Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Today, in your party room meeting, how confident are you that the Nats will back the policy on same sex marriage that the Liberal party decided on last night?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will never pre-empt outcomes out of the party room. What I can say is that the Government, the Coalition Government, the Liberal-National party Coalition Government is confident that should the legislation for a compulsory attendance plebiscite be unsuccessful in the Senate, that there is a legal and Constitutional alternative way forward through a non-legislated voluntary postal plebiscite. Should the compulsory attendance plebiscite not get through the Senate, then the Government’s view is that that is what we should pursue.
QUESTION: Are you sure that postal plebiscite would survive a legal challenge?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are very confident that we have a legal and Constitutional way forward to give the Australian people a say through a non-legislated postal plebiscite, yes.
QUESTION: Are you certain that the money it would cost to get a postal vote underway, I think it is about $30-40 million, does that need to be approved by the Parliament?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are all matters that we will be able to address in full after the relevant discussions and decisions have been made by the joint party room.
QUESTION: Minister, if there is a postal vote and it comes back no, should those so-called rebels then drop their push for a free vote, because Warren Enstch is reserving his right to continue it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have answered that question in detail yesterday. The Government’s position is that if the Australian people say no by a majority vote through a plebiscite, whether that is a postal plebiscite or a compulsory attendance plebiscite, if the Australian people say no, then the Government will not be facilitating consideration of a private member’s bill to change the law, to change the definition of marriage. That is self evident. If the answer is yes, then the Government will be facilitating consideration by the Parliament of a private member’s bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry.
QUESTION: And how quickly could you move on a postal vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are ... interrupted
QUESTION: There are some indications that it could be ready to go next week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters now that we will be putting before the joint party room, discussed with the joint party room. There will be decisions made by the joint party room. Subject to those decisions, further announcements will be made in due course.
QUESTION: What do you think is more likely at this stage a plebiscite or a postal plebiscite?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is entirely a matter for the Senate. What I would say to all those Senators who voted against the compulsory attendance plebiscite on this issue in November last year, if you have concerns about a voluntary postal plebiscite as an alternative, reconsider your vote on the compulsory attendance plebiscite. Support the Government’s legislation in the Senate. We can have a compulsory attendance plebiscite in the not to distant future.
QUESTION: Suppose the Senate did do that and passed a plebiscite would members be bound by that outcome? Or would they vote depending on how their electorates vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have already answered that question. Whether it is a postal plebiscite or a compulsory attendance plebiscite, if the outcome of the plebiscite is a yes vote in favour of changing the law, in favour of changing the law to allow same sex couples to marry, then the Government will facilitate consideration of a private member’s bill to give effect to that through the Parliament before the end of the year. If the outcome is no, then the Government will not do that.
QUESTION: Can you explain that logic though? So if it is a yes vote in the plebiscite, people get a non-binding free vote, in which they are free to ignore the advice of the plebiscite and if it is a not vote it is essentially binding and they are not able to exercise against the advice of the plebiscite. Is that consistent?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If it is a yes vote, then we are very confident that the Parliament will be guided by that indication by the Australian people through the postal plebiscite. We are very confident that if it is a yes vote through the plebiscite, that the Parliament will vote accordingly. In the same way. If it is a no vote, the Government will not be facilitating consideration of a bill to give effect to this change.
QUESTION: And is it Dean Smith’s bill that is going to be linked to the outcome of the plebiscite or the original exposure draft that the Government circulated. And how is that decision come to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters that are to be considered through the Cabinet and party room processes in the usual way. That is not a matter for us to decide today. What is before us today and what is before the Parliament and before the Senate this week, is whether we should give the Australian people a say on whether the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry, either through a compulsory attendance plebiscite or through a postal voluntary plebiscite. That is the decision. Once that process is underway in one way or the other, then the next step is for the normal processes of the party and the Parliament to consider what form such legislation should take. As I have indicated, the Government would be facilitating the consideration by the Parliament of a private member’s bill. If it is a private member’s bill it is a matter for the Parliament to determine what shape that bill will ultimately take.
QUESTION: Doesn’t this just push it down the road and isn’t it a continuing distraction for the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree. This is a pathway forward to resolve this issue. This is an issue, as others have observed, which has been around for a long time. The Parliament has voted on this on a number of occasions. The Parliament voting again and again to reconfirm the existing definition of marriage has not resolved this issue. The reason we went to the last election promising to give the Australian people a say on this issue, is to facilitate a more permanent resolution to this issue. The truth is that there is a diversity of strongly and sincerely held views on both sides of the argument in our community. That is reflected in our party room. In that context, we believe the most appropriate way forward is to settle this issue through a democratic process involving all of the Australian people that are enrolled on the Commonwealth electoral roll. That is the way to settle an issue like this. That is what the Government has promised the Australian people we would do.
QUESTION: How confident are you that it will be settled by the end of the year. Do you think it will kick into the new Parliamentary term?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has a timetable that can facilitate resolution of this issue by the end of the year. But ultimately, there are some factors that are outside the Government’s control. We have to see how the various stakeholders in this debate respond to any announcements that will be made in due course. We would encourage all stakeholders, all Australians with an interest in this issue to get involved, to encourage people to participate, to express their view one way or the other, in favour of change or in favour of the status quo. At the end of it, we will have a true reflection of the will of the Australian people, which we are confident will be respected by the Parliament.
QUESTION: When you say resolved by the end of the year do you mean we could have gay marriage by the end of the year?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are getting ahead of yourself. The timetable that the Government has put forward would facilitate consideration of this proposal by the end of the year, subject to a positive vote in the plebiscite. That is something that we don’t know yet. We have to see what the outcome of the plebiscite is before we then see what the next steps would be.
QUESTION: So there is a potential that there could be a vote in Parliament by the end of the year? By December?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have indicated on several occasions now, the Government has put forward a timetable that would help facilitate resolution of this issue through the Parliament by the end of the year, subject to giving the Australian people a say and subject to a positive vote through a plebiscite by the Australian people.