SUNDAY, 6 MARCH 2016
SUBJECT/S: Mardi Gras; Marriage Equality; Dysfunction and division in the Liberal Party.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: [inaudible] Today for me was representing all that’s best about Australia and the contribution of the Greek diaspora to Australia. But it’s been a weekend of celebration. Last night I was also equally fortunate to attend Sydney’s world-class Mardi Gras. As a Melbourne boy, I found that nothing prepared me for the sheer energy of the Mardi Gras of Sydney. I’d been before on the sidelines but I made the choice this year to march, I made the choice this year to march, I made the choice to ask my family to march alongside me and tens of thousands of Sydneysiders did the same thing.
The original Mardi Gras started in 1978 where several hundred people, determined to tackle the discrimination endemic in 1970s Australia, discrimination against people who were gay. Now it’s moved on to become a major festival. From the five hundred who were attacked by police and discriminated against for even daring to stand up for equality, last night was a march which now shows the last remaining barrier to true equality for gay Australians is marriage equality. So I marched because I believe that we should make marriage equality a reality next week in Parliament.
Certainly if Labor gets elected at the next election, I promise to introduce legislation to make marriage equality a reality in Australia within the first hundred days. And I certainly was disappointed that Malcolm Turnbull tried to have a bet each way. He’s captive to the right-wing of the Liberal Party, so he turned up in a VIP area and sort of waved at people, but Mardi Gras is about expressing support for political equality. It’s about not having two sets of laws in Australia discriminating against people. I call upon Malcolm Turnbull to support Labor, have a vote of conscience in the Parliament next week. We can deal with marriage equality and start dealing with all the other important issues that Australians expect the Parliament to do so. Happy to take any questions.
REPORTER: George Brandis said today that if re-elected the Turnbull Government will have a plebiscite before the end of this year and then obviously depending on the outcome – legislate for changes to the Marriage Act. Just putting your hypothetical hat on for a minute, if there is a returned Turnbull Government, would you be happy enough to support a plebiscite in those circumstances?
SHORTEN: I cannot accept the assumption underpinning your question. You’ve acknowledged that it’s hypothetical, but Labor’s in the next election to win it. I get that we’re the underdogs, but Malcolm Turnbull has been rapidly shrinking into the job since he became Prime Minister six months ago. Labor believes the best way to deal with marriage equality is just to let the Parliament and Parliamentarians do what they’re paid to do, take some decisions.
We all know that the plebiscite – the $160 million taxpayer funded plebiscite – was an idea created by the opponents of marriage equality to kick the issue of marriage equality down the road. Malcolm Turnbull famously said before he became the leader of the Liberal Party, that he believed it was better to have a conscience vote in the Parliament. But the problem, like on so many other matters, is that old Malcolm Turnbull is not the same as the new Malcolm Turnbull.
Malcolm Turnbull used to believe in everything from the republic, to real action on climate change to marriage equality through a vote in the Parliament. Now he has bought in to the far right of the Liberal Party’s agenda, to delay marriage equality. Our objections to the plebiscite aren’t just that it’s a delaying tactic designed by the opponents of marriage equality, or that it’s going to cost $160 million – that’s taxpayer money which could be far spent better on hospitals, schools or other matters – but the Liberal Party said that they’re not going to be bound by the result. So why is it that we’re having a plebiscite put forward by the Government which individual Liberal MPs said that they’re not going to be bound by anyway? It’s just a very expensive opinion poll. Finally there’s a real concern that having a plebiscite will rip the band-aid off some of the most unpleasant views in Australian society. Why should children of a loving gay couple, have to be subjected to taxpayer funded ads attacking the nature of the relationship of their parents, their carers? We saw in Ireland the destructive nature of the debate. Malcolm Turnbull knows all of this. Malcolm Turnbull agrees with me. But increasingly he’s looking less and less like a leader and more and more as a hostage of the right wing of the Liberal Party.
Do you know the right wing of the Liberal Party wouldn’t even let Malcolm Turnbull go on a march yesterday? What’s the point of being Prime Minister if you can’t even walk around this country without checking with Cory Bernardi and the right-wing gang of the Liberal Party?
REPORTER: A plebiscite would mean Australians going to the polls twice in one year, what would you make of that?
