15 November 2017




FRAN KELLY: Labor has described the new bill, backed by the conservatives, the James Paterson bill, as a license to discriminate. Senator Penny Wong is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Penny Wong, welcome back to Breakfast.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning Fran, good to be with you again.

KELLY: how confident are you feeling about this morning’s result?

WONG: I have to say I’m feeling very hopeful, but you know me, I’m always the one that is pretty cautious. It has been a tough campaign and I’m anxious, but I think we all are, those of us who have been fighting for this for a long time, and understand what this means for the country.

KELLY: And you have been campaigning for this for a long time and it is personal for you, as it is for many. What is the significance, what is the importance of this today both personally and politically?

WONG: Well, I was actually thinking about this this morning and I thought this is not just about lesbian and gay couples, it’s not just about the LGBTI community – although it is about us – it is about the sort of nation we are, and it will be a very important statement about the identity of the nation, the values of the nation, and that’s why these are such high stakes.

I wish we weren’t here, I wish this could have been dealt with better by the Parliament, but we are where we are, and I’m hopeful for an outcome that reflects the goodwill of the Australian people today, and I do want to say at this point there have been many courageous people both in our LGBTI community and our friends and allies who have worked extraordinarily hard over these last months, and at some times at personal cost. This has been a divisive issue in some families and some communities and I want to thank everybody in this country who worked for, campaigned for, and stood up for equality.

KELLY: If it is a Yes vote today, there is a battle still to be had in the Parliament and we’ve now seen this bill released yesterday from James Paterson, a Coalition MP, which contains a raft of religious protections. Malcolm Turnbull has taken a side, slapped down conservatives who want to roll back anti-discrimination laws. Will he prevail?

WONG: Well, will the Parliament prevail? I don’t think the Parliament should be distracted by Senator Paterson’s bill.

I make a couple of points – the first is there are already exemptions in our anti-discrimination laws which protect, for example, our religious institutions. They have a license already to discriminate, for example, against a gay person who may be employed as a teacher. They have the right to treat someone differently, even to dismiss them because they are gay.

They already have a license to discriminate and what has been argued for is a greater license to discriminate. I don’t think Australians voted for that. I don’t think this survey was a vote on expanding the capacity to discriminate in our society. It was in fact the opposite. It was a vote that was all about whether or not we should have equal rights for same-sex couples in this country.

I regard the Paterson bill as a distraction. I regard it as an attempt by those who have opposed equality at every step of the way to frustrate it further. It’s disappointing that James Paterson has allowed himself to be used in this way, by people who don’t share what I understand to be his view, that we should have equality in marriage.

KELLY: The Paterson bill contains a number of what have been broadly described as religious protections, but also a category called conscientious belief. You just said there it would give people a greater license to discriminate. I spoke to Matt Canavan earlier. He told us that the Patterson bill wouldn’t be in breach of any laws, wouldn’t include winding back any laws.

CANAVAN: Well I don’t agree with the Prime Minister that this bill makes activities which are currently illegal, legal.

KELLY: What do you think of that? Does the Paterson bill do that?

WONG: I think Matt Canavan is wrong and everything Matt Canavan says needs to be judged by his intention and his intention has been loudly and aggressively campaigning against equality.

The bill that we should be discussing is not the Paterson bill. The bill that we should be discussing is the cross-party bill, which, if we are successful today in the vote, will be introduced and debate will commence tomorrow, subject to the motion being passed by the Senate. And that motion is co-signed by me, Dean Smith and a range of other Senators including The Greens, the Nick Xenophon team and other members of the Coalition and Derryn Hinch.

The Senators who signed up to that bill represent a majority of the Senate Chamber. That is the bill that, at this stage, will proceed if there is a Yes vote. That is the bill we should be focussing on. Not this distraction from Senator Paterson who I think, regrettably, has sought to gain some attention in the debate, and who I think has succeeded only in helping those who would seek to prevent equality, and have sought to do so every step of the way.

KELLY: If there is a Yes vote, if the Dan Smith bill, as you say, co-signed cross-party, goes in to the Parliament, is the basis of debate, would you expect amendments and should there be amendments? Again, Matt Canavan, we heard him earlier, telling us there are millions of people who vote No and their views should be reflected in the legislation.

WONG: It is pretty hard for all of us who have been arguing for equality for many, many years to listen to a bloke who has argued against the position I think is held by a majority of the community, to now turn around and talk about the tyranny of the majority when Senator Canavan has been part of a group inside the Liberal Party which has fought tooth and nail not to bring this in to the Parliament.

Let’s remember why we are here. We have a $120 million survey because the Coalition didn’t want to bring it into the Parliament for a free vote. That’s what we all paid for.

I think the Dean Smith bill is the correct bill to start with. Obviously the Senate will have a look. At what we call the committee stage of the bill I’m sure amendments will be proposed and the question will be does a majority of the Senate believe that those amendments are appropriate?

I again reiterate, if there is a Yes vote today, I don’t think it can be spun by some conservative politicians that that was a vote to extend discrimination. Rather, it would be a vote to lessen discrimination.

KELLY: And so you would have no truck, for instance, with an amendment that gave cake makers, the florists, the whoever, the right to say no to a same sex wedding on the basis of conscientious belief?

WONG: What sort of Australia are we? Do we really want to go back to being a country that where people are denied services because of who they are? I just don’t think that is where we are as a nation.

KELLY: If it’s a No today Senator Wong, what then?

WONG: It would be pretty hard wouldn’t it Fran?

KELLY: It would be.

WONG: I think, it would be pretty emotionally difficult for a lot of people but Labor has said very clearly, even if there’s a No vote, if we win the next election we will legislate and we would have to pick ourselves up and make sure we fight the next election, try to elect a Labor Government and do the right thing.

KELLY: Penny Wong away from the same sex marriage survey and the result – we will know that soon enough – Kristina Keneally is Labor’s candidate in Bennelong in the by-election that has been caused by the citizenship saga. The former NSW Premier is I think, tainted by her links with Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi. That is certainly the argument that’s been put forward by the Coalition. Do you think New South Wales voters in the seat of Bennelong will have a bar of Kristina Keneally?

WONG: Well these personal and grubby attacks by the Prime Minister and his henchman on Kristina Keneally, I think is a demonstration again, another demonstration of this Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull’s desperation.

KELLY: I’m sorry to interrupt but why are they personal and grubby? I mean it’s not contentious that she was backed by Eddie Obeid.

WONG: Of course they are. Have a look and it’s also not contentious that she gave evidence against him at the ICAC and I would advise people to read the assessment of her evidence at the ICC in the findings. The Independent Commission Against Corruption, she gave evidence against Mr Obeid.

I do think the attacks by the Prime Minister were personal and were grubby but more importantly whatever one’s views about the past and people have their views, the best Malcolm Turnbull can offer the people of Bennelong is a fight about the past? Really? He has nothing to say about the future? What is this man now offering, not just the people of Bennelong but the people of Australia? Personal attacks on an individual not a vision of the future.

KELLY: Senator Penny Wong thank you very much for joining us today.

WONG: Good to be here.