9 August 2017




DAVID BEVAN: Let’s start Super Wednesday by welcoming our guest, Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia. He’s the Federal Education Minister. Good morning Simon Birmingham.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning David and I hope you are enjoying your sleep-ins.

BEVAN: I certainly am, thank you for your concern.

Penny Wong, the Labor Senator for South Australia and she is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, good morning Penny Wong.


BEVAN: And leader of the Australian Conservatives; South Australian Senator, Cory Bernardi, good morning to you.

CORY BERNARDI: Good morning to you all too.

ALI CLARKE: Cory Bernardi, what is it about you and your wife that makes your relationship so much more valid than Penny Wong’s and her partner’s?

BERNARDI: I just believe that marriage has always been between a man and a woman. I’m not saying my relationship is superior [Inaudible]. Marriage has been defined as what it is and I wouldn’t change the definition or wording [inaudible] for any reason.

CLARKE: While I’m asking you this next question Cory, if you could just take a step to the left because you were dropping in and out a little bit there. I guess what I’m getting at is that all she’s asking for is the same recognition that her relationship has as yours does. It does sound like you do think yours is superior or how else should hers be acknowledged?

BERNARDI: Well same-sex marriage relationships have already the same rights under the law under Commonwealth legislation and I think under state legislation as well. Marriage has always been a particular thing. It’s only in recent times that there’s been a demand to have it redefined. And what I would suggest to you is that there are some types of religious marriages, like under Islamic marriages where they have multiple wives, that have a much longer tradition than same-sex marriage, and yet no one’s calling for equality for that in this country.

CLARKE: Okay, so you’re representing people clearly that are against same-sex marriage. What about this from a texter that says “I am gay, I am so exhausted already with this debate – it’s demoralising and I now turn the TV of when it comes up; watching people who know nothing about you debating you future and using it political gain is depressing”. How are you helping those people and how are you looking after them?

BERNARDI: Well the Parliament’s had 16, maybe 17 now, individual bills introduced. It’s resolved this issue repeatedly and I just question why we have to keep discussing it. I’m bored with it too. There’s many more pressing things to deal with, and it just seems that it continues to be brought up by a very vocal minority who want to ignore some of the more important issues I think this country need to face.

BEVAN: But how do you benefit from denying marriage quality to people in same-sex relationships?

BERNARDI: Well there’s no benefit to me, so unlike many in this space, this is not a personal crusade. I simply do not think that because some people are demanding it, that we should redefine the meaning of a word to satisfy their personal circumstances, or undermine or change the meaning of an institution that has been around for such a long time.

BEVAN: Well hang on, if nobody benefits from denying them marriage equality, and they want it, why don’t you give it to them?

BERNARDI: Well you asked me how I benefit – I don’t benefit. This is not – as I said – something that is going to benefit me.

BEVAN: Well how does anybody else benefit from denying a same-sex couple marriage?

BERNARDI: There’s lots of people who feel very strongly about this, including in religious circumstances or people who want to see marriage maintained as a relationship between a man and a woman.

Now there are many options, a multitude of options, obviously if you go back for another six years, equality for same-sex marriages under the law – that was recognised in the Parliament, and we were told that’s all they wanted. That was done, I think, initially to satisfy the retirement of Justice Kirby and people continue on in that space. Why do they want to change the law of marriage?

BEVAN: It was quite clear Cory Bernardi that that wasn’t all that people wanted; that this was another step towards what they wanted, which was equality.

BERNARDI: I think if you go back – well equality is a very fashionable word, it’s a catchy slogan right, and I note that people who choose to use that aren’t calling for equality for other forms of marriage that are much more traditional than the demands for same-sex marriage. So let’s dispel that argument for what it is a slogan and talk about redefining a word…

BEVAN: … Cory let’s have a conversation here. You’re saying we don’t make all kinds of marriages, we don’t recognise all kinds of marriages such as polygamy. But these people aren’t asking for polygamy, what they’re asking for is ‘if I fall in love with someone else of the same sex and we are deeply committed to each other, that should be recognised in the same way as a heterosexual person falling in love. And they have deep commitment to each other.” So it’s got nothing to do with polygamy or other types of marriage.

