Subjects: Liberal party division on same-sex marriage; Australian republic
THE HON. MARK DREYFUS QC, MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE PROGRAMME
WEDNESDAY, 27 JANUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Liberal party division on same-sex marriage; Australian republic
PATRICIA KARVELAS (PRESENTER): Well you just heard Michaelia Cash, and she says she thinks actually they will be bound by the decision with a few exceptions for instance Eric Abetz, who will cross the floor effectively but everyone else will be bound, that's what she said.
MARK DREYFUS QC MP: Well, that's pretty typical of this Liberal party, they're so divided they don't know what they are doing. And I think that actually we've had Eric Abetz let the cat out of the bag. We've got a complete, expensive waste of money, a national opinion poll costing $160 million that we now learn from some Liberal party members, they're not even going to pay attention to. The whole thing was a stunt dreamed up by Tony Abbott to get out of a division perceived by him in his party room. Regrettably, new Prime Minister Mr Turnbull has gone with the same stunt. So Australians are stuck with no progress on marriage equality, waiting until some unspecified time after the next election when we're going to have an opinion poll costing $160 million.
KARVELAS: Your party is in a similar situation with the GST isn't it - you have South Australian Labor MP Nick Champion wanting all Labor MPs to impose any increase in the GST but South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has a very different view. What does that speak about in terms of binding people or allowing people to have their own view?
DREYFUS: Traditionally the Australian Labor Party has bound its members to vote in accordance with party policy. Our party policy at present says that on marriage equality there is a free vote because we recognise the difficulty of the issue. But I'm in favour of political parties using discipline. I don't shy away from it and I think it's a pretender for Senator Cash to crow about the supposed freedom in the Liberal Party - I can count on one hand the number of times Liberal members of Parliament have crossed the floor in the last decade.
KARVELAS: But if it was to happen, there was a plebiscite, let's create a scenario here, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten go to the election, Malcolm Turnbull wins, he has to execute his plan for a plebiscite - the vote is yes to same sex marriage, and all of these MPs in the Liberal Party do say that they want to be bound by it. Would two Liberal MPs crossing the floor really matter?
DREYFUS: I think we've already got a substantial majority of opinion in Australia in favour of marriage equality. I think it should go to a vote in the Parliament now. With a free vote on both sides of the Parliament, and I am confident that it would succeed. That's what Tony Abbott was afraid of and that's what the new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is backing in. No action, putting it off to some future time so that people like Eric Abetz can say 'ah well, we'll get another chance to oppose it.' It's a shameful thing that this Liberal Government is engaging in here in putting off a vote in the Parliament, by the Parliament, that makes the laws of Australia. We're a representative democracy, Patricia. We're not some Swiss citizens' referendum system, we elect members of Parliament who make the laws. And I want to have a vote on marriage equality as soon as possible.
KARVELAS: Given you say that you want a conscience vote straight away in the Parliament, that seems not to be something that is on the table, Malcolm Turnbull has not said he's going to do that - what's Labor's response to a plebiscite result which is against same-sex marriage? Would you be bound by the people's will if it was against same-sex marriage?
DREYFUS: I don't think it's as straightforward and simple as that. The Labor Party policy now for some time has been in favour of marriage equality in this country.
KARVELAS: So you would ignore a potential vote?
DREYFUS: We'd have a party debate perhaps prompted by a negative result in a very expensive opinion poll, but it would be a matter of first changing party policy. I don't think anything is automatic here.
KARVELAS: So does that mean the door would be open if there was a plebiscite and it found against same-sex marriage, that the nation voted overwhelmingly against same-sex marriage, that the Labor party would need to have a debate again about its position?
DREYFUS: Yes. I think it's exceptionally unlikely, speaking for myself I cannot conceive of not backing marriage equality. I think that two people who love each other should be able to get married in Australia, and the laws of marriage should apply to any Australian citizens who wish to join in marriage. It's a very simple issue for me. I understand it's a deeply held opinion contrary to the view I hold which is why we should have a debate about the issue, and the place for that debate is the Parliament.
KARVELAS: If there was a result which was in favour of same-sex marriage, you currently have a conscience vote as you say which will expire eventually to a binding vote...
DREYFUS: 2019, I think that long before then we will have marriage equality laws in Australia.
KARVELAS: But given those parameters, if there was a vote which was in favour of same-sex marriage, should that also influence your MPs that are against same-sex marriage? Labor MPs that are against it? Because of course there are some.
DREYFUS: There are, and the unusual position that the Labor Party has adopted in the current platform recognises the deeply held views on this subject within the Labor Party.
KARVELAS: I just want to move to another issue if you don't mind, the issue of a republic which is a huge issue on the political agenda as well. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says there are more important issues to deal with at the moment. Clearly the Labor party doesn't agree. But is it true that this is coming from the top, from the political class saying it's important rather than the grass roots?
DREYFUS: I don't think so. I think that Australians are ready for a republic. Again this is an issue on which people differ and all the more reason to start in on the debate. I don't think there is any risk we are about to have a referendum on a republic this year, 2016 or even 2017 but we've got to start on the process again. We saw in 1999 how long it took to get to the referendum which regrettably was derailed by John Howard putting forward not one but two models, which split the yes vote, I think those like me on the republican side are going to be making absolutely sure that splitting doesn't occur again, but we need to start in on the process. And it's always going to be possible for someone to say there's a more important issue or this issue is more important. Of course there are important issues, that's always going to be the case, we can do more than one thing at the one time, we should get started now on moving towards a republic.
KARVELAS: Indigenous recognition has been on the agenda for a very long time, it has bipartisan support, don't you need to be putting all of your effort into making sure that constitutional change is achieved before you start mounting a case for a republic?
DREYFUS: I'm confident that's going to come up first, Patricia. So, we're well down the track and again, that's a good example of how long it takes to get to a position where we can have a referendum, we haven't had a referendum date set, we haven't even had the question finally resolved but we are getting agonisingly close to it, I'm hopeful it will be resolved in the next few months, and we can then start to plan the date for the referendum with the question clear. You're right, there is bipartisan support, we need to have bipartisan support, pretty much history has shown this to change the constitution.
KARVELAS: The fact that that's been so difficult does indicate that a republic debate will be perhaps equally difficult if not more.
DREYFUS: All the more reason to start now.
KARVELAS: Okay, Mark Dreyfus I want to thank you for coming in.
DREYFUS: Thank you very much Patricia.