ABC Radio National Drive

Subjects: Marriage equality, plebiscite.







PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and he’s in our studio in Parliament House. Welcome back.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much for having me Patricia.


KARVELAS: So, given a postal plebiscite looks very much alive now the government is saying that’s their option, isn’t it kind of – isn’t there a bit of pressure on Labor to support a proper plebiscite which the Australian Electoral Commission can police rather than this survey that even the government says is really a second-best option?


DREYFUS: Well it’s the threat, but the whole of it is ridiculous Patricia. It’s always been a ridiculous idea to have a plebiscite, it was dreamed up by Tony Abbott in August 2015 for two reasons: to solve a problem he had in his party room, and as a delaying tactic for the right of the Liberal Party to prevent it ever coming before the Parliament. And so far, you’d have to say it’s been magnificently successful. It’s achieved two years of delay, and someone that Australians thought was committed to marriage equality, namely Mr Turnbull, has proved a massive disappointment, a failure in this area just as he is in other areas.


KARVELAS: OK, alright that’s the politics…


DREYFUS: No that’s the reality of it Patricia. This is a ridiculous notion, this is a law of the Parliament of Australia. John Howard changed this law, the Marriage Act in 2004 without feeling the slightest need to refer it to the people of Australia, and the Parliament should change the law now. We shouldn’t be spending $122 million on a postal vote, we shouldn’t be spending $180 million on a plebiscite.


KARVELAS: Given the government says it has legal advice and we’ll test that in the High Court, that it wants to do this postal vote through the ABS – I had Liz Allen before from the ANU saying it’s not a great way to do it – clearly the Australian Electoral Commission is a trusted way of having the vote. If Labor got behind a proper plebiscite, you could actually have a proper vote where all of this potential fraud and disenfranchisement didn’t happen. So isn’t there some pressure on Labor – given you’ve got two plebiscites and only one’s going to happen, to go down the route of the plebiscite that is the most robust way to do it?


DREYFUS: We think it’s a ridiculous idea to spend $170 million on some…


KARVELAS: Even if you take the risk of a postal vote version?


DREYFUS: Well the government is saying it’s going to do a postal vote version but how that is going to work nobody yet knows. The suggestion made today was that it’s going to be the Australian Bureau of Statistics, somehow using procedures or facilities made available by the Australian Electoral Commission. That’s no answer either, and the eminent barristers who have already advised both Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians and also the Human Rights Law Centre, two separate pieces of advice from different barristers, they’ve both said you can’t do a postal vote without specific legislative authorisation. And the government is saying they’re going to do it without it. They’re embarking on the expenditure of an extraordinary amount, $122 million is their costing of it – without legislative authorisation, and potentially illegally. And solely, $122 million to solve a problem in the Liberal party room. This is not politics that I’m talking about, this is a real expenditure of a real $122 million wasting the time of Australians on something that is voluntary, on something that is non-binding, it – I’m aghast at the mess that this government is making at governing our country.


KARVELAS: If a postal plebiscite is where we end up, will the Labor Party mobilise behind a campaign for a yes vote?


DREYFUS: We’ll have to look at what’s proposed, but our position is clear. We think there should be marriage equality in this country. It’s just that we think it should be done by means of a free vote in the Parliament.


KARVELAS: Everybody listening right now Mark Dreyfus would absolutely know that you support a parliamentary vote now. But given you’re not in government, you know, you can’t control it. You can see that, we both know that. So that looks like it might end up being a postal vote. Will Labor campaign for a yes vote to ensure that an overwhelming yes vote is delivered and marriage equality can happen?


DREYFUS: Obviously if there’s a vote being put to the people of Australia and $122 million of public money is being put into asking – not requiring but asking – everybody on the electoral roll to vote, then Labor, which supports marriage equality, will put some effort in to making people do vote yes. I’m sure we will be campaigning but we have to look at how this is going to be conducted to see what’s the best role the Labor Party, the Australian Labor Party can play in a flawed and already discredited process. So this is being foisted on us, it’s being foisted on the people of Australia, by a weak Prime Minister who is being dictated to by the right of his party. And a delaying tactic invented by his predecessor to save his own job, you’ve got the current Prime Minister going on with. The nonsense that he went on with today, about keeping to their commitments, he already did that. He put it to the Senate, the Senate has rejected it. And you move on. That’s what governments, competent governments do. You move on by negotiation. You move on and reconsider your position when the Parliament says no to something you took to the election. And that’s what he’s not doing, he’s still going on with Tony Abbott’s delaying tactic.


KARVELAS: Just before I let you go, marriage equality advocates are mounting a legal challenge as you know. Will you or Labor be part of this case?


DREYFUS: Labor would only join if it was felt that we could raise some additional point. That’s the usual reason that we would intervene in High Court proceedings. I’m pretty satisfied that there’s very competent, eminent counsel and solicitors working with the groups that are likely to bring forward the challenge, and I doubt that Labor could add to the points that they’re seeking to make. I’ve seen the advices they’ve already received. Obviously we will consider it but I think it unlikely at this stage Patricia.


KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus, thank you so much for your time.


DREYFUS: Thank you very much.