Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SABRA LANE: In just over four weeks barring a High Court rejection, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will post out a survey to all enrolled Australians on whether same sex marriage should be legalised. The Bureau is reminding voters they have got ten days to update the electoral roll if they want their views included in the postal survey and it has opened an information hotline this morning. But there are still many unanswered questions, is the Bureau up to the job, given the problems it encountered with the Census? How well prepared is it? What about protections to stop misleading advertising?
Joining us now to discuss it is Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann is the Finance Minister but he is also the acting Special Minister of State. Minister, good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good Morning Sabra.
SABRA LANE: Two legal actions are underway in the High Court. How confident are you that the Government’s plan will survive both those challenges?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As the Government has said, we are confident that our proposed course of action to give Australians a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed, is constitutional and is legal. This is being tested in the High Court, as people are entitled to do. It is a matter for the High Court now.
SABRA LANE: Religious leaders are asking that a draft bill be released before the survey. Will it be the Dean Smith Private Member’s Bill that is voted upon?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has been very clear on this. If there is a yes vote in favour of the definition of marriage to be changed to allow same sex couples to marry, then the Government will facilitate consideration of a Private Member’s Bill by the Parliament …interrupted
SABRA LANE: A bill, but not his bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The shape of a Private Member’s Bill by definition is a matter for the Parliament. There is a Bill on the table at the moment, which is the Dean Smith Bill. But that is entirely a matter for the Parliament as to what shape that Bill eventually will take.
SABRA LANE: Your Ministerial colleague Josh Frydenberg seemed to cast doubt on the weekend about whether it would actually be legislated too this year, if there is a yes vote.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government’s position has been clear. If there is a yes vote, then we believe that this can be dealt with by the end of this year.
SABRA LANE: The High Court cases will be heard on September the 5th and 6th. The mail out is due to start on the 12th of September. The timelines are pretty tight, have you talked with the Bureau about how prepared and whether it is capable of making those deadlines?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, of course. I am in constant communication, me and my office are in constant communication with the Australian Bureau of Statistics. All of the preparations are under way. We have made certain undertakings to the High Court not to send out survey forms before all matters have been resolved through the High Court. We will stick to that. In the meantime, all of the preparations are underway and in full swing. Pending the outcome of the High Court process, we will be in a position to stick to our anticipated timetable.
SABRA LANE: And David Kalisch, the Chief Statistician, he said, he has given you a guarantee that they are up for it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have full confidence that the Australian Bureau of Statistics will do an outstanding job in implementing this particular survey.
SABRA LANE: What protections will be put in place to stop deceptive and misleading material from being spread during the campaign?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, there is already a range of protections in place in existing legislation. You have to remember that our preference was to conduct this consultation with the Australian people, giving them their say, through a compulsory personal attendance plebiscite, which would have happened under the auspices of the Electoral Commission and under the legal framework of the Electoral law. The Parliament decided against that, so we are going an alternative way ...interrupted
SABRA LANE: So those normal protections do not exist?
MATHIAS CORMANN: So not all of the protections that normally would be in place are in place. The Government has said in good faith, we are exploring how we can best ensure that all of the usual protections can be in place for this purpose. As soon as we are in a position to consult with relevant stakeholders in relation to that, we will.
SABRA LANE: Does that mean legislation possibly this week before Parliament? Or was it an oversight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was not an oversight at all. Our preference was to do it through a particular way that would have included all of those protections. The Parliament did not go down that path. If there is a consensus along those lines, the Government is prepared to ensure that all of the usual protections are in place.
SABRA LANE: Will there be an advertising blackout period?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not something that we are envisaging. This is not your usual campaign like the election for the Federal Parliament. So that is not something we are envisaging.
SABRA LANE: What about tax deductibility to donating to bodies that do campaign on this issue?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The usual laws in terms charitable donations apply.
SABRA LANE: So churches are able to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: On all sides of the argument you will find that there are organisations that raise funds. The usual laws apply.
SABRA LANE: To be clear, you have always been, how will you be voting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to be campaigning. I am responsible for the integrity of this process. It is going to be very important for me to be fair to both sides. My own personal view has been on the public record for some time. I am in favour of the current definition of marriage. That is the way I will be voting.
SABRA LANE: There are some people who are wondering that if people can have their say on this particular issue, why won’t the Government consult about whether Australia would join any military action that the United States might engage in with North Korea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept that at all. This is a pretty unique situation. This is an issue that has come before the Parliament on many occasions. The Parliament on each occasion has reconfirmed the existing definition of marriage, which has not settled the issue. There is a diversity of sincerely held, strongly held views on both sides of the argument across the community. The judgement that the Government has made is that in order to settle this issue on a more permanent basis and achieve a consensus across the community, so that the community can move on from this issue is to give the Australian people a say. That is what we are doing through this ABS postal survey.
SABRA LANE: War though, that is a pretty big deal and there are a lot of people who say that Parliament should be part of that. The former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said this morning that it was irresponsible of Mr Turnbull to say that Australia would automatically be involved in any conflict.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree. People can make these arguments if they wish. But these are completely different circumstances. There are well established processes in place when it comes to the issue that you raise. When it comes to same sex marriage, the Government has made a judgement that the best way for the community to move forward is to give them a say in relation to whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed.
SABRA LANE: On North Korea, when was the last time the Prime Minister did speak with the President about this issue?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware. You will have to ask him that.
SABRA LANE: Alright Minister, thank you very much for coming in this morning and talking to AM.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.