Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: The Liberal MP Warren Entsch says it is time to get the issue of same sex marriage off the agenda so the Government can move on to other things. It is certainly the sentiment of many Liberals ahead of their special meeting this afternoon, 4:00pm where the Liberal party room will be discussing this issue and how to move forward. Now one of the things that is being discussed this morning as a compromise is a postal plebiscite, but with a deadline, with a date locked in for a parliamentary vote, either later this year or early next. I put this to Warren Entsch, one of those advocates of marriage equality within the Liberal Party and he seems open to the idea, certainly not ruling out supporting it.
WARREN ENTSCH [EXCERPT]: There is a small group there that will never ever accept it and will always find ways of pushing it off to one side and I think the plebiscite concept is one of those. Having said that, because it has not been put to me, I want to have a look at it first and without ruling anything out before I walk into that party room, the one thing, the one criteria I have is that it has got to be dealt with.
KIERAN GILBERT: So he is not ruling out supporting it. Dean Smith though one of the other advocates within the Liberal party is very critical of the plebiscite notion. Here he was on the Nine Network.
DEAN SMITH [EXCERPT]: So people might desire a postal plebiscite, but at the moment it is conceptual, its details are unknown and again I would argue it is a D grade response to what it is a defining A grade social issue. I think it is useless.
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now on the program is the Finance Minister and acting Special Minister of State, Mathias Cormann. A D grade response, Dean Smith says a plebiscite would be, a postal plebiscite that is to this issue.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Dean voted against our plebiscite proposal in the Senate when it was voted on late last year. The Government’s position on this has been consistent all the way through. Our position, which we took to the last election, is that we would give the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed before the Parliament again deals with this issue and that continues to be our position.
KIERAN GILBERT: And the postal plebiscite looks like the way forward now? One of your colleagues has told me this morning that if a Cabinet submission does go to the Cabinet in relation to a postal plebiscite that it is you that would put that submission because you are the acting Special Minister of State.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You would not expect me to talk about what goes before the Cabinet. It is well known, it is a matter of fact, that I am the acting Special Minister of State. Any process to give the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed through a plebiscite, as is our policy, is something that as acting Special Minister of State I would have responsibility for.
KIERAN GILBERT: Would it stand up in the courts?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate about decisions that are yet to be made. Our commitment is to give the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. We have said in the lead up to the last election that we would do that through a plebiscite. We have put a plebiscite proposal to the Parliament. The Senate voted against that in the second half of last year. We are having a meeting today because a number of colleagues have asked the Prime Minister to revisit the way forward …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Would it need legislation though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am going to pursue all of the arguments about how best to give effect to our firm commitment to the Australian people to ensure that they can have say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed through the Cabinet and through the party room.
KIERAN GILBERT: Are you encouraged by the fact that Warren Entsch, one of the most vocal, the strongest advocates of marriage equality over many, many years, that he seems open to the idea of a plebiscite if there is a date for a vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide a running commentary on what is going to be discussed in the party room. We will be having a party room meeting this afternoon, a Liberal party room meeting this afternoon, because a number of colleagues asked the Prime Minister to raise their proposal to revisit the policy we took to the last election. But the Government’s policy continues to be that we are committed to giving the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. That is a policy that I am continuing to pursue on behalf of the Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: It would been in your interest, in the Prime Minister, his interest, the Government’s interest more broadly there to have this done though? To have this dealt with and move on.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If the Senate had supported our proposal to give the Australian people a say as we put it to the Parliament …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: But they didn’t.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It would have already been dealt with …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So it still lingers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: … on the 11th of February. Right now, we remain committed to giving the Australian people a say, to keep faith with the commitment that we made in the lead up to the last election. There will be a discussion this afternoon, there will be a discussion …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: But it would be in your interest to get it done wouldn’t it? It keeps rearing its head.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We put forward a way forward. We put forward a way to deal with this issue. We put that to the Parliament. The Parliament did not agree with it. We are now having a discussion his afternoon on the way forward. But the Government’s policy remains that before the Parliament deals with this issue again, we are committed to giving the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the arguments against a postal plebiscite for example, that it would disenfranchise younger voters, that they do not use the post? Should you allow emails as well, email responses?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are asking me questions on a hypothetical that may or may not occur depending on the discussions that are yet to take place in the party room and the Cabinet. I am not going to do that. Should we make a decision along those lines, we will be able to deal with all of those questions at that time.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think there is a scenario where this becomes a challenge to the Prime Minister’s leadership? If a number of these individuals like Tim Wilson, Zimmerman, Evans and co, that they do not appreciate or accept what you come up with in the party room, they cross the floor, that is a threat to the Prime Minister’s authority.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is not about the Prime Minister’s leadership. This is about the issue of same sex marriage and on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. The Government set out a process on how that could be dealt with. We are now discussing that process. Let us just see where that goes. As far as the Prime Minister’s leadership is concerned, he has the unanimous support of his Cabinet, he has the strong and overwhelming support of the party room. This is just now a matter for the party to deal with this issue in a respectful and professional manner. That is precisely what we are intending to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Newspoll today has the Prime Minister extending his lead as preferred PM, is that encouraging to you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is always good to see that the Prime Minister’s standing in the community continues to improve and is much better than Bill Shorten’s. We prefer that to the alternative.
KIERAN GILBERT: The qualitative polling, the focus groups in the Fairfax papers suggest they cannot cop either of the leaders. The PM needs guts they say.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We continue to focus on the job we were elected to do. We continue to focus on putting the economy on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future and to ensure that our country is safe and secure. The Prime Minister continues to provide strong and effective leadership in that regard.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister thanks for your time, appreciate it.