ABC News Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; Turnbull’s divisive plebiscite.




SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; Turnbull’s divisive plebiscite.

DEL IRANI, HOST: Mark Dreyfus joins us now from Brisbane. Good morning to you.


IRANI: So, given that your meeting with George Brandis ended in a stalemate yesterday, do we now assume that efforts to negotiate in good faith have failed and that the plebiscite is essentially dead?

DREYFUS: It was a surprising meeting yesterday, Del, because the Attorney-General George Brandis asked me to come to meet with him and Senator Ryan – I did, with Terri Butler, our Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality, and the precursor to the meeting was the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce ruling out any change. So naturally enough, I asked George Brandis what is it that the Government is prepared to change about this plebiscite – we got nothing. And that’s very disappointing.

IRANI: Well Senator Brandis said similar things. He said he asked you on nine occasions during the meeting “what do you want”. What exactly did you hope to get out of the meeting? Did you put anything on the table?

DREYFUS: The Government knows what Labor wants. Labor wants to get on with this and have a free vote in the Parliament. It’s long past time that marriage equality was achieved in Australia. It’s the Government that’s made a mess of this. It’s the Government that has invented this roadblock called a plebiscite and we think very clearly that the Government is simply not listening to the LGBTI community in particular. They haven’t made any suggestions as to how this plebiscite can be conducted without causing harm to the LGBTI community, particularly younger LGBTI people. They haven’t suggested even – they didn’t even suggest in the meeting yesterday – why this plebiscite is a good idea. Why for this simple change to the law, we need to have a vote of all the Australian people. 

IRANI: So, in terms of some specifics, if the Government were to remove that seven and a half million dollar funding for each side of the campaign and if they made the plebiscite self-executing, do you think then Labor would get on board and support the plebiscite?

DREYFUS: No. The Government needs to go a lot further than that and the problem that’s occurred here is that the Government is not even suggesting that it is prepared to actually change. The example you have just given is one that came up in the meeting. I asked George Brandis “is the Government, the conservative wing of the Liberal Party room, which is actually running this, is there a preparedness there to change the public funding?” Again, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia ruled out any change just yesterday morning – immediately before our meeting. We’ve got division in the Government over this. We’ve got the odd position that the Prime Minister, who says that he supports marriage equality, the Attorney-General who says he supports marriage equality going forward with this plebiscite idea, which of course was dreamed up by people who oppose marriage equality. We’ve spent months after month on this-

IRANI: But the people that oppose marriage equality are already celebrating. George Christensen just tweeted last night that with Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfus scuttling the plebiscite, the definition of marriage won’t be changed for the foreseeable future. Aren’t you worried that you are playing into the hands of those who do not want marriage equality by not reaching a compromise?  

DREYFUS: Of course George Christensen is celebrating because this road block, which was dreamed up by the conservative wing of the Coalition party room, is working from their point of view. It’s preventing marriage equality coming about in Australia, as it’s already come about in the US, in the UK, in New Zealand, in Canada more than 12 years ago. We need to get on with this and the solution is to have a free vote in the Parliament. The Government knows this. They should stop talking about this plebiscite and get on with a free vote in Parliament because it is quite apparent they are not prepared to change any aspect of the plebiscite. It might be, as George Brandis was urging on me in the meeting yesterday, that I shouldn’t listen to the Deputy Prime Minister when he says that there is to be no change. I should apparently listen to the suggestion made by the Prime Minister Mr Turnbull that there is a preparedness to compromise. Well, what is that preparedness to compromise, I would ask?  We didn’t hear anything from George Brandis yesterday. We haven’t heard any specifics from the Prime Minister as to what they are prepared to change. And it’s apparent that the conservative wing of the Coalition party room is calling the shots here.

IRANI: And the Coalition has said that they’re not going to have a free vote. Labor is saying that you’re not going to have a plebiscite. There is every likelihood that we are not going to have marriage equality until potentially the next decade. Is that where we leave things? Is that something that the Labor party is ready to accept?

DREYFUS: Not at all. If the plebiscite does not go ahead, then we would be back to where we were before this was dreamed up by the conservative wing in August of 2015 – which is calls for the free vote in the Parliament, calls for a vote to be allowed. It’s absolutely up to Mr Turnbull to simply allow a free vote. That is where we will be if the plebiscite does not go ahead. And I expect there will be continuing pressure from people supporting marriage equality right across Australia for that free vote to be allowed. And as some media reports are suggesting today, I think that continuing pressure will come from people within the Liberal Party who support marriage equality because they want it to happen. It’s long past time we got on with this. People who love each other in Australia should be permitted to marry each other. We need to keep reminding ourselves what this debate is about.

IRANI: Alright Mark Dreyfus before I let you go, because we are running out of time. The Australian today, the Newspoll results have come out, it shows that the Coalition’s primary vote is down 4 points. But interestingly, Mr Turnbull still remains the preferred Prime Minister. Why isn’t Bill Shorten cutting through with the voters? Is he pulling down the party?

DREYFUS: I don’t think so. I think that Bill Shorten is cutting through with the voters. I think we saw that in the way in which Labor went within one seat of winning the election on the 2nd of July and the Newspoll is no surprise to me Del. It’s the product of a Government that does not know where it’s going, that lacks vision, that is divided in itself, that is breaking its promises all over the place, and I would expect that trajectory to continue unless this Government can actually work out what it is there for. It could start by doing something about marriage equality.

IRANI: Alright. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus thank you for your time this morning.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much.