Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
GEOFF HUTCHISON: So what do we know? We know that the plebiscite vote is in and overwhelmingly Australians, who voted, four out five who could vote, did vote. Overwhelmingly, Australians have said that they would like to see same sex marriage legalised. We had Dean Smith on the program, he will go to the Senate and introduce a Bill and would hope to rearrange the order of business in the Senate tomorrow so that Bill can be considered. Malcolm Turnbull has said he hopes we move quickly with this, but he does accept that there are those who would seek to make some amendments. Interestingly, Mathias Cormann said this morning the Dean Smith Bill is a good starting point and the James Paterson Bill probably goes too far. Where would Mathias Cormann like to head? Good morning to you Senator.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Firstly, how do you reflect on the decision or the votes of Australians today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This has been an issue that has been unresolved for a long time. We went to the last election promising that we would give the Australian people a say on this if we were elected. That is what we have done. The Australian people have spoken. It is an emphatic decision and it is now incumbent on the Parliament to give effect to that decision by legislating to allow same sex couples to marry by the end of the year.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: So that by the end of the year deadline is important to the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have flagged at the outset of this process that if the outcome was a yes outcome, then we would facilitate consideration of a Private Member’s Bill in the final two sitting weeks. There is a Bill that is on the notice paper now, which will come before the Senate this afternoon. I expect it to be introduced and for the debate to start tomorrow, although the debate in detail on all of the possible amendments to make further improvements would not start until the week of the 27th of November.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: What kind of amendments might we see that might get up, because Malcolm Turnbull made it pretty clear that James Paterson’s alternative Bill has very little prospect of passing because the Prime Minister says Australia would not welcome, nor would Government countenance making legal discrimination that is actually unlawful today. What do you think will represent the slight points of change to whatever Dean Smith proposes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that what the Prime Minister is reflecting there would be the majority position in the Parliament today. I certainly believe as I have said on the public record for some time, that the Smith Bill as it has been described is a good starting position. I do believe that there is scope to explore additional religious protections. I do not think that today is the day to go into all of those specifics. What I would like to see from here is engagement across the Parliament to explore and assess in goodwill with a lot of goodwill on where the line in relation to the appropriate religious protections is most appropriately drawn. I believe the Parliament is capable of doing that. I think that is what will happen.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Do you have a specific concern? Are you able to give us an example of where you would like to see an added protection?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Today is the day when the Australian people have clearly spoken and said that they would like to see the law changed to allow same sex couples to marry. I am not going to go into the specifics of the debate that will play out in about two weeks from now. I will do my colleagues the courtesy of engaging with them, having the conversation. I will form judgements myself personally on where the line is most appropriately drawn at that time.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: My guest this morning is Senator Mathias Cormann. If you don’t mind I just want to ask you something that was raised by some listeners today and we were curious to know, in the seat of Warringah, Tony Abbott’s seat, 75 per cent of those voted voted ‘Yes’ and yet I am not sure anyone would expect Mr Abbott to do anything but vote the way he would wish to vote. We were speaking about Andrew Hastie in the seat of Canning, again an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote. Yet Mr Hastie has strong views and strongly supported a ‘No’ argument. Not only that but members of his electorate contacted our program and said I would expect him to do our bidding, just as someone else rang up and said Ian Goodenough, who is another ‘No’ voter and certainly wanted to look at some significant amendments to the Dean Smith Bill. The second caller said of Ian Goodenough, I want him to do the electorate’s bidding. What do you think are politicians’ responsibilities here, because it is pretty challenging. If you believe something keenly and personally, how would you respond?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we have said from the outset is that if there is a ‘Yes’ vote we would facilitate a Bill. We have also said that we believe that the Parliament will act consistent with the expressed wishes of the Australian people. I still believe that that will happen. We also made clear that individual Members of Parliament in the Coalition, on the Liberal and National Party side of the Parliament, after this process, will have a free vote. It is a matter of judgement for each individual Member of Parliament to decide how they will approach this now that this result has come in. As far as I am concerned, personally, since well before the last election I have always made clear that if there is a ‘Yes’ outcome that I will vote consistent with what the Australian people have decided. I have been responsible for running this process. From my point of view I do believe it is incumbent on me, having been behind putting this process in place, to now take note and act according to what the Australian people have decided they want to see happen.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: At the end of this process, can I ask what gives you some sense of satisfaction and I wonder if part of your answer might be that it is over?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will tell you what gives me a sense of satisfaction. The truth is there are good Australians on both sides of this argument, good Australians with sincerely and strongly held views on both sides of this argument. This has been an unresolved issue for a very long time. We made a judgement that the best way to resolve this and the best way to provide a resolution for the country was to give every Australian who can vote in an election the opportunity to have their say, to have their voice counted. We now have what is an emphatic decision. I believe that this will be a unifying moment for the country in that I think this process will help those, like me, who voted ‘No’ as part of this exercise, to accept that this is the democratic decision of the Australian people. That it is now important for the country to move on. I feel satisfied that we have kept faith with the commitment that we have made to the Australian people, to give them the opportunity to have their say. Now the Parliament will be able to act with the authority of the Australian people. I think that that is an important part of this process, given that this is a very significant change on which there is a diversity of strongly held views.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Just finally, do you think that there is such strong belief in the Parliament now that this really must be done by Christmas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very confident that it will be done by Christmas.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Thank you for talking to us today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.