Subject/s: Marriage equality plebiscite
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
ACTING SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
WEDNESDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2016
Subject/s: Marriage equality plebiscite
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Nothing demonstrates the dithering and incompetence of this government better than the divisive, expensive and mishandled plebiscite that even now we have not seen legislation produced for. The fact is that the government, and I include in this Mr Turnbull, Senator Ryan, Senator Brandis, are all spreading falsehoods about the nature of a plebiscite. A plebiscite is not a referendum. They should stop comparing this plebiscite to a referendum. A referendum is what Australia has under our constitution, when we want to change the constitution. We are not changing the constitution to bring about marriage equality in Australia. We are producing a piece of legislation, which is the job of the Parliament. Mr Turnbull knows that, Senator Brandis knows that, Senator Ryan should know that and they should stop trying to compare this proposed plebiscite with a referendum.
There is no precedent in Australian history for the kind of national opinion poll - compulsory voting, with public funding of a divisive ‘no’ campaign - there is no precedent. You’ve got to go back almost a century to some differently conducted national opinion polls about military conscription for the First World War. And since then, rightly, we have not had anything of this kind, and I’d actually refer to what’s been said this morning by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, who says that this is an attack on parliamentary sovereignty, who says that we should not be engaging in this plebiscite process simply for political convenience. And that’s the proof that this is still the right wing of the Liberal Party bribing Mr Turnbull to engage in this plebiscite. It’s actually the creation of the conservative right wing of the Liberal Party and perhaps some people in the National Party who are doing this not because they want marriage equality properly considered in this country, not because they want marriage equality to come about in this country, but because they want to stop marriage equality.
That has always been the intention of those promoting this plebiscite, it was dreamed up as a thought bubble by Tony Abbott to save his Prime Ministership more than thirteen months ago. And here we are thirteen months later, the government promised we’d have the plebiscite this year, that hasn’t happened - more dithering. The government promised that we’d have the legislation before now, that hasn’t happened - more dithering. The government has promised a lot in relation to this plebiscite, but one thing they haven’t done is actually produce a piece of legislation for this Parliament to look at. As Bill Shorten said yesterday, we need to have a vote in the Parliament now. It is not Labor that is in any way preventing marriage equality coming about in Australia, it is this Liberal government, this dithering and incompetent government, led by the dithering and incompetent Malcolm Turnbull that is stopping marriage equality. We could have marriage equality this year and the government knows it. They know that there is a majority of support in Australia, we don’t need to have this national opinion poll to find out, and they know that there is a majority in support for marriage equality in both Houses of the Australian Parliament. And that is why we should move to a vote as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Andrew Broad’s suggestion of having the plebiscite and the Indigenous referendum being held at the same time? That could save about $160 million couldn’t it?
DREYFUS: We could save $160 million by not having this plebiscite, and I actually think it’s an outrageous suggestion by Andrew Broad to suggest that we should muddle up a constitutional referendum with an unnecessary vote on something that can happen in the Parliament. I’m very concerned about the time that it has taken to get the constitutional referendum on Indigenous recognition up and running, but if we have to take the time we should take the time. If there needs to be more consultation, which is what the Referendum Council is doing at the moment with Indigenous communities, then so be it. But Mr Broad’s suggestion is one that we should reject immediately.
JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus, by potentially blocking the plebiscite, isn’t Labor playing into the hands of the conservatives by putting this issue off into the never-never potentially until 2019?
DREYFUS: It is not being put off into the never-never, we are in no different position now than we were a year ago or two years ago, where a vote in the Parliament, a free vote in the Parliament, which Mr Turnbull used to support, is the way in which we will bring about marriage equality in this country. Labor is listening to the very strongly expressed views from what I think is a majority of the Australian LGBTI community, which is saying to us loud and clear, do not have this divisive and damaging plebiscite, we are prepared to wait. Labor is going to be listening hard, Labor is going to be looking [inaudible] listening very hard in the next two or three weeks to mental health professionals about the potential effects of this plebiscite, and obviously we’ll be looking at the Bill if and when this government produces it.
JOURNALIST: But it sounds like you guys have already made up your mind. You’ve all but said you will be blocking this when it comes to Parliament. Why not just put it out of its misery and reject the idea today when it’s introduced to Parliament?
DREYFUS: We’ve pointed out the numerous problems with this plebiscite. We’ve said that it is a terrible idea. We’ve invited the government to consider ways that the plebiscite might be done that might perhaps make it a little bit better. One of those suggestions that we have made the government has rejected out of hand, which is that it has gone down the track of public funding of a “yes” and “no” campaign; some seven and a half million dollars to be spent on what will inevitably be a divisive “no” campaign. It appears that the government is not interested in the suggestion that Labor has put forward, and many people in the LGBTI community have put forward, which is at least this plebiscite should be made self-executing so that it is not necessary to return to the Parliament. I heard Senator Brandis and Mr Turnbull say yesterday that they would be no doubt if the plebiscite carried, that the legislation to amend the Marriage Act would be passed in the Parliament. Well I want to hear Senator Abetz stand up and say that. I want to hear Senator Bernardi stand up and say that. I want to hear Senator Seselja and others who have refused to rule out not following the result of the plebiscite, and the government has actually not consulted with Labor, has barely consulted the LGBTI community about this plebiscite. We will, as we’ve said all along, look at this legislation when it is produced but at the moment it is looking to us like a very bad idea indeed.
JOURNALIST: If Labor does block the plebiscite, and the government won’t support a free vote in Parliament, will you confidently be able to say at the end of three years that you’ve done everything you can to bring on, talk about, marriage equality?
DREYFUS: I’m not accepting that this is going to take three years. We will continue to pressure, as will the LGBTI community, for equal rights to be given to all Australians to marry who they wish to marry. And it’s not a matter of waiting for three years, the government has it within its power, to bring about marriage equality now by allowing a free vote in the Parliament. It is not Labor that is stopping marriage equality from coming about this year in Australia, it is the government in its dithering and incompetent way, pursuing this ill-conceived plebiscite which was dreamed up as a thought bubble to save Tony Abbott’s leadership and is now being pursued by apparently Mr Turnbull to save his leadership, because he’s done some unholy deal with the right of his party in return for the leadership. Now, that’s no way to govern ourselves – we shouldn’t be governing ourselves by resorting to an expensive opinion poll every time something a bit difficult comes up. It’s a terrible precedent to set, and I’m not, that’s not just me and the Labor Party saying that, that’s Dean Smith in the Liberal Party who is saying what a terrible precedent is being set by a weak government, resorting to a glorified opinion poll when it finds it too difficult to bring something to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Thanks very much.