Transcripts → 2017


ABC TV - Lateline

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Monday, 7 August 2017

Same sex marriage

EMMA ALBERICI: Senator Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and the acting Special Minister of State. He joins me thank you. Thank you for coming in. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.

EMMA ALBERICI: A friend of my daughter is a 15 year old boy came out as gay last week to his parents and was kicked out of home. Now whilst you and your colleagues are bickering in your party room, aren't you concerned about the message you send to young vulnerable gay and lesbian Australians that they don't deserve the same treatment as other Australians and that when they are older and they fall in love they won't be treated the same as equals with heterosexuals? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Emma, this is an issue on which there is a diversity of sincerely held, strong views on both sides of the argument. That is precisely why the Government in the lead up to the last election made a promise to the Australian people that they would have a say on whether or not the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act should be changed, whether the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. That is the commitment that we took to the last election. That is the commitment that the Liberal party room today reaffirmed as the best way forward to ensure that every Australian who is on the electoral roll has an opportunity to have a say on whether or not the current definition should be changed. 

EMMA ALBERICI: Gay and lesbians don't want a plebiscite, their friends and family don't want a plebiscite. When the wider public are polled on the issue and discover that it is going to cost something in the order of $170 million and not be binding, they also don't want it. Isn't it about time you're straight with the Australian public and admit it that this is nothing more than a political fix? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree. This is an absolutely genuine attempt to give all Australians the opportunity to have a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: But with respect, the Parliament could just get on with doing with the job? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Parliament has considered this on several occasions and on each occasion has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage ... interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: We've moved on from that. We’ve moved on a lot since then, you would have to concede.

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government went to the last election with an unequivocal commitment to the Australian people … interrupted

EMMA ALBERICI: And the Senate knocked it back.

MATHIAS CORMANN: ... that should we be elected we would give the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. Our first preference which is reflected in the bill that we put to the Senate last year, our first preference, would be to do that by way of a compulsory attendance plebiscite. But if that is again rejected for a second time by the Senate this week or next, then the Government believes that we have a legal and Constitutional way forward to keep faith with our commitment to give all Australians on the electoral roll a say on whether or not the definition should be changed through a voluntary, non-legislated postal plebiscite. 

EMMA ALBERICI: How does a postal plebiscite have any legitimacy at all? It is not what you took to the election. What you took to the election was a mandatory vote across the country. This is voluntary and non-binding, and it is widely considered a bit of a farce. Even Malcolm Turnbull, when he, himself, was the head of the Republican movement, he called postal plebiscites ‘an experiment in electoral science that flies in the face of Australian democratic values. It will disenfranchise the young, the poor, Indigenous and migrants’. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Actually, the commitment that we took to the last election was to give all Australians a say through a plebiscite on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. It is true that after the election, our preferred option was reflected in the bill that we put to the parliament. That is to have a compulsory attendance plebiscite. That is still our preferred option. Those who have those sorts of concerns about a postal plebiscite in the Senate, I would strongly encourage them to reconsider the position that they adopted in November last year and to vote for the full compulsory attendance plebiscite in ... interrupted  

EMMA ALBERICI: So you are trying to bribe them a bit.

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, what we are trying to do is keep faith with… interrupted

EMMA ALBERICI: Either let us have our plebiscite or we will make you have this dodgy version that no one really wants.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Emma, this is actually not about us. This is about the Australian people. We respect the fact that there is a diversity of sincerely held, strong views on both sides of the argument in the Australian community.  The way that the Government is proposing for this issue to be resolved is through the democratic process, it is through a plebiscite. Our first preference is to do it through a compulsory attendance plebiscite. If that is not successful we believe there is a legal and Constitutional way forward, as the next best option, to keep faith with our commitment to give the Australian people a say on whether the definition of marriage should be changed and that is through a non-legislated voluntary postal plebiscite. 

EMMA ALBERICI: There were genuinely held strong views on euthanasia and abortion, but we didn't have plebiscites for that.

MATHIAS CORMANN: This issue has a long history. The Parliament has dealt with it on... interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Those issues also have had a long history. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Parliament has dealt with this on a number of occasions ... interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: So next time euthanasia comes up will you put it to a plebiscite? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: These judgements are made on a case by case basis … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Is this the new normal? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Emma, in relation to this issue, the position is this, the Government made a firm commitment, a firm promise to the Australian people at the last election and we keep our election promises. We will do everything we can as a Government to keep faith with the commitments that we made to the Australian people and the commitment we made was to give them a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. 

