DAVID FEENEY, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BATMAN: Welcome everyone, and today here in Thornbury at Span Neighbourhood House we've just had a tremendous, moving and powerful set of stories from a diverse but united community here in Thornbury. And we are very pleased and very, very proud to have Bill Shorten, together with the Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus with us here today, talking to us, and listening to our community's stories as we gear up for this marriage equality survey. A process that while it may not be what we want in a process, we are determined to win, so thank you very much and thank you Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. Mark Dreyfus and David Feeney have asked me to say and on behalf of them, and indeed I want to say on behalf of the Labor Party, how much we are saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Fiona Richardson. She is the local member of Parliament for where we are meeting today. I have used the wrong tense, she has passed, but she is such a great friend of mine and my wife's. She was a magnificent minister, magnificent defender of victims of domestic violence. She was a steely champion for the causes that she advocated. She cannot be replaced. And the Labor Party and my condolences extend to her husband, Stephen, and children, Catherine and Marcus. She will be sorely missed by all of those who have ever met her and, indeed, loved her.
Turning to today's meeting we've had, yet again I am completely convinced that the weakness of the Government in not having a Parliamentary vote on marriage equality is causing harm and distress amongst the LGBTI community of Australia. We have heard gut-wrenching stories of people being abused and an increase in the abuse going to gay Australians because we are having this postal survey. This survey is $122 million of taxpayer money which could be better spent on many other causes. We are only having this survey because of the weakness of the Prime Minister who can't lead his own party and allow a vote in Parliament.
But the Labor Party has formed the view that if the survey is to occur, if it survives the High Court challenge in early September, then we are actively participating and actively encouraging people to vote Yes in the survey. Today is the very last day that people can contact the Australian Electoral Commission to make sure they are enrolled to vote and, therefore, can receive a survey, or to make sure their enrolment details have their correct address. Australians are always on the move, young people studying, people moving for work, people moving for all sorts of reasons. It is most important, to allow people to have their say in the survey, that they contact the AEC, the Australian Electoral Commission, by midnight tonight to make sure their voting details are correct.
There has been an amazing outpouring in the last 10 days since this postal survey reared its head. Nearly 500,000 Australians have either enrolled to vote or, indeed, corrected their voting details, and there is still time. You can go online, takes about 90 seconds. All you need is your driver's licence or your passport or someone to vouch for you, some evidence, and then you are able to be enrolled, that means you will get your survey.
I just say to all Australians – this isn't the postal survey that people wanted. There are a lot of other things in this country we have to deal with. But the fact is if we are to have a postal survey, please participate so that you can vote Yes for marriage equality and the nation can simply move on.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What was the message that came through loud and clear from the discussions here about what impact this is having on the community?
SHORTEN: We heard loud and clear today that this postal survey is having a negative impact on the LGBTI community in Australia right now. People are reporting an increase in abuse and hate speech and a whole lot of absolutely negative behaviour. This postal survey by this weak Prime Minister has given the green light to more hate speech. Mr Turnbull said the other day that whilst he obviously deplores nasty things being said, and I'm sure he does, for the record, what he doesn't understand is he said 'this is part of democracy'. A postal survey is not part of democracy. We are letting some of our fellow Australians be subjected to more abuse merely because the Liberal Party can't get its internal act together. I think it is a dreadful waste of taxpayer money. I think it's dreadful a portion of our citizens are having heightened abuse merely because Mr Turnbull is too weak to run the Government.
JOURNALIST: What can you do about that? Is there anything practical that can be put into place to try and stop any of the behaviour on either side of the debate?
SHORTEN: Yes. What we would say is that the Government needs to strengthen the protections. My Shadow Attorney-General has been in negotiations with the Government about this, so I think we can put some further protections in place. But let's not kid ourselves. The abuse is already underway. This isn't an election. It doesn't attract the same protections that we see. But what we can also do to help protect people, is I say to a whole lot of Australians who, whilst they mightn't be gay themselves, are supportive of marriage equality – please let our LGBTI Australians know that they're not on their own. Please speak up and stand up for them.
