TUESDAY, 11 OCTOBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality; Donald Trump
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody.
Today I am joined by my colleagues, also by LGBTI families from around Australia, and you are most welcome.
Over the past few weeks, I and my colleagues have taken time to meet with parents, to meet with families, to meet with kids, to hear their stories. Also over the past few weeks, I'm grateful for the opportunity afforded me by Archbishop Davies of the Sydney Anglican Diocese and Archbishop Fisher of the Australian Catholic Church. Also, we have listened to experts, to mental health professionals like the head of the Mental Health Council of Australia, Frank Quinlan, and of course to Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, and many others. The experts have unequivocally explained to Labor that the plebiscite would cause harm to gay and lesbian people, particularly but not exclusively young people.
Having met these families, having listened to their stories, I could not in good conscience recommend to the Labor Party that we support the plebiscite about marriage equality. I could not in good conscience do this because the evidence became overwhelming of the harm it would cause.
The Labor Party has just met in this very room an hour ago, to finalise our position. Upon my recommendation and that of our Shadow Attorney-General and our Shadow Minister standing with me, the Caucus unanimously resolved to oppose the marriage plebiscite. The Labor Party therefore, will in Parliament oppose Malcolm Turnbull's expensive, divisive plebiscite.
From the start, I set three tests. There were three arguments against the plebiscite which I thought were very strong and compelling. One, what a shocking waste of $200 million, plus. Two, what is the point of compelling 15 million of our fellow Australians to vote when Malcolm Turnbull can't even guarantee his 106 members would comply with the outcome of the vote? And three, certainly what has become most important in my mind, is the harmful impact this divisive debate will have upon families and upon children. Children do not need to go to school in the climate of a plebiscite and have the integrity of their parents' relationship challenged.
I could not look at these loving families – and I invite the media here to talk to them - I could not look at these families, the parents of gay people, people in committed same-sex relationships, young people whose parents are gay, and say to them that this plebiscite was good for them. That's certainly not what they were telling me. This country does not have the right, in a plebiscite, to pass judgement on the marriages and relationships of some of our fellow Australians. It is not what Australia is about.
Now, we could make marriage equality a reality today by having a free vote in the Parliament and that is what should be done. The Prime Minister and I both support marriage equality. The majority of the Parliament supports marriage equality. The people of Australia, I think, significantly support marriage equality. So the message that thousands of Australians have given to me, I now relay to Malcolm Turnbull – marriage equality, let's make it a reality, let's just get on with it. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Do you acknowledge that the caucus’ decision today effectively means that there will be no same-sex marriage in this term of Parliament?
SHORTEN: No. Labor doesn't give up just because the plebiscite, with its wasteful, shocking use of money, with its ineffective ability to direct the Liberal MPs, and of course, the harm it will do – there is more than one door to open to achieve marriage equality. Why should gay Australians be subjected to a different law-making process than any other of our Australians? Why should a couple in a committed relationship have to metaphorically knock on the doors of 15 million of their fellow Australians and see if they agree with it? The easiest way is the way which this Parliament has done for a hundred years. Legislate, debate it. I'm not asking every National, Liberal Party member to vote for marriage equality, but I'm asking them to allow to have a vote on marriage equality. That is the quickest, cheapest, least harmful and most certain path. And of course, we will be pressing our case in days and weeks to come. Phil.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Prime Minister said unambiguously three weeks ago that if you knocked of this plebiscite, that was it as far as he was concerned, he wouldn't be revisiting it this term. If that is the case, and I'm not arguing with your reasoning, I just want to point out the practicalities of this, if this is deferred until the next term of Parliament, by when the Labor MPs will be bound to vote for same-sex marriage, do you see a need to revisit that national conference decision, because the Liberals have said they will use that to argue against granting a conscience vote in the Liberal Party.
SHORTEN: Thank you for the question Phil. Let's go back to the start of that question. Malcolm Turnbull unambiguously says something? Well that must be the end of the matter, isn't it? He unambiguously said in September of last year that he believed in a free vote in Parliament, and then later in September he changed his mind.
