ABC Insiders

SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality, postal survey







SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality, postal survey


BARRIE CASSIDY, HOST: Mark Dreyfus, welcome.




CASSIDY: I presume you would agree with most of what Andrew Wilkie said there, and you have described the whole thing as a shambles anyway. And yet you’re urging the country to get involved. How do you square that away?


DREYFUS: This is not the choice that Labor would have made. We think there needs to be a free vote in the Parliament. We’ve made that clear. That’s our commitment, if we still haven’t done this by the time of the next election. But since the government has foisted this shambles, this voluntary non-binding $122 million postal survey on Australia, we are going to participate. We’re not going to abandon LGBTI Australians. We’re going to stand with them and we’re going to campaign as hard as we can for “yes”.


CASSIDY: But does that put you in a position where you question the legitimacy of the thing, if they vote yes you’ll agree with it, but if they vote no you won’t?


DREYFUS: We are not the government Barrie. The government has decided to do this, and we’re saying yes to marriage equality, we’ll say yes in this postal survey when the matter comes to Parliament, because I’m very much hoping that it’s going to come to Parliament by the end of this year. We’ll be voting yes again.


CASSIDY: And if the people vote no?


DREYFUS: Well we’ve made our position clear, it remains our position. Marriage equality should happen in Australia. We don’t want to be the last country in the developed world to have marriage equality. And we’ll bring it to the Parliament after the next election if we’re successful.


CASSIDY: Even if the people say no?


DREYFUS: Absolutely. It’s Labor policy, it’s clear Labor policy.


CASSIDY: OK well the High Court will hear that challenge, on September 5 and 6. Now what happens then because the forms are going out I think a week after that. So what happens if there is a delay, and you think the High Court will take some time over this.


DREYFUS: Not necessarily, Barrie. The High Court has shown in past, important government-related cases that it’s capable of giving a decision on the spot, and giving its written reasons later. This is that kind of case. The High Court has shown how important it thinks it is, by giving it a relatively speedy hearing, taking these issues very seriously and they are serious. It’s possible the High Court could give a decision straight away.


CASSIDY: That week, during the hearings?


DREYFUS: At the end of the hearings.


CASSIDY: And what do you think the chances are of a challenge being successful?


DREYFUS: Look, these are very, they are strong arguments. I’m not going to give legal advice on national TV, let’s say 50-50. And the High Court is taking it seriously. There’s an argument that says that there needs to be legislative authorisation before you can go out and spend $122 million of public money, and there isn’t any legislative authorisation. And there’s an argument that this is beyond power for the Australian Bureau of Statistics under its legislation to carry out this kind of very unusual activity.


CASSIDY: And if the High Court was to agree with that and strike it out, what happens then? Is that the end of it until at least the next election?


DREYFUS: That’s a matter for the government. We’ll continue to press, and other Parliamentarians, on all sides of the Parliament, from all parties are going to continue to press for what should happen – which is a free vote in the Parliament.


CASSIDY: Now all of this publicity and attention around the High Court challenge, do you think that’s likely to further encourage people to boycott it?


DREYFUS: I hope not. I can understand why some people are simply disgusted, particularly in the LGBTI community, disgusted about this process that’s been foisted on Australians. A process that’s not binding, that’s voluntary, that’s excluding, that’s rigged against young people, rigged against people who live in remote areas. Let alone all the Australians, the million Australians overseas, I’m concerned about access for people with a disability. All of those deficiencies might be reasons why people would throw up their hands and, as Bill Shorten put it in the Parliament, chuck the papers in the bin. I’m hoping they won’t do that. If we must have this process, let’s make sure it’s a resounding yes. I’ll be voting yes, I’ll be campaigning for yes, and my colleagues are going to be campaigning for yes.


CASSIDY: In all the circumstances, what do you think would be a good turnout?


DREYFUS: It’s hard to know. We’re accustomed in Australia to compulsory voting. We get turnouts of over 90 per cent. This is a voluntary activity, coming in an unusual way, particularly for younger people who are accustomed to communicating digitally. They are going to get a letter from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A good turnout, let’s hope for it to be more than 50 per cent. I saw that the Prime Minister said that he thinks it will be more than 50 per cent, he needs to put his shoulder to the wheel here. He needs to campaign on this to make sure that if we must have this ridiculous process, it’s got some worth to it. It’s not going to have much worth if it’s only 10 or 15 per cent of people participating.