EMMA ALBERICI: Why the sudden obsession with keeping election promises? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave that commentary to you. That is certainly … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: You certainly didn't do so when it came to health and education. If you were going to say it was a hallmark of your Government, then that would be a little disingenuous. You didn't keep the promise when it came to health and education. No new taxes was what you said before the 2013 election and you introduced the three per cent budget repair tax. You promised no cuts to the ABC and took $44 million from us. Tony Abbott promised you wouldn't shut any Medicare locals. All of them are gone. Julie Bishop promised no cuts to foreign aid and that it would grow in line with inflation. Instead, it was frozen, which represents a $7.6 billion real cut. Then there was Tony Abbott's signature policy on paid parental leave, which has also been abandoned. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a commitment …interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Why is this particular promise so important to keep? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a commitment that the Turnbull Government took to the last election. I think you will find that the Turnbull Government has gone absolutely out of its way since the last election to deliver on all the commitments we made to the Australian people. If we were not able to get 100 per cent of our commitments through, to deliver as much as of our commitments as we possibly could. That is what we are doing on this occasion. 

EMMA ALBERICI: Can this issue be settled before Christmas? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has got a proposal to get this to a resolution, to give the Australian people a say. If the outcome of that plebiscite before the end of the year is a positive outcome. If the Australian people by majority vote, through a plebiscite support changing the law to allow same sex couples to marry, then we believe that we will be able to deal with this through the Parliament. The Government would facilitate the consideration of a private members bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry. We believe that that would pass through the Parliament before the end of the year. That is depending on some factors that are not within the Government's control. 

EMMA ALBERICI: If the postal plebiscite returns no verdict, there will be no vote in the Parliament correct? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: If the Australian people decide through the plebiscite … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Those who can be bothered putting in a form and licking the stamp and sending it through the post. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Emma, any Australian who feels strongly about this, in favour or against, I am sure will express their view and will take advantage of the opportunity to have their say. In the end, the Government will be guided by the outcome. If the vote is in favour, we will facilitate consideration of a private member's bill and that bill will, we are very confident, will pass through the Parliament. If the … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Would that Dean Smith's bill? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: If the vote … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Could I just clarify that, would that be Dean Smith’s bill? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a matter for the party room processes in due course. That is not something for me to deal with today. 

EMMA ALBERICI: But you said a private member's bill, not necessarily Dean Smith's bill. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: What we are dealing with at the moment is precisely the same proposition that was in the Plebiscite Bill that went before the Senate last year. That is for a very simple question for the Australian people to answer. That is, whether or not they would support changing the law for same sex couples to be able to marry. That is … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: Just clarify for us, if they say no in a postal plebiscite, notwithstanding the fact that some people might boycott, you might have a whole bunch of people that don't vote because they have changed address or for whatever reason people don't vote because it is in the mandatory, so you end up with a no vote, does this mean so that we can make it clear for our viewers, this means will there not be a vote in floor of the Parliament? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I was trying to answer that question to you before, before you were interrupting me. In that scenario, where there is a no vote through the plebiscite, the Government will not be facilitating consideration of a private members bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry. That is right. Just in terms of your reflection, on voluntary voting, overwhelmingly around the world, most jurisdictions around the world, most democratic jurisdictions around the world, have actually have got voluntary voting. There is only about twenty odd or so countries ... interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: No one has had voluntary voting on same-sex marriage. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I don't know that that is true, actually. But there are only about twenty countries where there is … interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: We're only the English-speaking democracy in the world that hasn't passed same-sex marriage.

MATHIAS CORMANN: There are only about 20-odd countries in the world that have compulsory voting.

EMMA ALBERICI: So Warren Entsch tonight said he reserves his right to present Dean Smith's private member's bill should there be a no verdict in the postal plebiscite. Will the Cabinet stand behind backbenchers who cross the floor to bring a procedural motion to bring on a vote in the House? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I can only speak for the Government and Warren Entsch, who is a valued friend and colleague, can speak for himself. I can speak for the Government. The Government’s position is that we would facilitate consideration of a private members bill should there be a positive outcome in favour of change through the plebiscite process. We will not be facilitating consideration of a private member's bill if the Australian people, through the plebiscite, vote no. That is the very simple proposition on behalf of the Government. 

EMMA ALBERICI: But you would support backbenchers who might bring a motion to have it voted?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of me supporting backbenchers. Backbenchers have got ... interrupted 

EMMA ALBERICI: The right to cross the floor.

MATHIAS CORMANN: ... certain liberties. The Government's position is, as I have outlined. 

EMMA ALBERICI: It does seem a little bit of a double-standard at play here that each MP gets to ignore the public vote when it comes to the floor of the Parliament. So if they vote yes in the public, each of your Parliamentarians still gets to vote no in that's what their conscience dictates. Yet, we have heard that some MPs who have threatened to cross the floor over this issue and introduce a procedural motion in the House to bring on a vote have been threatened, have had their pre-selections threatened. There is a bit of a double standard at play, isn't there? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I totally disagree with that characterisation. There is a proposal to change the law. The Coalition was very clear in the lead up to the last election, we would put that proposition to the Australian people before the Parliament would again be asked to vote on this. That is what we are proposing to do. Should the Australian people express a view they want the law changed, then the Parliament, I am very confident, will support that view. 

EMMA ALBERICI: Mathias Cormann, always appreciate you coming in. Thank you.