ABC – Radio National Drive

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






Marriage law postal survey

PATRICIA KARVELAS: All eyes will now be on the Government, it is from the Coalition ranks where the more controversial amendments will come. Mathias Cormann oversaw the postal survey as Special Minister of State, he is also Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. Minister welcome back to RN Drive. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So more projections of religious freedoms is what you say is needed. Can you give me an example the kind of protections you believe should be in place? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is going to be the debate over the next few weeks. What we have had today is the Australian people making their decision, overwhelmingly, that they want the law changed to allow same sex couples to marry. That is now going to happen. This afternoon in the Senate, Dean Smith and others introduced a Bill to give effect to that. I have been on the record for some time to say that the Smith Bill was a good starting position. I do believe in a range of areas that there is scope to increase the level of religious protections a bit further, but I will be engaging in that debate as one individual Senator. It is a Private Member’s Bill. There will not be a Government position. There will not be a Coalition Party room position, but I will be engaging in that debate with colleagues. I am confident that people of goodwill from right across the Parliament are going to engage on those issues to ensure that we draw the line at the right level. That there is an appropriate balance when it comes to the level of religious protections that is enshrined in the legislation. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: George Brandis thinks Marriage Celebrants who conscientiously object should be able to refuse to wed gay couples. Do you support that idea? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well yes, that is one of the areas that has been identified for some time. That is one of the areas that various people have put on the table for some time. Another relates to the arrangements for religious charities and how they operate. I am not going to lock myself into specifics at the moment. I think that the Smith Bill was the appropriate starting point. I do believe that there is a conversation to be had now. In my judgment the Paterson Bill went somewhat too far. I think that there is an appropriate balance somewhere in between, but for any amendment to get through the Senate or through the House of Representatives there would have to be a majority to vote in favour in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. So that is the process we are now going to go through. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Senator Brandis wants people to be free to hold their religious views on marriage. So should a religious freedom of speech provision be included? 

MATHIAS CORMANNA: People should have freedom to have religious views…interrupted.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Of course they can have the views, but how does that actually work in practice? What sort of conscientious objection does that mean? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: These are the sorts of conversations that will take place across the Parliament now. I mean the first question that needed to be resolved was whether or not the Australian people were of the view that the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. That threshold question has been answered quite overwhelmingly with yes. Now there is a process which will take a couple of weeks. The process that was set out in the Senate today is for the debate about the detail to start the week of the 27th of November, so that is still 12 days from now until the debate on the detailed amendments starts. That will be taking that whole sitting week, that first sitting week we come back for the final sitting fortnight. I think what is important now is for everyone in the Parliament to come together and to quite genuinely explore these issues and to make sure that we come up with an appropriately well-balanced level of religious protection so that the freedoms of Australians are appropriately protected.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Kevin Andrews says an Islamic business should be able to refuse a Jewish customer when it comes to weddings, regardless of their sexuality. What do you think of provisions like that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not personally support the proposition that businesses across Australia should be entitled to discriminate, including on the basis of sexuality. So it is not something that I support. But, I do not believe that in practice, I cannot imagine that in practice, this would actually occur in the way that has been described.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: He also said that a gay baker should be able to refuse a heterosexual wedding. What do you make of these ideas?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not support that. I do not think that we want to re-introduce discriminations based on religious or other views held by customers and, overwhelmingly, I do not believe that businesses across Australia are actually asking for that either.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What is your message to some of your MPs who have expressed that they might abstain, even though there has been, really, an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Every individual Member of Parliament is entitled to make that decision, that is what we have said from the outset. We said from the outset – interrupted 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, but I have to interrupt, we had a national vote, people listening might go ‘Wow, they had a national vote and you are saying it is still up to them?’ Doesn’t that strike you as odd as well?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, it does not. Patricia. We have gone through this again and again for the last three months and I have consistently made the point that I personally will vote consistent with the decision that the Australian people have made, but we have always said, consistently, that at the other side of this postal survey, on the other side of having given the Australian people the opportunity to have their say, when the Parliament next deals with this, that Members and Senators on the Coalition side would have a free vote. But, we are very confident that the Parliament will act to give effect to the decision that the Australian people have made, but individual Members of Parliament on the Coalition side, Liberal and National Members and Senators, are absolutely entitled to make their own judgement as to whether they will vote in favour, abstain, or vote against.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on another issue before I let you go, Hollie Hughes has been ruled ineligible by the High Court. Will Jim Molan now take up that vacant Senate spot?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The decision of the High Court is the decision of the High Court. That is a fact and now I assume that the Electoral Commission will do what they always do in these circumstances and conduct a re-count. That is probably the most likely scenario now, and in that context I would expect Jim Molan to get the Senate position, yes.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What do you make of that decision, that really black letter decision again, by the High Court? Given, I think at the time that she ran for the election, Hollie Hughes, she hadn’t taken up this appointment?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, it is not for me to second guess the decisions of the High Court. The High Court has reviewed the relevant facts and has made a judgement based on its interpretation of the Constitution, so that’s it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mathias Cormann thank you so much for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth