TUESDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER 2017
SUBECT/S: Marriage equality; energy crisis; workplace relations.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: This morning we are here with a number of my Parliamentary colleagues and of course a number of rainbow families to talk about the postal survey that's hitting households this week. We know that households across Australia will be receiving their survey papers in coming days and we're here to urge people to fill these surveys in straight away, because as you'll hear today from Eddie, this is a survey that is simply about families, it's about the love between two people, and the love that exists in a family.
Eddie's already been to Canberra before to make his voice heard in this debate, and he's going to speak to you in a few minutes, but before we hear from Eddie we'll be hearing from Bill Shorten. Bill has played such an important role in this debate. He is the first leader of a major political party to get out in front and say, if we were in government, is Labor was in government, marriage equality would already be a reality. So thank you very much Eddie, and to his mums, Claire and Neroli for coming today, and for a number of other supporters who are here having a lovely picnic on the front lawn of Parliament House.
Just to remind people right across Australia, that the debate we're having over the next few weeks is not an abstract debate. It's not about free speech, or freedom of religion, or anything other than the relationship between two people and whether two people who are in love, should be able to make that official, irrespective of their gender. So let's hear from Bill to begin with, and then let's hear from Eddie.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Tanya. Good morning everybody. It's great to be here with rainbow families. Although frankly, they're just families like all other families in Australia. They're raising their kids, they're in loving relationships, and they just want the same deal that all other families have.
Raising kids is not for the faint-hearted, but I for one know that kids who are raised with same-sex couples get the same chance at success as kids raised in any other family structure. Australia's modern families come in all shapes and sizes. I think it's long overdue for the law to catch up with the way which millions of Australians are already constructing their lives.
Today, the survey goes out. About 600,000 of the 16 million surveys will be posted today, and across the next week, surveys will start arriving in people's letter boxes. Labor strongly encourages people to participate in this survey, and we strongly encourage people to tick the Yes box, because we can make marriage equality reality before Christmas if we do that.
Labor didn't think that we should be spending $122 million in taxpayer money just to find out what opinion polls tell us on a regular basis already. We want to have a vote in parliament. The Government was divided so they've come up with this mechanism to have a survey, just to further check what people think. That is as it is, and we say to gay and lesbian, and LGBTIQ Australians, that we're sorry that you have to have a separate process for making a decision about you to all other Australians, but please don't be disappointed. Turn that disappointment into determination.
Across the next week, Australians will finally get a chance for Australia to catch up with a lot of the developed world. We have a chance for us to just get on with it. The comment I get most frequently from people is, why can't you just decide it and get on with it? Well, we can do that in this survey. We encourage Australians, when they get the survey in the mail, to fill it out straight away. Don't delay, don't put it on top of the fridge or behind the couch. We need to just have the vote and get on and be done with it. And Labor, will for every day of the campaign support LGBTI Australians, and say to them that you're not on your own.
I think this is a great chance for Australia to catch up with a lot of the world. It's a great chance to finally be done with this issue. It's a great chance to say to all Australians, that we value your relationships, and that love is love, and equality is equality, and this is all about the fair go.
Now as a special, I think, benefit, to all of us, we're going to hear from Eddie. His parents Claire and Neroli are here. He's remarkable, and I think that when he makes his statement, he will sum up better than all of the politicians in Parliament, why we should just vote Yes for marriage equality. I might just ask Eddie to step up and share your views with all of us.
EDDIE BLEWETT: I wanted to thank you all for coming. I especially wanted to thank Tanya and Bill and all my friends for all the support they've given me.
People who know my family know that there is nothing wrong with us. We play soccer in the winter and we volunteer for the surf club in summer.
I have two parents. They love me and they love each other. All couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.
Twelve months ago I came here. Nothing has changed. The marriage equality is still unresolved. I feel like people aren't going to vote. I feel like they're going to throw their ballot papers in the bin.
I also wanted to thank all those people who tried to keep this matter in Parliament.
People are saying stuff about my family. They're saying they are not normal. They are saying that they're second rate.
Don't listen. Be yourself. Vote Yes.
SHORTEN: Are there any questions about marriage equality, then we might give the families a chance to move away if you wanted to ask questions on other important matters as well.
JOURNALIST: Will there be anti-vilification legislation in the legislation you've been working on with the Government?
SHORTEN: Mark Butler – sorry – Terri Butler and Mark Dreyfus have been working on this with the Government. We want to make sure that people are protected from hurtful speech.
The sad reality of this survey is that even if we can protect people from some forms of vilification, there are other things being said which I think have surprised members of Australia's gay community. I think a lot of LGBTI Australians thought that a lot of the arguments about their identity had been fought and won, and that this survey, because this government couldn't make up its own mind, this abdication of responsibility, has now seen members of the LGBTIQ community have to become a talking point about decisions which they thought were done and dusted.
So, we will do our very best to be constructive. And our problem is that even the process of having this survey, it seems to have green-lighted some really mean and vicious and horrible things.
I know the question was a short question, but I just want to say this to LGBTIQ Australians. This is a mountain we didn't think you'd have to climb. The Labor Party, and plenty of other people too, to be fair, will climb this mountain with you. It will pass, we'll just vote Yes and we'll just be done with it. That's what Australians want.
JOURNALIST: How far off is that safeguards legislation, do you think?
SHORTEN: Hopefully it will be negotiated in the course of this week if we can reach agreement. Absolutely, Mark's been working very hard on that.
JOURNALIST: What did you make of Matt Canavan's comments yesterday about people who are offended –
SHORTEN: Oh, listen, I am not going to, you know, deep dive into every remark made by advocates of the No case. I am going to say to Australians, vote Yes, and there are good reasons to vote Yes.
I sometimes wonder though, people who might never have felt discrimination seem to be able to dismiss the slights of discrimination on the behalf of others who receive it just a bit causally.
The people advocating No want me to get into everything other argument but voting Yes for marriage equality. There is one question on the survey. Do you support same-sex couples being able to get married? That is the question that Australians are being asked to answer. It's a very straight forward question – you do or you don't. It's not about a whole lot of other distractions which people are raising.
But of course, this survey was dreamed up by the opponents of marriage equality to have a debate about other matters. If they want to debate other matters, they have got a forums to do it. This is a very straight forward survey. Yes or No, do you support marriage equality? And we say, let's make it a reality this year.
JOURNALIST: There was a poll out today that said 70 per cent of Australians support marriage equality. What's your message to the other 30 per cent?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the fact that there is a poll saying there is 70 per cent and, you probably believe that poll, do you?
Well, the point is, then why are we even having this survey? Your media organisations survey this question on a regular basis, and we've seen growing support. It's been remarkable, I think, the change of opinions in the last decade.
My message to people who want to vote No? That's their business. But I am appealing to the people who want to be done with this debate. I am appealing to the people who think it's fait accompli. Please vote. Change in this country only ever happens when people participate in the change. Please don't leave this change to other people.
This is a view you're passing on your brothers and your sisters, you're passing on your neighbours and your colleagues. This is a chance for Australia to say this country has moved forward. We don't have a 1950s definition of a family, whatever one thinks of that definition. Families come in all shapes and sizes.
This is our chance to help look after our fellow Australians and say – you're one of us. You are welcome. And what I actually think will happen is that the day we grant proper equality to LGBTIQ Australians, we are all going to be better people.
No other questions on marriage equality?
JOURNALIST: What do you specifically want to see in that safeguards legislation, especially protections for families?
SHORTEN: I'll get Mark to answer that in detail.
PLIBERSEK: And any kids who feeling a little bit impatient, who want to go play soccer, feel free to do that.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: In answer to your question about what we hope to see in this safeguards bill, the primary thing we've said right from the start is that there should be anti-vilification provisions. The Government seems to be prepared to include in the safeguards bill those anti-vilification provisions. We are just working through the final detail now, but that's the key point.
JOURNALIST: Can you expect them passed this week?
DREYFUS: Obviously they're useful this week if passed, the survey is underway.
