Press conference at Brisbane CPO

Subject/s: Marriage equality, Mr Turnbull's plan for a divisive plebiscite

















MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks everyone for coming. I’m here with Terri Butler. We’ve just met with the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis, and with Senator Scott Ryan the Special Minister of State. We came here at the request of the government to discuss the plebiscite. And we came here to listen to whatever it was that Senator Brandis and Senator Ryan had to say. Regrettably I have to say that they didn’t have much to say at all. Regrettably they weren’t prepared to indicate to us any change that the government is prepared to make to the form of the plebiscite that is contained in the bill produced on the Wednesday of the last sitting week. And nor were they prepared to give us really any arguments that provided any convincing reason why Australia should now proceed down the path of this plebiscite.


In a very real sense, it’s apparent that despite the comments that were made this morning by the Prime Minister indicating perhaps some preparedness to compromise, in fact this government is not prepared to compromise. In fact this government is being driven, as has been apparent now for very many months by the conservative wing of the coalition party room, it’s been driven as was made apparent by the comments today by the Deputy Prime Minister, by those conservative elements. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Joyce, made it clear that the government is not prepared to consider change to the plebiscite model they have introduced. But just as other backbench members from the Coalition party room, people like Senator Abetz, and Mr Christensen the Member for Dawson have made very clear, they are not prepared to countenance any change. Ruling out, very directly, any changes to the model that the government suggests. In a real sense, it’s possible to say that this plebiscite is setting marriage equality up to fail. That was its purpose, no-one should think that this plebiscite was created by those who want marriage equality to come about in this country. The pursuit of this plebiscite is because this government is setting marriage equality up to fail. We are ready to talk to anybody who wants to see marriage equality brought about in this country. We think that marriage equality is going to be brought about by a vote in the Parliament, by parliamentarians doing the job that we are paid to do, doing the job that we are elected to do. We’ve again said that to the Attorney-General and the Special Minister of State this morning. Regrettably as I’ve said, all we have had is no offer at all, certainly no indication that the government is prepared to change. Ms Butler is going to make some comments.


TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EQUALITY: Thanks very much. Well it is an absolute pleasure to be here. I was saying earlier today it’s actually my wedding anniversary today. Troy and I got married seven years ago, and it was fantastic. One of the great things about our wedding of course was that it didn’t take a plebiscite of millions of our fellow Australians to allow us to have that wedding. Sure we had to choose a venue, pick a cake, pick a dress but we didn’t have to go through a harmful, divisive, expensive and unnecessary plebiscite process in order to have the right to get married. We think, like a lot of Australians think, that it’s pretty clear what needs to happen here. The Parliament needs to do its job. Members of Parliament need to do their job and vote to amend the Marriage Act so that everyone can get married. To remove the discrimination. To remove the exclusion. To remove the marginalisation. It’s really very disappointing that the members of government that we met with today were not even able to make a case really to have the plebiscite. Why should people go through this? And then to add insult to injury, to come and meet with us without anything really to say at all about how even if it was a good idea to have a plebiscite, the model that they have put to the Australian people could be improved. So it is very disappointing. It’s disappointing to see that, it’s disappointing that the hard right of the Liberals and Nationals seem to be in control, to hear that you’ve got the Deputy Prime Minister, you’ve got Senator Abetz, and others trying to do what they can to kibosh marriage equality and to see that this really is a situation where this entire plebiscite idea, this entire process of spending hundreds of millions of dollars, this process of excluding people, this process of saying you should ask for permission from your fellow Australians if you wish to have the same rights as them – it seems very disappointing that they are pursuing this process when there is a much cheaper, much simpler and much more obvious way of making marriage equality a reality. In fact we can do it in the next sitting week. There are bills in the Parliament right now that would amend the Marriage Act. All it will take will be a vote in the Parliament. The only obstacle to marriage equality, the only impediment to marriage equality happening in the next sitting week is the fact that the Prime Minister and his government are failing to give a free vote to members of their party room and stopping marriage equality passing through Parliament. That is the impediment right now, and unfortunately today’s meeting didn’t advance that at all.


DREYFUS: Thanks Terri. Any questions?


JOURNALIST: Was there anything that the Attorney-General could have offered Labor in order to get your support for the plebiscite?


DREYFUS: We’ve indicated at all times that we think this plebiscite is a bad idea. We’ve pointed to a whole range of aspects of this plebiscite already that we say the government should have thought about differently. The government of course did not consult with Labor just as it doesn’t appear to have consulted widely anywhere within the community before it produced this plebiscite bill some 14 months after this thought bubble was first announced. Given that we have the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia out there in the media this morning ruling out any changes made to this plebiscite. Given that in the last week we’ve had George Christiansen, the Member for Dawson, and Senator Abetz also saying there should be no change to the plebiscite model that’s contained in the government’s bill. It’s really for the government to indicate just what possible changes there are - as yet the government disappointingly has done nothing of the kind.


