SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality, Section 44.










SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality, Section 44.


MATT WORDSWORTH: Shadow Attorney Mark Dreyfus is in London, he joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us. But before we get onto the religious protections just firstly, 17 seats voted ‘No’ in Australia. 12 were in Western Sydney, nine are Labor. Is there a disconnect between the Labor party, its heartland, and its social policy?


DREYFUS: I don’t think there is a disconnect between Labor members of Parliament and their electorates. The Labor members of Parliament in Western Sydney were most of them elected by resounding majorities at the last election and it’s understood by their electorates that Labor fights for health and education, Labor fights on jobs, Labor fights for better management of the economy and the fact that there is a difference of opinion on a conscience issue between some of the Members of Parliament and apparently, according to the result of the vote, their opinion on marriage equality - I don’t think that’s a disconnect at all. You can’t as a Member of Parliament, Matt, represent all of the people all of the time. Your job, for me, as a Member of Parliament is to bring your own conscience and your own thought and your own hard work to bear on the job.


WORDSWORTH: You’ve got Liberal MPs like Steve Ciobo, while he is a ‘No’ voter, he will respect the will of his electorate and vote ‘Yes’. Should the same apply for those Western Sydney Labor MPs?


DREYFUS: Not at all. I don’t see the job of a Member of Parliament as being simply a mouthpiece, not a mere mouthpiece. We are much more than that and of course if Steve Ciobo wants to approach it that way, it’s his party that foisted this survey, which is an unnecessary survey, on the people of Australia. If he wants to approach it in that way he can but I respect the right of every Member of Parliament to vote in accordance with their conscience on this issue. 


WORDSWORTH: It was on ABC News tonight that one of their reporters was out in Western Sydney having a chat to parents who were worried about their kids, Catholic and Private schools, being forced to teach same sex marriage to their children. What do you say to those parents?


DREYFUS: I am not entirely sure what it means when someone says that schools will be forced to teach same sex marriage. Schools teach children about the society in which they live, and at the same time if they are religious schools, they teach the religious views, the tenets of the particular religion that set up the school. One of the things that children will be taught is that the civil law of Australia allows for marriage between same sex couples if the Parliament can do its job in the next two weeks.  


WORDSWORTH: So you don’t their concerns are valid?


DREYFUS: I respect everybody’s concerns. I think a lot of fears have been raised. I think a lot of those fears are not well-founded fears in what has been a quite hard fought campaign. Of course I respect the views that have been expressed. I respect the views of the large number of Australians who voted no in this survey. But I am confident that they will see in coming years, as I sincerely hope, marriage equality is achieved in the next two weeks. They will see in coming years that most of their fears are not well-founded and that life goes on as before. That has certainly been the experience in those countries like Australia, in the developed world, which have achieved marriage equality.


WORDSWORTH: So all the debate now is about religious protections, around the Dean Smith bill. Last night on the program, Father Frank Brennan was suggesting that we split it out, pass same sex marriage in one bill and then come back later on and debate a bill on religious protections. And this afternoon the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, seemed to endorse that as a good idea. Is that something that Labor would get on board with?


DREYFUS: I was very encouraged by Peter Dutton’s comments to say that he thinks that there is a need for further discussion about some human rights issues in Australia, particular human rights he’s interested in are religious freedoms or religious rights. And he thinks that’s a debate we can have later, not in the context of this bill that’s now in the Parliament already being debated to achieve marriage equality. Picking up a point that Father Frank Brennan has been making for many months. Absolutely, Labor is prepared to have that discussion later about whether or not the settings for human rights protections in Australia are as good as they could be. And if Peter Dutton is saying let’s have that debate later, I welcome that comment. Because that really reflects Peter Dutton’s understanding – that the Parliament now needs to get on and do its job. We need to get this done.


WORDSWORTH: I just want to talk to you about citizenship briefly because the High Court has ruled that Hollie Hughes taking up a job on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has made her ineligible to take Fiona Nash’s senate spot. She took this job after the election was declared and resigned less than an hour after Fiona Nash was disqualified over her citizenship, but still she’s now being disqualified. Is this just getting absurd? This application of section 44?


DREYFUS: I think everyone should wait to see the reasons that the High Court has reached this decision. And also bear in mind a couple of things. The first is, the disqualification of Hollie Hughes was not on a citizenship basis, it was on a different part of section 44, which says you can’t hold an office of profit under the crown. One striking thing about this is that I think Australians will now look very much with suspicion on any expression of legal opinion that’s offered by the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General in the future. Bear in mind they were the ones saying that they were confident.


WORDSWORTH: Isn’t this a very onerous and absurd interpretation? How could she have possibly guarded against breaching this section? 


DREYFUS: I say again, the High Court hasn’t given its reasons but they have clearly accepted the position put by counsel appointed to assist the court. And that was to the effect that the election is a continuing process for those who were candidates at that election. All the High Court is saying is that the Constitution must be respected. It’s something that the Australian Labor Party has done at all times, and regrettably, it seems that many other parties operating in Australian politics haven’t accorded the Constitution the respect they should have.


WORDSWORTH: Mark Dreyfus we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much Matt.