Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Wednesday, 9 August 2017
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Senator Mathias Cormann is the acting Special Minister of State. He is also of course the Finance Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. Welcome.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good evening Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, when do the electoral rolls close? In the Federal Election it is seven days after writs. Today you have notified the ABS, so will it close in seven days?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Today as you say, the Senate again decided to prevent us from organising a compulsory personal attendance plebiscite later this year, which was our first preference to give the Australian people an opportunity to have a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. What is happening now, I have been advised by the Treasurer that he will be issuing a direction to the Australian Statistician to ask him to collect on a voluntarily basis statistical information from all Australians on the Electoral Roll as to their views on whether or not the law in relation to same sex marriage should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. I have also provided the necessary appropriation as the Finance Minister to the ABS in order for them to be able to conduct this process. The ABS, the same as the Electoral Commission, acts independently. They will in due course make all of the necessary announcements about all of the timetables. But there will be appropriate arrangements in place for new voters to enrol onto the electoral roll and for existing voters whose circumstances have changed to update their details. All of these timetables will be announced in the not too distant future. But they will be …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you are the Minister responsible, so what kind of timeframe do you think should now be available?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am the Minister. I am responsible for the overall process, but the ABS will conduct this exercise independently. What I would say is that the arrangements will be broadly consistent with those that apply in the context of a Federal election …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And that means that after the writs are issued it is seven days. So when does that happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I said broadly consistent, there will not be any writs issued on this occasion. What I will say to you today is that there will be appropriate opportunity for new voters to enrol. There will be appropriate opportunity for existing voters who’s circumstances have changed to update their …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: With respect Minister you have to provide a bit more detail than that, because you say it will be just like the Federal election, but there is no writs. So if there is no writs, you have got to give me a timeframe.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are verballing me here. I have answered your question. So the arrangements will be broadly in line with the arrangements that are in place in the context of an election. The ABS, the Australian Statistician will make all of the relevant announcements in due course. He is yet to receive the direction from the Treasurer. I have been advised by the Treasurer that he will be issuing that direction later today. We have only just started …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay so does that mean seven days from today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. That is not what it means. What it means is that the Australian Statistician will make all of the necessary public announcements in due course. But people will have appropriate opportunity to update their electoral details and to enrol if they are new voters.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so it will be longer than from seven days from today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Will you provide online voting options?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. This will be a postal plebiscite. So every voter who is enrolled on the Australian Electoral Roll, the Commonwealth Electoral Roll does so with a physical address. The address at which they are registered, they are enrolled on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll will be the address at which they receive all of the necessary documentation to enable them to participate in this process, to enable them to have their say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How will you stop fraud?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The usual laws apply. My advice …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But they do not, because it is not run by the Australian Electoral Commission.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The usual laws do apply because the mail system continues to be governed by all of the relevant legislation. You were referring here to a postal communication and to theft of letters I assume. If people were to dishonestly steal other people’s mail, there are existing and longstanding penalty provisions. These are offences that are criminal offences that are already on our books. All of the usual rules in relation to these matters apply, But let me say to you, I have asked for specific advice in relation to these matters. Postal voting is of course a very well established process, including in Australia in a federal election. Many people vote using the opportunity of voting by postal vote. All of my advice from the Electoral Commission in relation to the issue you raise, is that there is no evidence at all that there is any widespread issues in relation to these matters.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How about material? Will it have to be authorised? Because in a normal election, material is authorised.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our preference was to go for the compulsory personal attendance plebiscite through the Australian Electoral Commission. If the Senate had passed our law, our bill, as we proposed then the normal electoral laws would apply but because the Parliament didn’t ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So there’s no authorisation materials?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may finish. Because the Parliament didn’t pass the Government’s proposed approach, this is now going to be a matter for the ABS to determine and for the Australian Statistician to determine all of the arrangements, the relevant notice and the relevant public notice will be provided at the right time in due course.