BERNARDI: No but see what you’re conflating is you’re seeking the powers to redefine a word that has always meant the union of a man and a woman. In recent times it’s been demands to redefine the means of that word. If you’re talking about equality, marriage equality, the government should have nothing to do with defining a marriage or any other sorts of things that people are talking about. Then you cannot close your mind to other traditions of marriage that have a much longer history. It’s not a personal thing.

BEVAN: Look we’ve got a really bad phone line here, maybe we can call you back Cory Bernardi because we’d like to hear more of what you’d say. And while we’re sorting out the phone line, we’ll go to Penny Wong.

CLARKE: We will, Penny Wong good morning.

WONG: Hello Ali, are you enjoying it?

CLARKE: Getting there. Drawing the line between personal and work for you, I mean we were talking about benefit with Cory Bernardi there about this same-sex marriage. Why is it that it wasn’t until the political pain stopped for you that you really opened up and pushed for same-sex marriage?

WONG: What do you mean the political pain? That’s a bizarre thing to ask if you don’t mind me saying.

I first made a speech about marriage equality in 2004 when I was bound as part of the Labor Party to vote to agree with the insertion in to the Marriage Act, of the definition ‘man and woman’. I’ve spent a lot of time – because of course we are a party that did have a party position on these matters – working with a lot of people inside and outside of the party, and I was very proud to be one of the people to move the change to the party platform in 2011 and to stand up in the Parliament in 2012 and support it.

CLARKE: But do you understand that people call for the hypocrisy of there not being that overt pushback against the Gillard Government when there could’ve been changes made here.

WONG: I understand people are upset about this issue, but I just don’t think that bears any analysis of history. We had a very big debate…

BEVAN: … You’re not cutting Malcolm Turnbull anything like the same slack you gave Julia Gillard.

WONG: Hang on David, I actually think if you look at what we’ve said over the last few months – we’ve been very careful to try and give them space to do the right thing.

But I would make this point, we had a big debate inside the Labor Party and in 2011 our national conference under the whole media me and Andrew Barr from the ACT moved the motion that changed the party’s platform for the first time. That was an important debate.

BEVAN: Yes, but you’re not prepared to tear your party apart on the altar of same-sex marriage…

WONG: … Because we had a vote.

BEVAN: But you are prepared to break the Liberals on this issue.

WONG: No, actually I don’t want to break the Liberals on this issue. And if you look at what I said about Dean Smith and Trevor Evans last week, I just want a vote and I think most people just want to vote.

And if I may respond to a couple of things that Cory said – first he says marriage has never changed, that’s not true. Marriage used to be that a woman effectively became the property of the husband. Married women used to not be allowed to have a legal identity other than as the wife. They used to not be allowed to own property, but we’ve redefined marriage in very fundamental ways over many years. So he’s wrong to say it’s never changed.

Second, the important issue of religious freedom, I think it’s really important that we recognise we’re talking about civil marriage here. We’re not talking about imposing on churches their right to determine to whom the sacrament of marriage is offered to. I think that is a discussion that churches have to have for themselves, but this is about civil marriage, this is about secular marriage, this is about what the state says. I just say to people, really? If two people want to make that commitment, why are you so worried about enabling them to do that?
And my final point, I agree with Cory this is taking a ridiculously long time and to the person who texted the program, I understand why people are very upset about this ongoing debate. All we want to do is vote. The reality is the conservatives don’t even want to vote.

CLARKE: Let’s go to West Lakes now and hear from Monica. Good morning

CALLER: I rarely ring but I’m so infuriated, I think the politicians have got it so wrong. My daughter is getting married, she’s thirty years of age, she’s getting married in about a fortnight. In your vows you legally have to say the union is between man and woman. She wanted that dropped. She’s marrying and she’s heterosexual and she’s marrying a guy. They both wanted that taken out but they couldn’t have that taken out because that’s the legality of marriage. So they’ve said ‘however, the couple do not believe that marriage is a union between man and woman, they believe it’s between two consenting adults who love each other’. She’s thirty years of age. These politicians have got their heads so far up their arse they are going to lose voters of that age bracket because this is a generation that just doesn’t care, they are so fluid when it comes to what’s okay. You’re arguing over things and costing taxpayers huge amounts of money when the next generation coming through is going to think this is absurd. I’m 52 and I don’t know what we’re arguing about. It is just crazy.