JOURNALIST: Given how today went can you see value in continuing conversations with the Attorney-General?


DREYFUS: Labor is always willing to talk to anyone, anywhere in Australia, anyone in the Australian Parliament about getting marriage equality to be a reality in Australia and if there seems some purpose in having a further meeting then we will have that further meeting. But we’ve made it pretty clear, we’ve made it clear to the Attorney-General today, that it’s really for the government to indicate that it is prepared to make some changes. Really vague statements by the Prime Minister that the Government is prepared to compromise without getting into any specifics don’t take us anywhere, and still less are we going anywhere if there are threats from the Attorney-General such as we saw in the media this morning or mere abuse from Greg Hunt being dished out towards the Leader of the Opposition. That’s not the way to have a constructive debate in Australia, that’s not the way to progress the cause of marriage equality which is what we should be talking about.


JOURNALIST: What was the feeling in the room today, was it a difficult meeting?


DREYFUS: Well this was a political meeting. It was a meeting between me, the Shadow Attorney-General, accompanied by Terri Butler as the Shadow Minister for Equality, and two Ministers from the government on the other side. I must say I was surprised that the government didn’t come with something in hand, it was after all the Attorney-General who requested the meeting and it was disappointing to see that they in fact seemed to be holding the meeting for the sake of holding the meeting. More of this government setting up marriage equality to fail. I’ll say again, this plebiscite was dreamed up by people who do not support marriage equality. It is being pursued by this government and everything this government does is putting the achievement of marriage equality in this country yet further away.


JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, do you have anything to say about Steve Irons, a Liberal MP from Western Australia who has reportedly put his wedding flight on expenses according to the West Australian who says he’s repaid the money after a ‘self-audit’?

DREYFUS: Well obviously breaches of the expense regime for MPs should be taken seriously and if Mr Irons has done the wrong thing it’s absolutely right that he has to pay the money, I don’t have the full detail there. But we know that Liberal Members of Parliament got caught misusing travel entitlements to go to colleagues' weddings. This is abysmal behaviour.


JOURNALIST: Do you have any comments on Ian Macfarlane taking on a job at the Queensland Resources Council?


DREYFUS: I think there’s always an issue about former Ministers taking out jobs very soon after they’ve ceased to serve as Ministers, in a similar industry. It raises concerns about the way in which they may have conducted themselves as Ministers. There should in fact I think be a much longer period left between the time someone is a Minster in a particular portfolio and then taking up a senior position in that same portfolio area in the private sector.


JOURNALIST: Back to marriage equality. If it’s easy to do it in the next sitting in Parliament, in the six years you were in power why didn’t you?


DREYFUS: I think that everyone in Australia knows this issue of marriage equality has been a difficult one. It’s been a difficult process for both sides of the Parliament. We don’t exclude the Labor Party from that. For anyone that’s watched the debate over marriage equality at successive Labor Party National Conferences you will see how difficult it’s been. We have arrived at our National Conference, at the last National Conference in July 2015, with a very very clear statement of support for marriage equality and that’s what we are pushing for. We say this can be delivered. It could be delivered in the next sitting week by a free vote in both houses of parliament. We already know that there is now a majority of parliamentarians in both houses who will vote in favour of marriage equality. So too there is a majority of Australians in favour of marriage equality and we would say why are we having this plebiscite? Why is the government going down the path of this plebiscite? A $200 million dollar divisive plebiscite that we are now hearing at a very loud volume from the LGBTI community that they do not want. And it’s worth recording that I’ve received in the last week or so - I’ve already received this message loud and clear - I’ve received in the last week or so some impassioned personal pleas in the form of emails and phone calls to my office from people in the LGBTI community saying that they would rather wait a little bit longer for marriage equality than have this expensive divisive plebiscite - which is not the way we govern ourselves - should be no part of getting marriage equality.


JOURNALIST: So will you support this plebiscite or not?


DREYFUS: We have yet to reach a formal decision, the government having brought the bill into the Parliament after our caucus meeting in the last sitting week knew that, and our next caucus meeting is on Tuesday the 11thof October. We will be reaching a formal decision. I’ve been very much expressing my personal views for some 14 months now that the plebiscite is a terrible idea and it’s disappointing that having asked for this meeting the government actually put nothing on the table, the government did not indicate that it has listened to what the LGBTI community are saying. Certainly it did not indicate that it has listened to anything that Labor has expressed as concerns about this plebiscite.


Thank you.