Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP
Federal Member for Wentworth
Date: Wednesday, 15 November 2017
PRIME MINISTER: The Australian people have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ for marriage equality. They voted ‘yes’ for fairness. They voted ‘yes’ for commitment. They voted ‘yes’ for love. Now it is up to us, here in the Parliament of Australia, to get on with it. To get on with the job the Australian people have tasked us to do and get this done, this year, before Christmas. That must be our commitment. We asked the Australian people for their view. This was an unprecedented exercise in democracy. A voluntary survey, a voluntary postal survey in which 80 per cent participated and over 61 per cent, 61.6 per cent have said ‘yes’. That is an overwhelming participation rate and an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote. Now I know that many people, a minority obviously, voted ‘no’. But we are a fair nation. There is nothing more Australian than a fair go. There is nothing more Australian than equality and mutual respect. Everyone has had their say, that's what we pledged at the last election. Many people stood in our way, the Labor Party, a number of people on the crossbench and others. They didn't want Australians to have a say. We did and it is a great credit to Mathias Cormann that he was able to put together this ABS postal survey, a great credit to him, a great credit to the ABS and the offices of the Australian Electoral Commission that assisted them, to have this done so efficiently, so comprehensively, so emphatically. I say to all Australians, whatever your views on this issue may be, we must respect the voice of the people. We asked them for their opinion and they have given it to us. It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming. They are our masters, we who were elected to Parliament. It is our job now to get on with it, get on with it and get this done, it’s fair. The people have voted ‘yes’ for marriage equality, now it’s our job to deliver it. Mathias.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you very much Prime Minister. We went to the last election promising to give the Australian people the opportunity to have their say as to whether or not the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. We have delivered on that commitment. The Australian people have spoken and resolved that the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. It is now incumbent on the Australian Parliament to act on that decision to implement that decision. As the Government has said from the outset, this is now going to be a matter for the Parliament. The Government will facilitate consideration of a Private Member’s Bill and that is now expected to occur. The Parliament over the next few weeks will need to determine the right balance in terms of the appropriate religious protections. We are very confident that that debate will be able to take place constructively through the Senate and through the House of Representatives and for this to be resolved by the end of the year.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will gay couples in Australia be able to get married by Christmas?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that is certainly our goal. Certainly, our goal is to have the legislation passed through the Parliament before we rise for Christmas.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you fully satisfied that the Smith Bill meets all of the requirements for the protection of religious freedom that Senator Cormann just mentioned? Are you satisfied with the Smith Bill in its current form? And Senator Cormann, given that you brought it up, are you satisfied with the Smith Bill in its current form and can you be more specific rather than just saying religious freedom is important, about what you might like out of this process, over the next couple of weeks in order to meet your concerns?
PRIME MINSTER: Can I just say, what the Smith Bill does – well, it’s called the Smith Bill and with all credit to and affection for Senator Smith, it of course, it came out of a Senate committee, as you know, last year the Attorney- General produced an exposure draft of a draft Bill to legalise same-sex marriage for consultation. It was considered by a Senate committee which made a number of suggestions and proposals, many of those were taken up in this Bill that is, it is really a collective work. But the important point is, Catherine, that yes, it does provide protections for religious bodies and ministers of religion, for example. You know, can't be obliged to marry people that they don't want to marry. That’s all right and proper, and broadly accepted. But you know, this is a free vote. It is very important to remember what I promised at the election. My commitment was to give every Australian their say. That has been done. They have spoken. And they’ve said overwhelmingly ‘yes’, that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. So it’s our job to do that. Now, it is also a free vote. That means members of the Coalition can vote on the Bill whichever way their conscience tells them to vote and on amendments. And they can move whatever amendments they wish. And there will no doubt be a very lively debate. And there will be amendments put up, some will no doubt be accepted, others will not. That’s in the nature of the debate. But it is a free vote. And that’s the commitment we made at the election. We are sticking scrupulously to the promises we made at the election.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am on the public record as saying that I believe the Smith Bill is a good starting point and a number of Senators have given notice that they will seek to introduce the Smith Bill into the Senate this afternoon. I do believe that there is a need for some additional religious protections. I am not going to go into the specifics today, that is going to be a matter for the debate over the next few weeks. What would happen this week, if the motion that was given notice of in the Senate were to pass the Senate later today, is that tomorrow the Senate would start the second reading debate. The debate will not go beyond the second reading debate tomorrow on the terms of the motion that was moved. The debate on amendments, the debate in the committee stages of the Bill will only take place in the week of the 27th of November. So, I believe that this is now an opportunity for Senators of goodwill from all sides of this debate to engage with each other, to explore the opportunities for common ground. I have noted that in recent weeks senior Members of Parliament from across the political divide have expressed their support for appropriate levels of religious protections as part of this marriage law reform and I will participate in these conversations along with everybody else. I will participate in the debate and I will make my final judgements based on those discussions as the legislation progresses through the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: What would your message be to conservative colleagues that are now looking to drag their feet and a filibuster on this debate to push it well into the New Year?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I don't accept your premise. But I am always able and do meet with colleagues from all sides of the debate on this issue to talk about their concerns and whatever proposed amendments they have. So I am very happy to discuss those with them. You know, protecting religious freedom and freedom of speech is very important. But equally we are a nation of a fair go and mutual respect and we treat people equally. We don't discriminate against people because of their gender or their sexual orientation, their religion or race or the colour of their skin. So we are the nation of the fair go. That’s why we’re the most successful multicultural society in the world. Admired, I might say throughout the world for precisely that. So we should cherish that. But clearly freedom of speech, freedom of religion are also enormously, these are core values, core Australia values as well. So I look forward to talking further with my colleagues, I do that all the time. That’s part of my job.