BEVAN: Monica, thank you very much. Monica from West Lakes. Let’s go back to Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia. He’s one of the most senior Liberals in the country and he’s from South Australia. He’s the Federal Education Minister. Good morning Simon Birmingham. You find yourself parked between Bernardi and Wong on this don’t you, and how excruciating that must be for you.

BIRMINGHAM: Well it’s not excruciating David, I want to see change to the Marriage Act. It’s about seven years since I first made a public statement of support for the recognition of same sex marriage in Australia or marriage equality and I agree with Penny, we must be very clear in this debate. This is a discussion about the law of Australia, not about the way in which churches or individual religions conduct themselves. We should maintain absolutely prime respect for the integrity and the autonomy of those churches and faith groups to define and determine marriage (inaudible) recognition of two individuals who want to make a life-long, loving commitment to one another, and to support each other, to provide all of the types of assistance that conservative Australians would often argue is essential in terms of the assistance of family in tough times (inaudible).

BEVAN: So in that case don’t you think there are better things you guys could spend $122 million dollars on?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I think in the argument that has been put and the government obviously took to the last election in terms of giving the Australian people a say, is that there is a significant social change here in making this adjustment to the Marriage Act.

You heard obviously two strongly conflicting opinions this morning coming from Cory on the one hand and Penny and myself on the other hand. If we are to make sure that at the end of this process it is something that has unified Australians and that change to the Marriage Act brings the type of support that is necessary for it to succeed in the future (inaudible).

BEVAN: Your plebiscite isn’t going to get through the Senate but say you get a postal plebiscite and the majority of answers that come back from a postal plebiscite is ‘no don’t change the Marriage Act, don’t change the definition of marriage’, how will you vote if this gets a private members bill in the parliament? Will you ignore that plebiscite and follow your conscience? Or will you be bound by that?

BIRMINGHAM: David, you’re many steps down the track. Firstly, the Parliament today will vote today in relation to whether or not we can proceed with the full compulsory national plebiscite and I hope of course that vote succeeds and we get a clear answer.

If we proceed to the postal plebiscite we’ll get a result from that. It could be a strong yes vote, it could be a strong no vote, it will of course have influence in terms of the participation as well. I’ll have a look at all of the different permutations if and when and if we ever get to that eventuality.

BEVAN: Well hang on, so you’re saying you wouldn’t necessarily be bound by a postal plebiscite?

BIRMINGHAM: Well David, the Government has been very clear that if there is a yes vote the Government will provide time in the Parliament for this matter to be resolved by the end of the year. That’s what I hope happens. I’ll certainly be voting yes in the plebiscite, I’ll be urging other Australians to vote yes, and I would then be voting yes in the Parliament.

BEVAN: But what if there’s a no?

BIRMINGHAM: Well David if there is a strong no then I don’t imagine the matter will come before the Parliament

BEVAN: Well hang on, it may well.

BIRMINGHAM: And we’ll deal with all of those contingencies if and when they happen

BEVAN: Okay, these aren’t silly hypotheticals because people are entitled to know whether you’re going to be bound by a $120 million plebiscite. Now if it’s a no result that comes from that postal plebiscite, and one of your party puts up a private members bill, maybe somebody from Penny Wong’s party does, maybe the Greens do, so there is a private members bill in the Parliament, will you be bound by a no result from a postal plebiscite?

BIRMINGHAM: I’ll be informed by the results of the plebiscite.

BEVAN: Informed does not mean bound.

BIRMINGHAM: As I say there are a number of different permutations the postal plebiscite could take and I’ll be informed by it.

BEVAN: In other words you don’t think the postal plebiscite is worth the paper it is written on. If you get a no result you’re going to look at all the permutations you say? So you’re going to look at how many people actually voted. What was the demographic.

CLARKE: So what’s the point?

BEVAN: What is the point?

BIRMINGHAM: I think the postal plebiscite can hopefully give us a strong yes vote and it gives us then the momentum, not just for Parliament to deal with issue but for it to be reformed and achieved in a manner that we actually have community support for the outcome and it will become something unifying right across the country

CLARKE: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Education Minister, Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia, thank you very much. And also Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives, thanks for joining us for Super Wednesday.


WONG: Thanks very much