax and the mining tax. We have paid down Labor's debt and we continue to build-

PLIBERSEK: No, you haven't, Peter. You've actually doubled the debt.

DUTTON: Well, Tanya, I think people can make their own judgments about your economic credibility.

PLIBERSEK: You have. Well, they can read the budget papers and see that you’ve doubled the debt.

DUTTON: No, but seriously, instead of getting into some immature tit for tat, can we talk about what is a very important and emotional issue to people. I do think that people want to have their say on this very important issue-

PLIBERSEK: Peter, it’s very emotional-

DUTTON: For the future of our country and I think it's worth the taxpayers’ money to hear from the public and decide the issue one way or another and then I think people can take the judgment of the Australian people as the final decision.

PLIBERSEK: Deb, can I say this is an emotional issue for young gay and lesbian kids who are worried about coming out because they're not sure how their community and their society would feel about that. This is a very emotional issue for kids who have got two mums or two dads and are worried that their friends think their family is different or not as good as an average family. It's a very emotional issue for people who want to stand up in front of their friends and family and say, I love this person, I want to make a commitment to this person. It's emotional because today, right now, their government and their society is saying to them, your relationship is not as good as a heterosexual relationship. So yes, it's a bit emotional but it's very emotional for the people who are being denied equality in our community. When we were in government we changed 85 laws that discriminated against gay men, lesbians and same sex couples and others. We did a lot of work to end discrimination. There was a private members bill voted in 2012. Sadly, that was defeated. I voted in favour of marriage equality then and a lot of my colleagues did too. But the world has changed. The world has moved on. Community support for this continues to grow because most people understand. I've been with my husband for 25 years, we're married with three kids. Nothing happens to my relationship just because two other people who love each other are allowed to get married.

KNIGHT: Peter Dutton, we're almost out of time. Your quick response.

DUTTON: The quick response is that we supported all that abolition of discrimination which was in the tax law of the social security law. In actual fact, in 2004 we delivered a lot of that change ourselves. This now defines down to the issue of marriage. There are arguments for and against. People can make up their own minds. I think Tony Abbott’s being respectful in saying ‘you can have your opinion, I can have mine but let’s decide through the ballot box which is what we do it in this country’-

PLIBERSEK: Let’s delay it for years.

DUTTON: Then we can decide what takes place for the future of our country. I think that's pretty fair.

KNIGHT: Alright, well, it is a debate that is ongoing as we see. It is divisive and we'll no doubt hear more of it. Peter Dutton and Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

DUTTON: Thanks, guys.