Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 8 September 2017
KIERAN GILBERT: I spoke to the Finance Minister and acting Special Minister of State, Mathias Cormann earlier this morning and he will be seeking to legislate in the next Parliamentary sitting week as of Monday, as soon as possible rules governing the postal survey campaign.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have to remember, our first preference always was to conduct this exercise as a compulsory attendance plebiscite under the Electoral Act. There are certain safeguards usually in place in the context of an election, which are not in place for the purpose of an ABS survey. What we have said in good faith is that we are prepared to work with other parties in the Parliament to put in place the same or similar safeguards that would usually be in place in the context of an election. If there is a consensus across the Parliament then we would be able to legislate that swiftly next week. We want the process to be fair to both sides of the argument. We want Australians to be able to have their say in an environment that is appropriate.
KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of the information that you are trying to protect here, is it trying to protect against abusive language or misinformation or both?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, during this process, not unlike an election, people will express their opinions. During the course of exercising freedom of speech and freedom of political expression, some people will disagree with others. So you do not want to put inappropriate limits on the freedom of political expression and the expression of opinions, as you would not do in the course of an election campaign. What we are proposing to do is to put in place similar safeguards as would be in place in the context of an election to complement all of the existing legal protections in our laws generally. What we are talking about here are things like authorisation requirements, to ensure that people can see, Australians can see who is responsible for certain communications. Putting in place arrangements to ensure that there is appropriate balance in terms of the broadcasting of the different perspectives of the two sides of the argument. To make sure that there is appropriately targeted protection from misleading and deceptive conduction. These are the sorts of things that we are talking about.
KIERAN GILBERT: And do you think that you have got bipartisanship on that front, because now the High Court has given the tick of approval for the postal survey to go ahead. Are you confident that across the divide, the political divide at least that you will have agreement here to get that done early next week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am never going to speak for others. From the Government’s point of view, what I can say is that we will work with all interested parties in the Parliament in good faith. We are committed to making sure that both sides of the argument are able to participate in this process in a way that is fair and that is appropriate. We want Australians to be able to have their say in an appropriate and fair environment. We are keen to see both sides of the argument pursue their campaigns in a way that is respectful and courteous.
KIERAN GILBERT: Are you disappointed to see that clash outside a Brisbane church where yes campaigners tried to disrupt a meeting of the same sex marriage legalisation opponents of the yes vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am always disappointed when you see clashes. I think that overwhelmingly Australians are able to conduct this debate courteously and respectfully and in the spirit in which we ought to pursue national debates of this nature. On both sides of the argument, whether that is an election context or whether it is in the context of this exercise, you will get some people that sadly, take things to the extreme or act inappropriately. There are already appropriate laws in place now to deal with any violence or inappropriate behaviour that is prohibited under our existing laws.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senior Labor front bencher, Anthony Albanese says that it is unsurprising to see clash between the yes and no campaigners at that church in Ashgrove in Brisbane. He said this is what Labor has been warning about in terms of a survey or a vote, that it would be divisive.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have greater confidence than clearly the Labor party in the Australian people. We believe that the Australian people are absolutely able to have this debate. We believe that overwhelmingly Australians will have this debate courteously and respectfully. We do not believe that the Australian people have to be protected from having a national conversation on whether or not the laws should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. In the end there will be an outcome. On 15 November there will be a result and the Australian Parliament will act consistent with the wishes of the Australian people.
KIERAN GILBERT: Barnaby Joyce is currently the acting Prime Minister while there are questions over whether he is still eligible to sit in the Parliament. Is Labor right? It’s fair is not for them, to be raising questions as to whether or not the Government has taken the right course of action here? Given our acting Prime Minister right now potentially might be ruled ineligible to sit in the Parliament by the High Court in the next few weeks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor is absolutely wrong. They have lost the plot when it comes to actually focusing on the priorities for our nation. The reality is that Barnaby Joyce right now is a validly elected Member of the Australian Parliament. Every Member of Parliament remains as a validly elected member of Parliament unless and until the High Court decides otherwise. There is no decision of the High Court otherwise. This is a matter now that will be considered by the High Court in due course. It is not up to Bill Shorten or Anthony Albanese or any Labor Member of Parliament to sit in judgement over the Deputy Prime Minister. The circumstances of his inadvertently becoming a New Zealand citizen is now going to be considered by the High Court. We do not believe based on the advice we have, that he is ineligible, that he is in breach. We do not believe he is in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution based on the advice in front of us. In the end it is not up to us to sit in judgement. It is not up to the Labor Party to sit in judgement. The only authority in Australia that can pass judgment on this authoritatively is the High Court. Unless and until they decide otherwise, Barnaby Joyce is a validly elected Member of Parliament. As such he is eligible to be a Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and acting Prime Minister of Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: On Monday the Prime Minister is going to be holding talks with Andy Vessy from AGL along with the Josh Frydenberg, the Energy Minister. In relation to where this is at, Gladys Berejiklian, the New South Wales Premier has said that New South Wales might be open to taking control of that power station in the Hunter Valley, which is scheduled for closure in 2022. But for all that to happen, if there was to be government intervention here, there would need to be Federal incentives would there not for any organisation, government or private sector to acquire that power station. So it is going to cost a lot of money in that sense, but you would also have to compensate AGL wouldn’t you, given that company plans to use that facility for clean energy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, you are making all sorts of assumptions in relation to bridges that we have not crossed yet. Our view is that this power station should remain open, that it is in the public interest for the power station to remain open. That is because our focus is on putting downward pressure on electricity prices and increasing energy security. Bill Shorten is pursuing an ideological agenda, which would increase the level of power blackouts and would push up prices. His policy approach is so bad, that he has even lost the vote of Graham Richardson when it comes to his approach to energy policy. You know that Bill Shorten really has lost the plot when he is so bad that even Graham Richardson says that he is wrong.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, we are out of time. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joining us from the airport in Melbourne. Appreciate your time this morning, thanks for that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.