TUESDAY, 8 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECTS: Marriage equality; postal plebiscite.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. I'm here with my leadership team and strong parliamentary advocates for marriage equality.
Yet again the hopes of people who want to be able to marry the person they love have been dashed by a weak Prime Minister and the right wing of the Liberal party. We should just get on and have a vote on marriage equality straight away in the Parliament. Instead, yet again, the Liberal party has turned themselves inside out obsessing about marriage equality. This postal plebiscite, this postal opinion poll, is a colossal waste of money and time. The Parliament should just do its job, the Government should just do its job and have a free vote on marriage equality – we can make it a reality.
All of the experts, the health professionals have said that having some protracted process involving millions of people will lead to greater pressure on young gay people. The experts think it's not a good idea, it's a waste of money. It's yet again another delay, it's yet again the right wing of the Liberal party giving their marching orders to a weak Prime Minister.
There are so many other issues that Australians want us to be discussing. We've got electricity prices out of control, we've got the banks running riot, we've got first home buyers locked out of the housing market by unfair tax laws. Wages growth in this country for millions of Australians is flat-lining, the standard of living is going backwards. But what's the biggest issue that the Liberal party turns itself in and out on, marriage equality?
We should just let people who love each other be able to marry, we shouldn't have a different law making process for one group of Australians compared to everybody else. Labor is ready to work with the Liberal party, we are ready to deliver marriage equality, and I think all of Australia just wants us to get on with it. No more time wasting, no more money wasting, let's just get on and do it – it's time for marriage equality.
I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNLALIST: Do you think a legal challenge to the postal plebiscite has a realistic chance of success?
SHORTEN: That'll be up to the courts to decide, but you know you're quite right, I didn't even get to that particular problem, thank you for reminding me. There's a constitutional question over whether or not this postal opinion poll is even legitimate. Why is it that the Liberal party spend all their agility and innovation on working out ways to delay marriage equality? I wish they'd put the same effort into electricity prices, I wish they'd put the same effort into sorting the banks out, I wish they'd put the same effort into helping housing affordability or doing something about low wages growth in this country.
You know, this is, it is an absurd situation. This is a government who is just so weak they spend all their time arguing about marriage equality, it's just weird.
JOURNALIST: Do you know whether that is best –
SHORTEN: It'll be up to the courts.
JOURNALIST: Do you, if this did come to a free vote, whenever that may happen, how confident are you it will get through the Senate? I mean there are some on your own ranks who are quite staunchly opposed.
SHORTEN: Let me be very clear here, when Malcolm Turnbull allows a free vote of his entire parliamentary party, marriage equality will become a reality. If the conservatives still, and a weak Turnbull still bind their whole executive not to have a free vote, then it gets harder. But let's just have a free vote in parliament. I am very confident, and for the record, the vast majority of Labor MPs support marriage equality. We have a conscience vote but the vast majority support it. They've told me that. If Mr Turnbull allows a free vote, we can make marriage equality a reality in this parliamentary session.
You know, for goodness sakes, I say to the journalists here today, you're going watch us vote on some pretty arcane and mundane matters over the next couple of weeks. But somehow, when it comes to marriage equality, then the conservatives just get out and they want to delay everything. We don't put issues of electricity prices, or housing affordability, or fairness, or Malcolm Turnbull's corporate tax cuts – he's not writing to the people asking their permission on that. But when it comes to marriage equality, it's a different hypocritical standard.
JOURNALIST: Would you reconsider a compulsory plebiscite, avoiding a postal plebiscite?
SHORTEN: We just think both ideas are just stupid. You know, let's just have the vote. The point is, the Government has got members of parliament who said no matter what the result, they're going to vote against. I suspect many of our MPs are going to vote in favour of marriage equality. The point about all of this is we're going to spend tens and tens of millions of dollars, we're going to have a public debate, which if you go on the social media some of it is pretty ugly, pretty bullying, pretty confronting. The mental health experts have said that this is the wrong way to do things. And at the end of it, you know what we're going to have? We're going to have a vote in parliament! Why do we go the long way when we can go the short way? It's not as if every MP hasn't thought about the issue and conscientious MPs have already asked their voters what they think.
What is the point of Malcolm Turnbull and the Turnbull Government if they're so frightened by the right wing of their party, that they can't even make a law?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Government says you can avoid a postal vote if you support a plebiscite. Do you see this as a threat at all?
SHORTEN: I just see that as dumb and dumber, those options. I tell you how we avoid, the Federal Government, we have a soaring national debt, it has rocketed passed half a trillion dollars, yet the Government wants to spend tens of millions of dollars having a vote, an opinion poll. Maybe they should just ring up a few of people and see what they think. It would be a lot cheaper.
JOURNALIST: Labor had six years to ratify marriage equality, why didn't you do it then?
SHORTEN: Well, a lot of us here did vote for it. I did vote for it. The MPs who are in parliament here, we did vote for it. Views have moved on though, and more people now support it than did then. But we certainly did vote for it. We had a free vote in the parliament then. At that stage, more MPs were against it than for it. But it is a shame that the Liberals don't play by the same rules that Labor played by. We had a free vote in 2012 and we voted.
Now, it is time again to have that vote but now, when Mr Abbott and the Liberals and Mr Turnbull, and remember Turnbull voted against it, he voted against it, but when they have their chance, when they thought they had the numbers in the parliament, then it was ok to have a vote in the parliament. But now they think they're going to lose the vote in the parliament, oh, we've got to have a plebiscite, got to put it in the mail, we've got to keep the right wing happy.
These guys in the Liberal Party and the National Party only want to play by a stacked deck. They are doing everything they can to delay it, and for two good reasons we should have a vote in Parliament. One, because it's a good idea, and two, because this nation needs to do some other work. This Parliament needs to do some other work. Electricity prices, housing affordability, climate change, low wages, dealing with inequality in this country, and yet the Liberal Party and the Nationals turn themselves inside out over marriage equality.
Last question thanks.
JOURNALIST: The CBA and money laundering scandal, what do you make of it?
SHORTEN: The one thing you can set your clock by is a problem in the banks, can't you? It comes around time and time again. You had the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank telling Labor that we should go back in our box, know our place and don't have a royal commission, and in the meantime his own operation seem to be operating in a pretty loose fashion, don't they? So again, you want to fix the banks? Have a royal commission. Labor will have a royal commission and by the way, if we win the next election, if we haven't dealt with marriage equality by then, we'll legislate it in the first 100 days.
Thanks everybody. I did say last question, but a special favour for you.
JOURNALIST: The Minerals Council of Australia is saying there needs to be more workplace reforms, or take another look at our workplace laws in order to increase productivity. Do you seen any rooms for tweaks to perhaps lift, as you say, we've got a low wages growth problem?
SHORTEN: I think we can reform the Fair Work Act but probably not in the way that the big mining companies want. The reality is the deck is stacked against wage bargaining in this country for workers. We've seen nearly 500 agreements terminated last year by employers, by the Commission, forcing workers onto lower wages and conditions. This isn't right.
But when the Minerals Council want to have sort of ideological war against paying their workers more in this section of the industry, a rich industry by and large, you just know that they're telling the Government, do the bidding of big business. We say to the Minerals Council, we're up for cooperation, we're up for productivity, but we're not up to seeing workers getting a dud deal.