PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2016
SUBJECTS: Marriage equality; Cyber security; South China Sea; Greyhound racing
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Australians waking up this morning, they're disappointed they don't have the chance to see marriage equality advanced in the Parliament. The problem stopping marriage equality is down to two people – Tony Abbott who is winning the debate in the Liberal party, and Malcolm Turnbull who is too weak to stand up for his own personal views against the right wing of his party.
We can make marriage equality a reality as soon as they agree to have a vote in Parliament. We're all here, we should just get on with it.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Some Australians waking up this morning would also be disappointed that they won't get their say on marriage equality, do you apologies to those people?
SHORTEN: First of all, the plebiscite is just a bad idea. The Government hasn't made the case for wasting $200 million plus of taxpayer money, on a non-binding opinion poll. It is a circus when 15 million Australians could be fined for not voting on marriage equality and yet Mr Turnbull can't make each individual of his 106-member team have to accept the result of the plebiscite. Also, the experts, the families, the people who actually want marriage equality have all said to me, of one voice, that a plebiscite will unleash a harmful, potentially very harmful debate which will punish and discriminate against gay people.
The Government hasn't made the case for saying that gay people have to go through a more onerous, tougher process to have laws made affecting them. 50 years ago when homosexuality was decriminalised, we didn't have a plebiscite. 30 years ago when they were admitted into the ADF, we didn't have a plebiscite. A few years ago when we removed over 80 discriminatory sections of laws to do with gay people, that didn't go to a plebiscite. No one else’s marriage has had to go to an opinion poll of their neighbours and strangers. Why should gay people have to go through a process where they seek the approval of 15 million other people if they can marry someone they're in a deeply committed relationship to.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the Government breaking election promises then, the Government did go to an election on this one?
SHORTEN: Seriously? They've broken their promise on the backpacker tax, they're walking away from their ironclad commitments on superannuation. Malcolm Turnbull's changed all his views that he said before the election on renewable energy. Before the election, the day before the election, Malcolm Turnbull promised that Australians won't pay a dollar more because of his six-year Medicare rebate freeze.
Seriously, if the only argument the Government's got is that this is the promise they've got to keep, the question they've got to answer is why is it that gay people are the only issue that they're going to keep their promise on, when they don't keep their promise on anything else? You and I both know that is a joke. When Malcolm Turnbull gives an unambiguous commitment, you know he's backing both sides of the road.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, is your plan b a private Senator’s or Member’s Bill? And do you know that enough Government Lower House MPs will vote in favour of that?
SHORTEN: My view is that the Parliament should do what it's been doing for 100 years. Every other law that gets made in Australia is voted on by Parliamentarians. There's a debate, to and fro, the case is put. I'm not asking some of the conservative right wing MPs of the Liberal Party and National Party to vote for marriage equality. I'm just asking them to do their day job.
What is the case for making gay people have to go through a different law-making process than the rest of Australians? What is the case for spending $200 million on a non-binding opinion poll? Mr Turnbull can't even make some of his own team agree to the result if marriage equality gets up. So why on earth are we putting Australian's through the circus of being fined when Mr Turnbull can't even make his own MPs agree to it?
JOURNALIST: Talking about the outcome of, the outcome here is allowing gay marriage in Australia. Let's put the plebiscite aside, that was yesterday's story. How do you see us actually getting to gay marriage in Australia in this Parliament?
SHORTEN: A vote in Parliament. A free vote in Parliament.
JOURNALIST: But do you know that enough Government MPs will support that?
SHORTEN: What I do know is that many Australian's want to see marriage equality. I suspect they will re-press the case on MPs to have a vote. They'll talk to our side of politics and they'll talk to the conservative side. Just because Malcolm Turnbull can't execute his deal with Tony Abbott, doesn't mean that marriage equality can't advance. Marriage equality can be a reality as soon as the Liberal MPs are allowed to exercise their conscience. We are here 19 weeks of the year, I do not for one second think that the campaigners for marriage equality and those millions of Australians who support gay Australians being able to get married are going to give up merely because we didn't like the way Mr Turnbull was going to drag Australia down a divisive path of this plebiscite.
No, I'm optimistic. The case for marriage equality is overwhelming. The case for parliamentarians doing their day job is overwhelming. I think that at the moment Mr Turnbull thinks the price of upsetting the right wing of the Liberal Party is a bigger price for him to pay than listening to the will and the mood of the nation. But I am optimistic when you ask about plan b. The national mood will not be deterred because Mr Turnbull is scared of the right wing of the Liberal Party. It's not about Malcolm Turnbull or Tony Abbott, we know they want to delay it for their own reasons.