JOURNALIST: Just on gas, Labor's been very tough on the behaviour of the banks. Why has the party been supporting the actions of companies like AGL this week who have been putting up prices for families, particularly Joel Fitzgibbon who has been very complimentary of AGL.
SHORTEN: Oh, seriously. Let's go to the real matter here, Greg. Malcolm Turnbull – all talk, no action. He has a meeting here yesterday with AGL, he comes out and he says 'victory.' Then this morning, AGL comes out and says that they're still going ahead with their plans to close the plant. You see, yesterday was classic Turnbull – all talk, no action.
The real problem we have here is that the Liberal Government is now entering its fifth year of power and in that time they initially promised that family power bills would go down by $550. The research shows that average power bills for a Sydney household have gone up by nearly $1000. In the time that the Liberals have been in power in the last four years, 4000 megawatts of baseload coal power has been switched off – under this federal government.
Now the Government just simply wants to blame Labor. I think the Australian people are over the blame game. We're going to have shortages this summer that's, what the regulator is warning about. We've got a gas problem, as the start of your question indicated, right now.
We need to stop the blame game. We need to make sure that we can guarantee that gas can be supplied to Australian business. We need to make sure that we stop this silly war on renewable energy, which is part of our energy mix. And we need to make sure that we're dealing with the impending shortages by better generation and better storage.
Yes, we actually think that big gas companies shouldn't be price gouging, that's a Labor view. We actually think that privatisation, in part, has caused some of the problems. But we are where we are now. We think under the Liberals, their energy policy is prices up, reliability down.
JOURNALIST: Should Daniel Andrews lift the moratorium on gas exploration in Victoria, is that hurting, pushing up prices?
SHORTEN: Do you mean unconventional or conventional gas?
JOURNALIST: Well he's got a moratorium on both.
SHORTEN: Yes, listen, on unconventional gas you should also ask me about what Gladys Berejiklian is going to do because she has the same policy as Daniel Andrews. I get the concerns. There are legitimate community concerns about fracking.
In terms of conventional gas, I do think we need to reconsider, making sure that we have got access to conventional gas supplies. We need to bring more gas supply into the market, no question. That's why Mr Turnbull should pull the export control trigger. I mean, it beggars belief they haven't done that yet.
JOURNALIST: Do you have concerns for the jobs of the workers at Liddell? What should be put in place now that the plant has started closing?
SHORTEN: Well as a matter of record AGL announced they were going to close this plant two years ago. They gave seven years’ notice, which is a lot more than I've seen most companies do, that's just a matter of record. Hazelwood, which again, closed under Malcolm Turnbull, gave the workers there five months’ notice.
Labor has a policy called 'just transition'. Obviously if the plant can stay open, and it's commercial to do so, that would be a great outcome. But this is 50-year-old equipment and it's been well documented that it's going to have a lot of costs just to keep it open. It already has shortages and breakdowns now.
So I think the challenge is to make sure the workforce don't get forgotten, and I think we should have just transition which assures retraining and redeployment. In the event that Liddell closes, we'd like to see these workers given the chance to work at Bayswater, and those who are still young and want to stay in the industry.
JOURNALIST: Can you explain why the former government gave $27 million to unions?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I saw the report. When I was Minister we provided support for employer and employee associations. I think you'll find that, unlike this current government, who has a war against unions, we were even-handed. We provided money to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to the Australian Industry Group and to unions, because we believe that when it comes to creating productive workplace relationships, there is a role for employer associations and employee associations. For the record, that amount was put in the 2011 Budget.
JOURNALIST: And are you disappointed that the ACTU has only spent 30 per cent of that money?
SHORTEN: That's a matter for the ACTU. I mean, I guess they can't take a trick, though, with some media outlets. If they spent too much, that'll be a problem, and now some people are saying they haven't spent enough.
Listen, what we need in workplace relations is an improvement of productivity and an improvement of wages growth. We need to stop the cuts to penalty rates. This is the worst time, when wages growth is flat lining, to see workers missing out on penalty rates.
Workplace relations is not decided, ultimately, by press releases from this government. It's through cooperative and productive relationships in the workplace, and everyone who wants to contribute to that, I think is doing a good thing.