Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
DAVID SPEERS: Let me bring in the Finance Minister and acting Special Minister of State, Mathias Cormann. Thank you very much for joining us. I am just keen to get a sense of how you feel about this because on the one hand, professionally you have overseen a process that seems to have worked incredibly well, personally though you have been opposed to same sex marriage. So how do you feel about this result?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am feeling very satisfied that we have kept faith with the commitment we made before the last election. We promised before the last election that we would give the Australian people a say on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. We delivered on that commitment. The Australian people have spoken and as I have said personally all the way through since before the last election, I will vote consistent with the decision of the Australian people. I think it is now incumbent on the Parliament to give effect to the decision. There is now going to be a debate over the next few weeks. I believe that this will be concluded before Christmas.
DAVID SPEERS: To ensure that happens then you are going to have to get cracking. I know the Dean Smith Bill will start debate in the Senate tomorrow. Are you willing to vote for it as it is?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I have been openly transparent about all of this all the way through. I believe the Smith Bill is a good starting position. I do believe that there is room for improvement …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: What sort of improvement?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have been very explicit. I am not going to go into the specifics today. I think today what we need to note, is that there is a decisive decision by the Australian people asking the Parliament to legislate to allow same sex couples to marry. I think there has been a conversation going on for some weeks now about what the appropriate level of religious protections should be. The Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, senior Members of Parliament from right across the Parliament have stressed the importance of having appropriate levels of religious protections. What I would like to see over the next few weeks is to have engagement across the Parliament, exploring where that line should most appropriately be drawn. In the end, no amendment can get up unless there is majority support for it, in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. So whatever Bill is ultimately passed, it will have the majority support of the Australian Parliament.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, if you are going to hit that timeline though, people are going to have start talking about exactly what they want. If it is not good enough just to protect the clergy, but it is too far as you indicated earlier to go as far as James Paterson has suggested and protect all the bakers and florists and everything. Where do you draw the line?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that we have a clear process set out now. The motion that is on the notice paper in the Senate today, would lead to the introduction of the Bill today. It would lead to the second reading debate starting tomorrow. If the second reading debate was concluded tomorrow, the debate would be adjourned. We are not going to start debating the specifics and the possible amendments until the week of the 27th of November. The next few weeks there is an opportunity for people of goodwill from all sides of the Parliament to get together and explore these issues and to hopefully reach sensible landing points.
DAVID SPEERS: Sam raised an interest point with me earlier, just a technical point on how the survey was conducted and how the results were compiled. We have got all these breakdowns and we can see indeed the gender breakdowns as well. Sam, you can go to it, but it is basically how they managed to put together …interrupted
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: The question that some people have been asking is was that material cross matched with gender and census material, because when you filled out your form, how did that cross match that with that other material?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The only thing that was cross matched was participation rates and participation statistics. There is no detail, there is no breakdown by demographics when it comes to actual voting patterns. The voting patterns are broken down consistent with the direction the Treasurer gave to the Statistician, nationally by state and by electoral division. But you cannot see form the statistics that we have released today how male, females or people of various ages actually voted. What you can see is to what extent they participated because when the survey forms came back, people had to be crossed off the roll in order to ensure that there was only one vote counted...interrupted
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: But their actual vote was not recorded against …interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Their actual vote was not recorded.
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Now, in terms of the campaigning, we are often told that Tony Abbott is a fantastic campaigner, that that is his strength. Yet, in his electorate, 75 per cent of people said yes. What does that say about Tony Abbott’s campaigning skills?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The result is what it is. It is there for all to see. I think that Tony Abbott, I have seen a statement that he has put out since the result was published, which was very generous and very constructive. I have always said at the beginning of this process that giving the Australian people a say, enabling people to have their voices heard would be a unifying moment for our country because you have always got to remember, there are good Australians on both sides of this argument who have strongly and sincerely held views on both sides of this argument. The best way in a democracy to settle these sorts of disagreements is at the ballot box, is through an exercise like this. Every Australian of voting age, on the electoral roll, entitled to vote at an election had the opportunity to have their say. Nearly 80 per cent participated. The result is very decisive. So it is a matter now of the Parliament getting on with it.
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: WA, every electorate voted yes and the highest turnout for the yes vote was actually in Curtin, Julie Bishop’s electorate. What does that tell you about WA? It contrasts for example with New South Wales, particularly Western Sydney.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It tells you that the percentage of people voting yes in WA is higher than the percentage of people voting yes in New South Wales. It is what it is, I am not sure what you …interrupted
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: They do not make you the Finance Minister for nothing.
DAVID SPEERS: Let me ask you Mathias Cormann, I read in The Australian this morning that some conservatives were annoyed at you and Peter Dutton, the two leading conservatives in Cabinet for not fighting hard enough for the no campaign.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I had a particular responsibility for this process. I was quite clear from the outset …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: You had to stay out of it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I felt that I needed to play this with a straight bat. But by the same token, I took the view that people across Australia knew what their view was in relation to this. This whole process was about giving people an avenue to have their voice counted, to have their voice heard. We have gone through this process. The participation rate shows that there was a high level of awareness, that there was a high level of enthusiasm to participate in this process. I do not think that politicians telling people what they should think would have changed people’s view one way or the other. I think people expressed their view consistent with what their beliefs were and that is what this process was all about.
DAVID SPEERS: And what is finally then your message to conservatives who want to fight for tougher religious protections, the James Paterson bill in particular. Should they fight this to the death or is it more important to get something through by Christmas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My own view and I am not going to speak for others, everyone has a free vote and everyone can approach this in the way that they feel that they should approach it. But my own view is going to be, we now have to act in good faith consistent with the decision of the Australian people. I do believe that there is an argument around how we best ensure that there is an appropriate level of religious protection. I think the best approach in my view, of people with a conservative view is to engage constructively with those who have long been supporters of reform in this space and to see what the best consensus is that we can achieve across the Parliament.
DAVID SPEERS: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us. Well done on seeing through the survey and we will see where the legislation goes from now.