JOURNALIST: We have heard a lot about I guess the benefits of we’re calling it the Smith Bill. There is the other Bill that has been presented or at least drafted by another Liberal Senator James Patterson. What are the shortcomings in that Bill, does it go too far?
PRIME MINISTER: To be honest with you, the Bill that James Patterson has given notice of, I was only advised of its existence on Monday when I was overseas, as you all know. So I haven’t had the opportunity to read through it carefully. I look forward to catching up with James shortly. The virtue of the Smith Bill, as we will call it, is that it has been around for quite a long time, months and months. I think it was first published, released in August. So quite some time ago. It can serve the purpose as being the first draft. Again, it’s very important to understand the process here. This is a free vote. We committed to a free vote. And so members can move whatever Bills they like. It’s up to the Senate as to which Bill takes precedence or priority. But the Smith Bill does has the virtue of being well understood, well read. People know what is in it and they know what its virtues are, if you like - what the good things in it are - and if they’ve got problems with it they can move amendments to correct its defects. That is the process.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I might just add to this. What the Government has said right from the outset when we initiated this marriage law postal survey process, is that the Government would facilitate consideration of a Private Member’s Bill. Which Private Member’s Bill is considered and in what form it ultimately passes the Parliament is entirely a matter for the Parliament. There are two Bills that have been put forward. I believe that there is majority support in the Senate for the Smith Bill to be the starting point. Personally, I believe that the Smith Bill will need some improvements. Personally, I believe that the Paterson Bill goes somewhat too far. I would like to think that the Parliament will be able to meet somewhere in between to give effect to the decision of the Australian people, to act in good faith and give effect to the decisive decision of the Australian people, but to also ensure that we accommodate the legitimate concern of many Australians for there to be appropriate levels of religious protections.
JOURNALIST: What improvements are required?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well as I have said in response to a previous question, I am not going to go into the specifics today. But I will be participating in the debate privately and publicly over the next few weeks. I think that today, what we have is a result of the marriage law postal survey. What we have today is a direction from the Australian people for the Parliament to act, to give effect to their wishes in relation to this and I think it is now up to the Parliament over the next few weeks to do its work and for people of goodwill from all sides of this argument to come together and seek consensus.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think improvements are needed and why is the law inadequate to deal with this result?
PRIME MINISTER: Mark, I will just echo what Mathias said. The Smith Bill has the advantage - just before you arrived we were talking about it - the Smith Bill has the advantage of having been around for some months now. Everyone is familiar with it. It has a wide degree of support across the chambers. But of course, there's the opportunity to move amendments to it and improve it. Well obviously, Mathias and I and other members and senators will examine amendments that are proposed on their merit. But it's a free vote, that's the critically important thing. You will see, you will very likely see members of the Coalition and indeed members of the Labor Party taking different views on one amendment or another. As I was saying in Manila with you just yesterday, this will be Parliament at its best. You will see people speaking from the heart, expressing their personal views, not being dictated to or directed by party bosses or whips or anything like that. And I think you will get a great outcome that will balance all of those values - freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality, mutual respect and above all respecting the will of the Australian people. That's what we promised. We said we would give every Australians their say and we did. Many people tried to stop us. Bill Shorten, prominent amongst them. He didn't want Australians to have their say, but thanks to the ABS survey and Mathias’ very skillful management of this process, every Australian had their say. 80 per cent of them chose to vote and, as we know, 61.6 per cent of them said ‘yes’. That is an overwhelming result. And so the message is clear - Australians have voted ‘yes’ to marriage equality, to allowing changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. And what they want us to do is to get on with it and get it done! Thank you all very much.