Also we want to hear examples of the abuse because we've set up a Senate Committee. We are not going to let this issue just simply be parked. We are going to stand up every day and call out hate speech and abuse wherever it is. We do not think this is part of democracy.
JOURNALIST: The citizenship obviously is the other High Court issue at the moment. Mathias Cormann says he believes you are not a dual citizen, firstly, what's your response to Mathias Cormann at the moment?
SHORTEN: He is right. I'm not a dual citizen.
SHORTEN: But I think, let's face it, in the last couple of weeks, the Turnbull Government's amped up its attacks on me. You know, they've said I'm working with New Zealand to overthrow Australia. They've said that I'm some sort of British citizen, British agent. Even today they are now talking about the Soviets. This is a government who has lost the plot. This government needs to know that if they want to lift their game, they won't lift their game by saying stupid things about me. This is a government who won't lift their game whilst they are saying and doing silly stupid things. The Turnbull Government is focused on me. My message to Australians is that I'm focused on you.
JOURNALIST: The High Court decision on the citizenship issues is going to take some time. Are you satisfied with the timeline of that?
SHORTEN: Well, the High Court has got a job to do. I'm certainly not one who is going to either interfere with the High Court nor indeed, predict what decision they'll make.
But the point about this is. I've said all along that Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce should not still be Cabinet ministers whilst there is a cloud over their eligibility to sit in the Parliament. Senator Canavan, another Coalition Government minister who found that he had a cloud over his eligibility, stepped aside from the Cabinet, stepped aside from the Ministry. One thing I know is that it is an untenable, unsustainable situation for government ministers with a cloud over their eligibility to sit in their portfolios, making decisions, which if it's subsequently found out they weren't eligible to sit in the parliament, the decisions they made can be appealed. I'd like to ask my colleague, Shadow Attorney-General Dreyfus, to talk further. This government's reluctance to temporarily bench ministers who have a cloud over their eligibility to be in parliament, therefore their ability to make laws, this is actually incompetent and it's impeding the ability of the Australian Government to look after the Australian people. But I might ask Mark to say more.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Bill.
The position of Mr Joyce, the position of Senator Nash if she is referred to the High Court, as now going to occur, is untenable, it's unsustainable and the Government immediately needs to do what was done in relation to Senator Canavan, who stood down from his ministerial position. The reason is very simple. Constitutional academics have been explaining over the last few days that any decision taken by these ministers who may not be eligible even for a position in Parliament and therefore, not eligible to hold their post as Ministers is subject to challenge. No responsible government can let that position continue.
Either they're not taking any decisions as minister, in which case what's the point of them continuing on? Or, they should stand aside so someone else can do their job while their eligibility to be in Parliament is determined.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten, there was mention of overseas money in the same-sex marriage campaign, in the marriage equality campaign. What can be done about that? If this is indeed about democracy, is it international interference in democracy?
SHORTEN: I think the Government shouldn't wait until there is a law passed. I think the Turnbull Government should rule out foreign donations coming into this marriage equality issue. I think it is wrong. We all know that traditionally, the Liberal Party has had an addiction to keeping a lack of transparency in the donations system. I think Mr Turnbull could show some leadership and improve the confidence of our citizens in the political system by saying that any donation over $1,000 needs to be disclosed, the identity of the donor. And I do believe we need to have these disclosures made in real time, not years and years. And I also think we need to eliminate foreign donations. I think if Mr Turnbull did that, at least he would be doing something about this whole debacle which he has inflicted on Australia.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Australian spy boss posing, somewhat, posing with the President of the Philippines in what seems to be a flippant way?
SHORTEN: Well, I haven't seen the full footage yet, it has been reported to me. I am sure that Mr Warner, who is otherwise a very distinguished Australian public servant, will no doubt will look at the footage. And I don't know if he would do it again in the future, what he did there, but I am not going to start making too many harsh judgements at this point. We will wait until we get all the facts of the matter out.