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you can’t authorise materials, does that mean that people can letterbox gay hate flyers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are pre-empting. I have just told you all of the necessary announcements and all of the notification on arrangements and how this process will be conducted will be published by the Australian Statistician.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And again, you’re the Minister responsible, so have you asked the Australian Bureau of Statistics to provide a mechanism that protects against gay hate flyers being put in peoples’ mailboxes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Patricia, I think you are getting way ahead of yourself.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: No I’m not, gay hate flyers are going around already Minister. I am certainly not getting ahead of myself.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are suggesting that this is already happening anyway, so that is not in the context of a plebiscite because no plebiscite is underway yet. As I have indicated to you, where we are at the moment is that we had a vote in the Parliament today in relation to the Government’s proposal to pursue a compulsory personal attendance plebiscite on 25 November, which was not supported by the Parliament. What we have said over the last 24 hours is that our next best way to keep faith with the commitment we made to the Australian people to give everyone the opportunity to have their say was to go through a voluntary postal plebiscite exercise and that we would conduct that through the ABS. The Treasurer is yet to issue the direction to the ABS. I am not aware that he has issued the direction yet. He’s given me advice that he intends to do so later today. That direction from the Treasurer will trigger certain work that needs to be undertaken by the ABS independently from Government. The Australian Statistician will take responsibility independently. I don’t believe that you would expect a politician to actually run the process.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’m asking you because right now people are listening and saying what protections are there for, for instance the people Penny Wong mentioned, the children of gays and lesbians? What protections are you building in for those people?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Patricia, we trust the Australian people. We trust that the Australian people will be able to conduct this debate courteously and respectfully. We certainly call on Australians firstly to have their say, to participate in this process to have their say and vote with their conscience, but also for those who are campaigning on both sides of the debate ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay I will give you an example...
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may finish, for those who are campaigning on both sides of the debate to do so courteously and respectfully.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’ll give you an example, Penny Wong highlighted in Parliament, and you were there I know, because we have seen the footage today, the use of this term ‘stolen generation.’ A term that is being used to describe the children of gays and lesbians. Is that an appropriate term to be used in this debate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No it is not appropriate. It is not a terminology that I support or condone.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And yet it is going to be used in this debate, isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Patricia, in Australia, every single day, there are people on, there are different sides of all sorts of debates that are saying things that are inappropriate. I don’t think that you will stop people from saying inappropriate things or preventing …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You are right, absolutely, anyone would accept that, what I am saying Minister, is that you get a different kind of level inappropriate, like you just said this term was during an election period, and your saying that this is a de-facto election over the next two months.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I have said is that this is an opportunity for all Australians to have their say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. We are calling on Australians on the electoral roll to participate in this process, to have their say, to vote with their conscience and for those that are involved in the campaign to do so respectfully and courteously. People who are saying the wrong thing or are making inappropriate comments are not doing so because we are giving the Australian people an opportunity to have their say and have their views heard and participate in the decision making process. People who are making inappropriate comments or might have views that are inappropriate, will have these views irrespective of this process. What this process offers is a pathway forward to a final and more permanent resolution of this issue. This issue has been around for a long time, as you know. The Parliament, in the period that I have been in Parliament, by my recollection, has dealt with this on at least four occasions. On each occasion, the Parliament has reconfirmed the existing definition of marriage. The losing side of the argument on those occasions, inside the Parliament and in the community has obviously not accepted that as a final settlement of the issue. That is why we are still having this conversation. I believe and the Government believes that if we put this to the Parliament again, and chances are the outcome would be the same, perhaps it would be different. But whoever the losing side of the argument would be, in the community, would not accept that outcome. We believe that giving every Australian on the Electoral Roll the opportunity to be part of the decision making process, to have their say in relation to this, offers the opportunity to bring this to a more permanent consensus across the community. Yes, there will be a more concentrated period over the next three months where Australians will debate this issue, have a conversation about this issue. But at the end of it, the community as a whole will be able to move forward with whatever the decision is that comes out of that process. What I said, what the Government has said, that if the result of the Plebiscite is a yes vote, then the Government will facilitate consideration of a Private Member’s Bill in the Parliament. We are very confident that in that circumstance, the Parliament will respect the verdict of the Australian people and that same sex couples will be able to marry.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.