CASSIDY: Maybe he would like the idea of Bill Shorten out there for three months talking about this issue while he’s out there talking jobs and energy prices.


DREYFUS: He’s the one that’s created this out of his weakness, out of his need to sort out problems and division in his own party room. Having done it, having pushed it on to Australia, the very least that this weak Prime Minister should do is get out there and do some campaigning. I’m shocked at these indications we’ve had from Malcolm Turnbull that he’s not going to pay much attention.


CASSIDY: The government has said it wants your support for legislation to prevent hurtful and misleading material being circulated – will you give that support?


DREYFUS: Well again, the government having said there wouldn’t be any, and that they trusted the Australian community and the “no” campaign to engage in respectful debate, now says it wants to legislate in some way. You might say they should have thought of that before they foisted this ridiculous postal survey on Australians. Of course, we’ll…


CASSIDY: But the legislation will take care of it, so..


DREYFUS: Well will it? We’ll look at whatever the government puts forward, there’s an issue there, it might have some consequences for the court case that’s being brought. Let’s see what the government brings forward.


CASSIDY: But surely your inclination would be to support something that prevents hurtful material being circulated?


DREYFUS: Absolutely, our inclination is to make sure that this is a respectful debate, if the government won’t stand up to the disrespectful and misleading and offensive things that have already been said, we gave Malcolm Turnbull an opportunity in the Parliament last week to condemn for example Bronwyn Bishop’s appalling comments. He didn’t. If the government won’t do that, perhaps we do need to look at other measures. But it’s a matter for leadership here Barrie. It’s a matter for the government to step on, to prevent. And they should have thought of this before they embarked on this postal survey.


CASSIDY: Have you got some sympathy for the religious organisations that are saying they would like the exemptions to be spelled out in detail before people vote?


DREYFUS: Well we’ve got a bill from Dean Smith which is..


CASSIDY: Well it’s not official…


DREYFUS: No, because the government is never going to bring forward a bill of its own. It’s saying it will allow possibly a private members’ bill to be brought forward. But we had a Parliamentary committee, a Senate committee, an all-party Senate committee which reported in February this year. It reached, to my mind, an acceptable compromise which protected ministers of religion, protected religious marriage celebrants, protected religious organisations from having to provide facilities in relation to a same-sex marriage. And Dean Smith based his bill on that report. It looks like an acceptable compromise, the government actually ought to be saying what it is that the Parliament will be asked to legislate on if there is a yes vote. And they should do that ahead of this postal survey taking place.


CASSIDY: Are you being led by the most dangerous and left-wing Labor leader in generations?


DREYFUS: I saw that yesterday. It’s unhinged actually Barrie. It’s an indication of how desperate this weak Prime Minister is that he feels, last week, he should attack Bill Shorten personally for being too close to business and on Saturday in Adelaide he thinks he’s going to attack him for being left-wing. It’s an indication of the Prime Minister’s desperation that he should resort to this kind of personal abuse and I think anyone who thinks Bill Shorten is left-wing should actually look at his record in the Federal Parliament and his time before entering the Federal Parliament. It is plain wrong. It’s not left-wing to be concerned about inequality in Australia, it’s actually the right thing. Any social democratic party would be concerned about that. It’s not left-wing to be concerned about taking action on climate change, or having a coherent energy policy, or to be concerned about the problem of housing affordability. I could go on Barrie – these are not left-wing policies.


CASSIDY: OK if they’re wrong, who has been the more left-wing leader in your time if not Bill Shorten?


DREYFUS: I don’t think that he’s particularly left-wing, I don’t think these labels help, Barrie. It shows how out of touch Malcolm Turnbull is that he should resort to this kind of labelling, this kind of desperate personal attack on Bill Shorten. I’d like to hear him talking about policies. I’d like to hear him explaining why it is that he doesn’t yet have coherent energy policy. I want some answers and I think most Australians are desperate to have proper leadership from their Prime Minister, not this kind of personal abuse.


CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much Barrie.