To be fair, Malcolm Turnbull's been on the record unambiguously on renewable energy, on both sides of the position. He's been unambiguous on the backpacker tax, both sides of the position. He's been unambiguous about an ironclad commitment on superannuation, on both sides of it. So when you put to me that Malcolm Turnbull has a rock solid position, I just see that as the start of the debate.
But I think more importantly, even than that point, that Malcolm Turnbull is capable of changing his mind, which he is, I think more important than that is – I encourage Malcolm Turnbull to talk to the families I spoke to. I encourage him to go and listen to their stories. I encourage him to go and listen to the mental health experts. I encourage him to listen to their evidence, their data, their science. I think anyone who listens to these families, as Tanya has, as Penny has, as Julie Collins, as we have here, as lots of other members of our Caucus have, when you are confronted with the truth of people's lived experience, when you are witness to the love they have and the families they are raising, what sort of country are we if we simply submit to inflicting a harmful, costly, wasteful plebiscite which we've never done on any other issue in 100 years?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on the substance of the reform, rather than whether it's a plebiscite or a vote in Parliament, last night George Brandis released some detail of what they're putting forward, that includes religious exemptions. Do you accept that those the religious exemptions are a good idea? Do you have any concerns about the extent of those religious exemptions?
SHORTEN: I've got my Shadow-Attorney General, I'll let him go into some length. But you've got to admit, blundering Brandis strikes again. 11pm, the night before we're making our decision, and he rolls out some other propositions. Imagine if we'd been foolish enough to rush into this decision and support a plebiscite, then we find out that the plan which Brandis and Turnbull had, again caving in to the right, is to water down discrimination laws?
Of course Labor supports religious freedom in this country, but there are already laws in place to prevent discrimination. What sort of case are Turnbull and Brandis putting up, when they're asking us to agree to their legislation, then at 11pm the night before, 11pm the night before, they drop out legislation changing the rules of the game, mid-game? This just shows me, perhaps, this government was not serious about the plebiscite to begin with. But I might ask Mark to talk a bit further about it.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Very quickly, the proposal that's been put forward is draft legislation that the Attorney-General released at five minutes to midnight, just before this plebiscite Bill is debated in the Parliament. It contains, to be sure, the amendment to the Marriage Act that is needed to bring about marriage equality in this country, but it also contains a whole range of unnecessary exemptions.
Labor has always said that no minister of religion should be compelled to perform a religious ceremony against the tenets of their faith, that should go without saying. But civil celebrants are licensed by the Commonwealth of Australia to carry out civil ceremonies, which don't have a religious component. That's the basis of them being civil celebrants. That's why something over 70 per cent of Australians choose civil celebrants, because they don't want to be married in a religious ceremony.
Why the Government thinks that it might be appropriate to exempt civil celebrants from performing a marriage of LGBTI Australians, I cannot understand. And likewise, the other very, very extensive set of exemptions put forward, where goods or services are being provided by a religious organisation, they too are not necessary, but it's extraordinary to see the right wing of the Liberal Party, even now, is not happy with those and is pushing for yet further exemptions.
I'm driven to think that this is a government that actually doesn't want the plebiscite to succeed. If it were to go ahead, that's why they've thrown in this extraordinary set of exemptions.
DREYFUS: It's not about it being a church. It's about it being an organisation that provides goods and services generally to the Australian public. We have discrimination laws in this country that prohibit discriminating against people on the grounds of their gender or sexual identity and those laws should have general application. It's actually wrong to suggest that there should be, just because the organisation providing goods or services is owned by a religious organisation, some exemption that lets it continue to discriminate against LGBTI Australians. We'll continue to make that case. Labor's position is that exemptions should be reduced, not extended.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, is there anything the Government can do to salvage the plebiscite? Any sort of compromise or is the door shut entirely?
SHORTEN: I think they need to recognise that Australians don't want to see $200 million being spent on this. I think they need to realise that Australians think it is a farce, a circus, that they can be fined for not voting in a plebiscite yet government members don't have to agree to the outcome.
