Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Thursday, 7 September 2017
QUESTION: Minister, you must be relieved.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are pleased that the Australian people will be able to have the opportunity to have their say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed as we promised before the last election. We always said that before the Parliament next considers this issue, this is an issue that should be put to the Australian people. Now as a result of the decision in the High Court, it is full steam ahead. We will now press ahead. The ABS will press ahead with getting survey forms out to all Australians on the Electoral Roll who are eligible to vote in a Federal election. We encourage every Australian to have their say as to whether they believe that the law on marriage should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry or whether they don't believe that.
QUESTION: Why won't you release the text of the private members' bill that the Government will bring before people get to have a say?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our position on this has been clear from the outset. We have said that in the case of a positive outcome from this Australian marriage law postal survey, the Government will facilitate consideration by the Parliament of a private members' bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry. A private members' bill by definition is a matter for the Parliament not for the Government. The form that such a Bill will ultimately take will be a matter for the Parliament, not the Government.
QUESTION: Will that be Dean Smith’s Bill though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a matter for the Parliament. Dean Smith, it is well known, Senator Dean Smith has put forward a Bill. Others might choose to do the same. Ultimately it is going to be a matter for the Parliament to determine what the final Bill will be in that scenario. Let us not get ahead of ourselves though. The High Court today has confirmed, before the Parliament next considers this, that the Australian people will have the opportunity to have their say on whether they believe the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. That is a process that will now get underway. We encourage all Australians to participate. May I also add that we encourage all those who are campaigning in favour of the yes or no case of this argument to do this with courtesy and respect.
QUESTION: Senator, as a supporter of the no vote personally, if the no vote wins, what's your message to all members of the Liberal party, should they drop it? Should they drop their push for five years, ten years? Is it over? Is this the definitive, final say?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have got one voice among 16 million voices in relation to this. There is a survey now underway. The Government has been very clear, we will respect whatever outcome comes out of this process. If there is a yes outcome, the Government will facilitate consideration of a private member's Bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry. If there is a no outcome, we will not do that.
QUESTION: Can you guarantee you will push through the bill by the end of the year? Can you give them that timeframe?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are very confident that in that scenario where the Australian people indicate by a majority through the survey that they would like to see the law changed to allow same sex couples to marry, then yes, we are confident a law to give effect to the Australian people's wishes would pass by the end of the year.
QUESTION: Senator, we are already seeing a campaign on the yes and no side, are you concerned at all about the behaviour of some of these?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the lead up to any election, all of us who are involved in the process may be concerned about the way people conduct themselves on the other side of a particular argument. I suspect that there will be some of that in the context of this process. But I believe, and the Government believes, that the Australian people are up for this and the Australian people are able to have this debate respectfully and courteously. We certainly call on all Australians to participate in this debate with courtesy and respect. Can I guarantee that all Australians will at all times express their opinions on that basis? No, I cannot. But neither can anyone give that guarantee in the context of any democratic process that takes place in Australia at any one point in time. I believe that Australians are absolutely able to do this. I believe Australians are able to have this debate in a proper manner. I think that we can resolve this issue once and for all.
QUESTION: Opponents say this is a referendum about religious freedom, that it's about the radical gay and lesbian agenda that's going to be taught to kids in schools. What do you say?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am responsible for the process. I am responsible for the integrity of the process. My own personal views are well known. But I am just one out of 16 million voices in relation to this. What Australians are being asked to answer is a question on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Every Australian will have their own reasons as to why they have a view one way or the other. It does not matter what an individual Australian's reasons are for having a view one way or the other. Every Australian, every individual Australian who is on the Electoral Roll and eligible to vote in an election will have the opportunity to have their say, whatever the reason for their view. We encourage them to express their view, to return the survey form that they will be receiving from the ABS swiftly. And for those that are involved in the campaign, please do so with courtesy and respect.
QUESTION: What do you propose in terms of legislation to protect, in terms of the communication during the campaign. What do you propose to do next week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have said for some time now, our first preference always was to conduct this exercise through a compulsory attendance plebiscite. The Parliament did not allow the Government to deliver on a pre-election commitment on that basis. So we have put together a different methodology to keep faith with that commitment. A methodology which we always said we believed was constitutional and legal, which is what the High Court has today confirmed. A number of parties were involved in the High Court challenge and out of due deference and respect for letting that process take its course, we have not pressed the point in relation to pursuing legislation for additional legal safeguards to ensure the process is as fair and appropriate as possible and as would normally apply in the context of a Federal election. We will now over this weekend reach out to all relevant stakeholders in this debate and also to all relevant parties and interested Members of Parliament to put forward suggestions on how we could add and complement existing legal safeguards that are already in place to ensure that the process aligns as much as is practical with the framework that would normally apply in an election context.