SHORTEN: If Labor gets elected at the next election we won’t have to go to the polls twice in one year. People expect leaders to lead. The old Malcolm Turnbull would have led on this issue. The new Malcolm Turnbull is so worried about the right-wing of his own party, he doesn’t run his own government, he doesn’t run his own party. There’s division at the heart of it. We’ve seen Tony Abbott this week launch an insurgency defending what Tony Abbott perceives as his legacy. We had Malcolm Turnbull say to justify rolling Tony Abbott that he would be judged about “new economic leadership”, well we’ve seen very little of that. Now on an issue, relatively as straight forward as a Parliament having a vote, something we do every day in Parliament – Malcolm Turnbull’s got an attack of the jitters and he wants to just do what the right-wing of the Liberal Party says. It’s really not leadership at all.
REPORTER: Just on that issue of the plebiscite, the same-sex marriage debate, as far as I can tell with the election - you’ve got one party saying they want to go straight to a vote in Parliament, the other party saying they want a plebiscite. If the electorate votes for the party supporting the plebiscite, will you then support that eventuality?
SHORTEN: What the Government does if the Liberals get re-elected is up to the Government. But what I say to you is that you can vote Labor at the next election and have marriage equality decided by the Parliament within 100 days. You can vote Liberal at the next election and join in a Tony Abbott delaying tactic. Let’s not forget where the plebiscite idea was born. It was born with Tony Abbott and some of his more conservative friends who are generally against marriage equality. What happened to Malcolm Turnbull, what have the Liberals done with him? Before the last election he was a very proud advocate, that is before he was elected Leader – he was a supporter of the Parliament deciding. Now he’s had to pay a price to become leader of the Liberal Party which is to sell out all his old views. It’s very straight forward. The Parliament can vote now. The Parliament could vote next week. Have a conscience vote. The Labor Party has a conscience vote for its MPs – the Liberal Party should be willing to trust their MPs. Let’s just vote on it and be done with it. But in the meantime, why on earth should taxpayers be asked to pay a bill because Malcolm Turnbull did a deal with the right-wing of the Liberal Party? That’s $160 million on an idea that Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t personally believe in, just to keep Malcolm Turnbull in office and keep the Liberal Party right-wing sweet with Malcolm Turnbull.
REPORTER: In terms of next week, will you be initiating anything? Will you be initiating a vote on this? Or are you leaving it up to the Government on this?
SHORTEN: We have legislation in the Parliament. It’d be a very simple matter to just have the vote. There’s a Bill before the Parliament right now. It could be voted on. There are some Australians who are against marriage equality – I understand that. There’s plenty more who are in favour of it. And there’s probably another group of Australians who are not quite sure what all the fuss is about. Just have a vote and let’s get on with it. I don’t understand why the right-wing of the Liberal Party are so obsessed with other people’s sexuality. Let’s just deal with this issue and be done with it, then we can move on to the issues of jobs, fair taxation, renewable energy, real action on climate change, making sure our schools and hospitals and universities and TAFEs are properly funded.
REPORTER: A book by Niki Savva contains a number of revelations about how government was conducted by the previous Abbott Government, obviously you’re aware of some of the revelations. What would you say about Tony Abbott’s future in politics as a consequence of what we’ve now learned about what was going on inside his government?
SHORTEN: This civil war in the Liberal Party is much worse than what we’re even seeing in public. The civil war in the Liberal Party is a bit like an iceberg, we’re only seeing the tip of it. You’ve got Tony Abbott challenging Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership on a range of issues from national security right through to taxation, right through to how to handle the Budget. You’ve got Malcolm Turnbull, in my opinion, de-facto authorising a journalistic version of a counter-strike on Tony Abbott through this book. What this shows me is that the Liberal Party are only worried about who the Prime Minister is, they’re not worried about Australia. The real challenge is what are we doing about six per cent unemployment? What are we doing about making sure that our younger Australians will be able to fulfill the great Australian dream of being able to purchase their first home? What are we doing to make sure that our schools and hospitals don’t slip further backwards? What are we doing to make sure that we look after our pensioners and older Australians? What are we doing on renewable energy to make sure that we tackle climate change? These are the big issues. Yet all we hear from the Liberal Party is the ongoing civil war and division. We’ve got Malcolm Turnbull contorting himself, turning into a man that he’s not, turning out that he’s an imposter. Either he’s pretending now on what he says and does, with his views on everything from marriage equality to tax reform, or he never believed his original views to begin with. Either way, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull are having a major dysfunctional civil war and Australians are the loser. I can guarantee by contrast, my Labor Party is united. We’ve learned our lessons. We’re determined to offer a great agenda of policy ideas to improve Australia’s future.