But I tell you the big concern – how do you stop the harm? How do you stop the extremes of the debate? How do you stop the nastiness that a plebiscite gives a green light to? I think it's very difficult for the Government to construct a winning argument on this plebiscite. But you don't have to take my word for it. That's what Malcolm Turnbull used to think. That's what Malcolm Turnbull still does think. As we know, he can't control his party and he has to do as he's told.
JOURNALIST: So is that a no? There’s nothing -
SHORTEN: Well I'm still waiting to hear the good argument.
JOURNALIST: When the Greens decided to block the plebiscite, they said a delay even of several years would be worth it to avoid the harm of the plebiscite. Do you agree with that assessment and will Labor have failed if blocking the plebiscite doesn't bring on a free vote?
SHORTEN: No, the plebiscite is a bad idea, and us stopping a bad idea is a good thing. I think in terms of marriage equality, we do not understand why the Government is so keen to stop there being a vote in Parliament and a free vote on marriage equality. We'll keep pressing the case. I hope it doesn't take as long as your question said, but we are prepared right now to have that vote and, of course, we will press the case as we have in the past.
JOURNALIST: Speaking of the Greens, last month when you introduced your bill again and they introduced their bill with the crossbenchers, they said they had tried to contact you and you hadn't spoken to them about creating a united bill. Is the next step forward that you will be speaking to the Greens and you will be working with them to introduce this bill?
SHORTEN: As I have said, as Tanya Plibersek has said, as Penny Wong has said, as Terri Butler has said, as Mark Dreyfus has said, we will work with anyone to achieve marriage equality. I'll go further than your question, just about the Greens, we will work with the Liberals, we will work with the Liberals to have the vote.
But the point about it is – a plebiscite is the wrong path to achieve marriage equality. I have been inundated by parents, by people, who say ‘please don't vote for this particular form of achieving marriage equality’. The people who want a plebiscite are the people who are against marriage equality and the people who want marriage equality, they don't like the plebiscite.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on Trump. Your party has previously said you shouldn't comment on presidential races and then you've come out and commented quite strongly on Trump. Do you think that we should get rid of the diplomatic convention of not commenting on other countries' presidential races?
SHORTEN: I think Trump is a phenomena. I think it is a challenge. I will never apologise for calling it as it is. I don't respect anyone who doesn't respect women.
Of course we support the American alliance, but as you watch what's happening in the United States, as former Prime Minister Howard as done, many Liberal and Labor people, and people of no political affiliations have observed, both outside of the borders of the United States and inside the border of the United States, his conduct, his behaviour, his comments are causing increasing alarm right around the place. One final question.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you talked about Mr Turnbull changing his mind but you know he can't do that. We have heard from Andrew Broad and others today, he is locked into a plebiscite position, he can't change his mind on this, do you appreciate that?
SHORTEN: Just because you have a few National Party MPs threatening to bring down the Government, unless Mr Turnbull does it. That's Mr Turnbull's problem. But that's not Australia's problem and that's not my problem.
My issue here is marriage equality. I don't have to do what the extreme right of the National and Liberal Party do. Mr Turnbull made that bed a long time ago, and he has to lie in it now. He signed up to Tony Abbott's agenda, he signed up to Tony Abbott's plebiscite. He has to live with his conscience. He has to live with the consequences of proposing to Australia a sub-optimal outcome.
I have not yet heard the argument in favour of $200 million of wasted money, I have not yet heard the argument that Australians should be bound to vote but his government aren't bound to accept it. And I haven't heard the argument to inflict potential harm upon Australian families that this plebiscite would do. There is an easier way.
The Liberal Party of today is far cry from the party of Howard and Menzies, indeed Menzies and back, where they contract out their responsibilities as Parliamentarians, when the issue gets too hard, Malcolm Turnbull goes missing. What I'm not prepared to do is sacrifice a whole lot of families to go through that divisive debate.
Australia deserves leadership. We'll give it.
Thank you very much.