QUESTION: Would it be on content or authorisation anything on truth in advertising?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have said, we would seek to align the protections available in this process as much as possible to what would apply in the context of an election when there are things like authorisation requirements so that everyone can clearly identify who is responsible for particular communication. There are in the Electoral Act provisions that deal with misleading and deceptive conduct. But that has been interpreted by the High Court in the past relating to misleading and deceptive communications that would get the voter to fill out the ballot paper in an erroneous way, in the main. We will explore to what extent it is sensible to put all of the safeguards in place that would normally apply in the context of a Federal election. We will reach out to all stakeholders and parties across the Parliament, interested Members of Parliament, over the weekend, with the view, if there is a consensus on what can be reached on what would be sensible, our intention would be to progress that legislation through the Parliament next week.
QUESTION: When the postal survey was first announced, The Australian reported that Cabinet had effectively been gagged in terms of publicly campaigning on the issues, is that your understanding of how it is? Are you and your Cabinet colleagues free to campaign?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of any gag. What I have said personally is I do not intend to campaign. My own personal view is well known. I do have responsibility for this process so I believe it would not be appropriate for me to get involved in the campaign for my own personal view. I have got to say, I believe that Australians know what their views are in relation to this. What I would say to every individual Australian who is about to receive a survey form, in the privacy of your home, fill in your survey form consistent with your views, return it as quickly as possible and have your voice counted. At the end of the process, the Australian parliament, I am very confident, will respect the collective judgement of the Australian people.
QUESTION: Your colleagues are free to lead on this debate if they so wish to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every Member of Parliament in relation to this has to make their own judgement as to how they want to engage in this debate.
QUESTION: Senator, Senator James Patterson and John Howard have both called for more specificity of what religious protection should be in a bill. Where do you think the line should be drawn and what sort of religious protections would you like to see in a same sex marriage bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is something to be debated in the final sitting fortnight this year, should the Australian marriage law postal survey return a yes outcome. That is not something for me to speculate about now.
QUESTION: Why won't the Prime Minister sign or co-sign a letter with Bill Shorten for a yes campaign?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister's views in relation to this issue are very well known. Sadly, Mr Shorten has played politics with this issue for way too long. If Mr Shorten is genuinely interested in helping to facilitate a resolution of this issue in a way that brings the community together, he should carefully consider how he approaches his own involvement in this campaign over the next eight weeks.
QUESTION: Minister, your views are very much on the record. Today Michael Sukkar said that, despite the opponents of same sex marriage, if a result came back as yes, then he would vote according to the public will. Will the public view change your vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have been on the public record for a very long time in relation to this as well. Whatever my own private view and as you say, my private view is very well known, I will vote consistent with the outcome of the Australian marriage law postal survey.
QUESTION: When could we expect to see the legislation in relation to the advertising materials? Would that be coming out before the ballots are mailed out on Tuesday?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Now that the High Court has made its decision, that has only happened just over an hour ago, I will be reaching out to all relevant stakeholders on both sides of the argument, I will be reaching out to other parties and interested Members of Parliament across the Parliament. I would like to think we could reach a consensus now that there is certainty around this process, that we could reach a consensus across the Parliament over the weekend. All things going well, I would expect to introduce and put forward legislation early next week with a view of passing it by the end of next week.
QUESTION: We heard at an inquiry this morning that quite a lot of money has already been spent on the survey. Are you confident it can be done within the $122 million envelope?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am confident that we will be able to deliver the survey within the funding envelope that we have previously indicated, yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask you to zoom out briefly, we have got, you are acting in a Special Minister of State role, you have been quite open in saying that this is the second best option for the Government, just personally how are you feeling about the coming two month process and running that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government's commitment going to the last election was very clear. We wanted the Australian people to have their say on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry before this issue goes back before the Australian Parliament. Yes, we had a plan A and the Parliament decided they did not support plan A. So we worked very hard to come up with an alternative effort to keep faith with the promise we made to the Australian people. We have always indicated that we believe that the alternative method was constitutional and lawful. The High Court today has confirmed our assessment in relation to that.
QUESTION: Will it have the authority to settle the issue once and for all?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I cannot speak for every Australian. I can only speak for the Government. What I can say on behalf of the Government is that we will respect whatever the outcome is that comes out of this process. If the outcome out of this process is a yes response, we will facilitate consideration of a private member's bill in the final sitting fortnight to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry. If the outcome of this process is a no outcome, then we clearly will not be doing that.
QUESTION: Minister, with the Government winning, you have also been awarded costs. What will be next on that front?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The High Court has brought down its decision just over an hour ago. We are pleased that this now means that the Australian people will get the opportunity to have their say. In relation to all of the other details, we will now carefully consider what the High Court has said. We will make judgements at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify, you are saying facilitate consideration of a bill, that's no guarantee that even if the public says, ‘yes, we want to have same sex marriage’ that it will pass Parliament, does it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with that. The key hurdle is to get a Bill to the floor of the Parliament, which the Government will facilitate. In the scenario that you are describing where there is a yes outcome at the end of the Australian marriage law postal survey, given all of the indications that people have made on how they would vote in the Parliament in that scenario, we are very confident in that scenario such a bill would pass the Parliament before the end of the year.