The national mood is for marriage equality. We will get this parliamentary vote and we will have marriage equality and we will keep working at it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, can I just ask you on this cyber security report suggesting that it represents a greater threat to Australia, especially for government departments.
SHORTEN: I think it's a most serious report and it's a most serious issue. We will be getting a briefing from the security agencies. Labor is up for working constructively with all those who are committed to improving our national security. I do not for one moment underestimate the cyber threat to the security of government agencies and others. Australia is a great country, we do a lot of things that other people are jealous of and would like to be like us. So cyber security is absolutely an appropriate national priority for this parliament and for Labor to work with the Liberals.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, could you please clarify – should the Government be authorising the military to conduct freedom of navigation exercises within 12 nautical miles of geographical features claimed by China, particularly ones that have been militarised?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, we believe that the disputes over territorial ownership in the South China Sea need to be settled peacefully and diplomatically. We are very pleased that the international tribunal has made a view and now it is up to participants there in the affected areas, to work through those matters.
Australia is a trading nation. We have interest in making sure that international norms and laws apply, including freedom of navigation and overflight. But what I am not going to do is start to push in terms of the military and their operational decisions, but Labor remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea.
JOURNALIST: So that is an operational decision to go within 12 nautical miles, not a political decision?
SHORTEN: Well, you're narrowing down the question. I am going to what is the underlying issue. The underlying issue is getting the balance right towards a diplomatic and peaceful solution - working with China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, all of those people seeking to make claims in that area.
International diplomacy is the best way to go, but Australia does have a complete interest and I think, a commitment from both sides of politics, to make sure that international laws are respect. But I do know, that ultimately the best way to resolve this will be through diplomacy and peaceful negotiations.
JOURNALIST: But you view the difference between an 11-mile exercise and a 13-nautical-mile exercise as an operational decision not political decision?
SHORTEN: No, you're putting words in my mouth –
JOURNALIST: No, it was a question.
SHORTEN: Well, let me just answer your questions and all three of them have had the same theme - what is Labor's view about the South China Sea and territorial disputes. We believe that the international laws should be upheld. The ability to have freedom of navigation. I think about a third of the world's sea trade moves through this area. It is a very important region. Different nations have had different views about what their territorial rights are. The matter was taken by the Philippines to the international tribunal, there has been a decision made. Now the decision has been made, it is up to the parties to work out how they can implement it in the most diplomatic and peaceful fashion possible.
In terms of Australian military operations, I am not going to start telling the military how to sail their ships, but what we do recognise is that the Government, and they have, should give political authority to make sure we uphold freedom of navigation. I am confident that we will get to a resolution of these matters.
JOURNALIST: Just on greyhound racing, do you think ACT Labor should back away from its banning on the industry given NSW Labor is trying to keep the industry open?
SHORTEN: Well I am not going to start getting into the ACT Labor issue. I will go to what Mike Baird has done. Mike Baird said that he was going to shut the greyhound industry and he did it in such a cack-handed manner that all that he did is that he cost jobs. And whilst he was motivated, he said, about the welfare of the animals, the sudden closure of the industry actually, in my opinion, probably decreased the welfare of the animals. Mike Baird has bowed to the pressure from NSW Labor, and the community, and the way they have done it. I think this is a lesson for all politicians that if you have got a particular motivation, understand the consequences of the implementation before you rush in and make the decisions.
JOURNALIST: On the plebiscite, if this is delayed beyond 2019, if it is pushed off on to the never-never, will you take share of the blame for not having gay marriage in Australia?
SHORTEN: I am here every day in parliament – we are prepared to make marriage equality a reality today or tomorrow. What I ask Mr Turnbull is just to allow a free vote of your MPs. But I do take responsibility for protecting members of our community, minorities from this plebiscite which was going to have harmful effects.
Do you know Malcolm Turnbull has never actually answered Professor McGorry and other mental health experts' concerns? Why is it that the Liberals, so committed to delaying marriage equality – and that's where the plebiscite was born, it was born in the inspiration of delaying marriage equality – why is it no Liberal will answer the expert evidence, the professional considered evidence that this was going to be harmful outcome Why is it that they won't explain why they want to give millions and millions of taxpayer dollars to a 'No' campaign which will unleash and legitimise anti-gay attitudes in the community? Why it is that they won't bind their own MPs? Why is it that they are going to fine Australians for not voting? And I think most importantly, why is it that some people in committed relationships have to metaphorically knock on the doors of 15 million of their fellow Australians to get permission to get married? The rest of us don't.