ABC – Lateline

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia






Australian marriage law postal survey

EMMA ALBERICI: Nearly 60 per cent of Australians eligible to take part in the same sex marriage survey have already returned their forms. There are 34 days left until the deadline to lodge the forms and new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that roughly 6.8 million surveys are still yet to be posted. The result is close to the turnout of 60.5 per cent at the 2015 Irish Referendum on same sex marriage and it has been welcomed by both the Yes and No campaigns.

ANNA BROWN [EXCERPT]: This is an incredibly promising result and it shows that the majority of Australians simply want to get this done. It is incredibly important also that people take the time to return their ballots as soon as possible because we know despite this incredibly promising result, that there are millions of votes still out there that need to be returned.

EMMA ALBERICI: Federal Cabinet Minister Darren Chester says the strong early turnout shows Australians are eager to participate in the vote.

DARREN CHESTER [EXCERPT]: I think it is a complete vindication of the Government's position that the Australian people did want to have their say. I am strongly of the view that right across Australia there will be a resounding Yes vote. As I have travelled around suburban areas and regional areas, the feedback I have received from people is that they want to get on with it. They do not want to be shouted at by the Yes or No campaign, they just want to have their vote and get on with it. I think the result is going to be quite a compelling Yes vote.

EMMA ALBERICI: For more on that, I was joined earlier from Canberra by the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann good to have you back on the show.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.

EMMA ALBERICI: Already 57.5 per cent of eligible Australians have posted in their surveys to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and there are still another five weeks to go. Do you expect that figure to get higher?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, of course. By any measure, 57.5 per cent this far out is a very credible participation rate so far. What this shows is that the Australian people are embracing this opportunity to have their say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. So yes of course, now that we have had that initial update from the ABS and given that we have another five weeks to go, I think it is not too optimistic to say we will get well past 60 per cent. Hopefully we will be able to get past 70 per cent participation. By any measure, if you compare this to other exercises like this, voluntary postal voting exercises, it is a very high return rate already.

EMMA ALBERICI: If it did though stay just around that 60 per cent mark, would that be enough to legitimise the exercise for the Parliament to confidently run with the result?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I believe that this is already a very credible result. I do believe that this now means that the survey results will provide great authority, will have the authority of the Australian people attached to it. There was never any doubt in my mind or in the Government's mind that the Parliament was going to act in accordance with the wishes as expressed in this survey by the Australian people.

EMMA ALBERICI: A separate Reachtell poll has found that the Yes side is heading towards a convincing victory. If that is the case, what do you say to the marriage equality campaign that is saying that legislating same sex marriage will help to build a fairer and more equal Australia?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt the outcome and I am not going to get myself involved in the substance of the debate. I have not done that all the way through, I am responsible for the process and the integrity of the process. Everybody knows my personal view, but I am not going to start running arguments in relation to one side or the other. What I would say, is that if the outcome of this survey process is that the Australian people have decided that yes, the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry, then clearly the Australian Parliament will act accordingly. What I would say to all those that have advocated in favour of Yes in that circumstance is that this process will have helped those good Australians with strongly and sincerely held views in favour of the current definition of marriage to accept that that change will occur.

EMMA ALBERICI: The former Prime Minister John Howard, representing the No campaign has singled you out personally, accusing you of “running dead” on the issue. Is that a fair criticism?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are all great supporters and great fans of John Howard. John Howard is a giant of the Liberal Party and he is a giant of Australian politics. I hold him in very high regard. In relation to this issue, I have made judgements on what is appropriate in terms of my own conduct given I am responsible for the process. Everybody knows that I am a supporter of maintaining the current definition of marriage and that my own personal vote in this exercise is a no vote. But I have got one vote out of 16 million people, so it is just one voice and I have always made clear all the way through that I would not be actively campaigning as part of this process.

EMMA ALBERICI: You say that people know your personal view and that yours is just one voice. Yours is a very strong voice, given you are in the Cabinet of the Government. The Prime Minister has given many reasons why he is on the Yes side. Why won't you tell the people of Australia, indeed the people of Western Australia, who you specifically represent, why you are voting no?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have said why I’m voting no and that is because my personal view is that marriage is between a man and a woman. I have made that very clear if the question has been asked. As part of this exercise, I have one voice, which has the same value as every other voice. There are 16 million voices that will be heard as part of this process. So far 9.2 million voices have responded. There are still about 6.8 million Australians who have the opportunity to respond to the question that is being asked and I hope that as many of them as possible will. Every single one of us, whether we are in Cabinet or whether we work in the corner shop, or whatever we do, whatever our day to day occupation, we all have the same voice as part of this process. I actually happen to believe that most Australians know what their views are in relation to this issue and that most Australians are well able to express their view as part of this process. At the end of this process, it will be very clear as to what the verdict of the Australian people is.

EMMA ALBERICI: You said you respect the former Prime Minister, of course. John Howard said it is completely disingenuous to assert that a social change of this magnitude to a fundamental institution like marriage does not have consequences. Do you agree with him?

MATHIAS CORMANN: These are the sorts of issues that people across Australia are currently weighing up as they make their decision…interrupted.

EMMA ALBERICI: I am interested in your view.

MATHIAS CORMANN: My view is that I support the current definition of marriage and I filled in my form…interrupted.

EMMA ALBERICI: That was not the question I asked. To give you an example of what he says more specifically, Mr Howard has issued this open letter in which he shares his belief that there is a conflict between those seeking the right for same sex marriage and the rights of children. The rights of the child to have a mother and father should be preserved, he says. Would same sex marriage laws put the rights of children at risk, as Mr Howard has suggested, given gay and lesbian couples can already legally have children through IVF and surrogacy in this country?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Emma, you can put the question to me whatever way you want. I have been very clear, my own personal position on this issue is clear. I support the current definition of marriage. I have filled in the survey form accordingly…interrupted.

EMMA ALBERICI: With respect, this is a completely different question. I am not asking your specific personal view, what I am asking you as the person running this process, is it fair for the former Prime Minister to say that a vote for same sex marriage puts the rights of children at risk?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The former Prime Minister is absolutely entitled to express his view. What we have said as those responsible for this process, what I have said and what others have said is that we expect Australians on both sides of this argument to express their view with courtesy and respect and I certainly would put it to you that John Howard puts his arguments appropriately with courtesy and respect. He is entitled to express his view in the same way as people on the other side of the argument are entitled to put their view. You have got to remember that there are good Australians on both sides of this argument with strongly and sincerely held views. This process is all about offering our country an opportunity to resolve this issue to settle once and for all what the majority view in Australia is in relation to this issue.

EMMA ALBERICI: Today Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant came out to say that if the wellbeing of children is important to you, then you should not discriminate against same sex parents. The most important thing for children she said, is that they are raised in an environment where they are surrounded by happy loving relationships, regardless of whether those relationships are same sex couples or heterosexual couples. This is someone who has presided over hundreds of cases involving broken families in her 17 years as a Family Court judge. Is her opinion one you value in weighing your decision about what is in the best interest of children?

MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have said to you, I respect the right of good Australians on both sides of this argument, with strongly and sincerely held views on both sides of this argument, to express their view. To put their views to the Australian people and to help shape the opinions that Australians form in relation to this. In the end, 16 million Australians have the opportunity to have their voice counted by not only filling in the survey form, but by returning it before the 7th of November so that it can be counted as part of this process.

EMMA ALBERICI: We will have to leave it there Senator Cormann, thanks for your time.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you. 


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth