E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Tomorrow is two weeks since the results of the postal survey on marriage equality came in and as we all know, Australians voted Yes.
Today, the cross-party bill to deliver marriage equality will have a second reading vote in the Senate chamber and I hope and believe that this will be the first occasion that we will have a vote for marriage equality in a chamber of the Australian Parliament. That will be a very important next step.
The bill will then move to discussion on amendments and obviously there are a range of amendments which are in the media. I want to make a few points before I throw to Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on the details of the amendments.
First, let’s recall that this bill hasn’t come out of nowhere. The bill that is before the chamber, the cross-party bill moved by Dean Smith, myself and many others, is a bill that has been worked through a cross-party Senate committee, a Senate committee which included members of the Coalition who were opposed to marriage equality, members of the Coalition who supported marriage equality. It included members of the crossbench, a member of the Greens, as well as members of the Australian Labor Party. So the bill before the chamber represents a cross-party consensus bill, which has already looked to balance many of the issues which are currently being discussed in the media in the context of amendments.
Certainly, from the Labor Party’s perspective, there are things in this bill that, were we drafting it by ourselves, we wouldn’t have included. But we recognise the importance of taking an approach that was balanced and sensible, and that is the bill that is before the chamber.
As I said, there’s a lot of discussion about amendments. I make this point: I hope and believe that the majority of Senators respect the view of the Australian people, so emphatically put in this last couple of weeks, that they want marriage equality. I believe and hope that the majority of Senators recognise that the Australian people voted to lessen discrimination, not to extend it. And I am of the view that with good heart we will ensure that none of the amendments proposed derail the passage of this legislation, which is giving effect to the express will of the Australian people.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: As Penny has just said, we’ve had a resounding majority of Australians express their view that the time has come for marriage equality to be achieved in Australia. We have a bill before the Senate which was debated in the last Senate sitting week. It was debated at second reading stage yesterday. It’s expected that second reading speeches on this bill by Senators are going to be completed sometime this morning and the Senate will then move to consider amendments.
The bill, as Penny has already said, is the product of a consensus all-party Senate select committee that reported in February this year. There was then work done to create a bill which reflected the recommendations of that committee faithfully, and it does that. This is, as I’ve said before, as we in the Labor Party have said collectively, an acceptable compromise. As Penny said, it might not be exactly the bill that Labor would have brought forward were we bringing forward from Government a bill to achieve marriage equality in Australia. But that’s in the nature of compromises, that not all parties will be completely happy with every single aspect of what has been achieved. It’s an acceptable compromise, it’s one which strikes a careful balance between achieving marriage equality and protecting religious freedoms.
We now have, as well as the bill before the Senate, amendments put forward in their capacity as private Senators by Senator Brandis, Senator Leyonhjelm, Senator Hanson, Senator Rice and a group of Liberal Senators – Senators Fawcett and Canavan. When you look at those amendments there are many dozens of them that, in some cases, move away from preventing discrimination.
Labor’s view is that this is an occasion for lessening inequality in Australia. This is an occasion for removing discrimination in Australia and amendments which are increasing discrimination, amendments which are preserving inequality, we will oppose.
Similarly, amendments that go to questions which are not directly related to achieving marriage equality, wider questions about religious freedoms, Labor’s view is that they should appropriately be dealt with in the process that’s been established by the Prime Minister to be chaired by Philip Ruddock – assisted by a very eminent panel of Father Frank Brennan; former Justice of the Federal Court Annabelle Bennett; and the present President of the Human Rights Commission, former President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Rosalind Croucher. The bringing forward of very detailed religious freedoms propositions at this time would in essence pre-empt that inquiry that the Prime Minister’s set up, and we’ll be opposing them as well.
I want to say directly that apart from technical amendments, which the Attorney-General has given notice of, which Labor will be supporting – perhaps I’ll just pause to say what those technical amendments are. There are a range of consequential amendments that various Commonwealth Government departments who are responsible for different acts of Parliament have said that this bill, this Private Senators’ bill intersects with those acts and there is a need for some consequential amendments.
These technical amendments don’t have political content, they’re not driven by political motivations, they’re very much what you would expect Commonwealth departments to bring forward to make sure that the statute book matches up in all respects. Labor will be supporting that group of technical amendments that the Attorney-General is going to be putting forward.
Apart from that, I want to be clear, Labor will be opposing all of the substantive amendments that are being proposed by Senator Brandis, by Senator Leyonhjelm, by Senator Rice, by Senator Hanson and by Senators Canavan and Fawcett. And we do so with the very clear intention that we need to get this done. It’s not a time for creating further delay. It’s not a time for concentrating on distracting issues, on issues that have got little or nothing to do with achieving marriage equality in Australia.
We think that the way to get this done is to oppose all of those substantive amendments that have been brought forward so that the bill can pass in the Senate in its present form with those technical amendments and then go to the House as soon as possible for debate.
JOURNALIST: Are any of those amendments that are on the table red lines that would see you vote down the bill on the third reading if those amendments were to succeed?
WONG: I’m sure that’s where you’d like us to focus but I think the more important thing is to focus on ensuring that amendments which are not acceptable to the broad majority of the Parliament do not pass the Senate chamber. And the announcement that Mark has made, our indication about our position on amendments, obviously means that the Labor Party will be opposing the substantive amendments that Mark has described. In those circumstances we’d be encouraging members of the crossbench and members of the Liberal Party, who have expressed similar views to the ones we’ve articulated, to vote with us and ensure that the bill goes to the House in an acceptable form.
You are right to ask us that question because I think that is an issue that we all need to be aware of. We don’t want a position where there is a dispute between the chambers and all of us want to keep this debate on track.
As I said at the outset, I hope and believe a majority of Senators respect the will of the Australian people, want to do what Parliament has been asked to do by the Australian people and will approach amendments with that intent in mind.
JOURNALIST: Why is Labor deciding not to give Senators and MPs a conscience vote on the amendments and vote as a collective?
DREYFUS: No Labor Senator has sought a conscience vote on any of the amendments currently before the Senate. I want to be clear about that.
Labor has a conscience vote on the question of marriage equality and certainly you will see that conscience vote in action when the time comes for voting on the bill as a whole. But I’ll repeat what I said, no Labor Senator has sought a conscience vote on any of the amendments that have currently been tabled.
JOURNALIST: But Senator Helen Polley said that she is in favour of a lot of those amendments, especially the Fawcett, James Paterson ones, so are those procedural questions that Labor members do not have a conscience vote over to support those amendments?
DREYFUS: I think you’ve misunderstood what I’ve said. No Labor Senator, and I include in that Senator Polley, has sought a conscience vote on any of the amendments. And I think if you look carefully at what Senator Polley had to say, she and other senators – and that includes every member of the Labor Caucus – are concerned about religious freedoms. But we would say that the proper place and the proper time for considering those religious freedoms questions is in the process that has been set up by the Prime Minister, which is this panel to be chaired by Phillip Ruddock.
WONG: Can I just respond to one issue before you move off marriage equality. I do want to, as Leader in the Senate, to thank our colleagues, for their cooperation on the way in which these amendments are being worked through. We’ve worked through a collective process of considering the amendments and obviously there are some Senators, Labor Senators who have a different view on the issue of marriage equality – as they’re entitled to. And they have been very honourable and very collective in the way they’ve approached these issues.
JOURNALIST: So confirming, they’re all going to vote those substantive amendments down, even the ones that expressed concerns about the lack of religious protections in the second reading speeches?
WONG: The position on the amendments that Mark has outlined is that there is a Labor Party position. And no Senator from the Labor Party is seeking a conscience vote.
JOURNALIST: Have you made assurances that they can abstain?
WONG: We have a clear view. If there’s a Party position, unless there is a conscience vote, people vote the Party position. That’s the way the Labor Party operates.
JOURNALIST: You said the bill isn’t perfect. What parts of it would the ALP have not put forward, and why won’t you be fighting to get rid of those?
DREYFUS: We’ve reached a compromise and I’m not going to unpick the compromise, just as we say that Senators who participated in the Senate select committee back in February should not now be seeking to unpick the compromise they have made. So I’d regard it as particularly unhelpful, Labor, having reached agreement that we’re going to support this compromise, to go back over the ground of saying ‘we don’t like this’ or ‘we don’t like that’. My invitation and my hope, is that every Senator, thinking about the amendments before the Senate over the course of the rest of today and this week, will reflect on the importance of getting this done and not fighting other battles, not trying to unpick an acceptable compromise that has been reached.
JOURNALIST: Are you both confident that all Labor MPs and Senators will still be safe now that the disclosure process for citizenship involves citizenship by marriage?
DREYFUS: While we’re on marriage! It’s proposed that the disclosure regime which is about to take place in the Senate, about to take place in the House when the House next meets, should include not only disclosure of birthplaces, birthplaces of parents, dates of all of those things, but also details of citizenship of spouses. And that’s for the simple reason that one of the ways in which you can acquire citizenship in a range of countries is through marriage.
There needs to be a very full examination of everybody’s potential for dual citizenship. And I think the way in which the Liberal Party and the National Party have approached this shows why there needs to be a full examination. Because we’ve had actual concealment, extraordinary obfuscation by Coalition Members and Senators, and by the Government itself. We are now getting into the crunch, which will be actual disclosure of relevant facts, from which assessments can be made as to whether there are dual citizenship problems.
JOURNALIST: And you’re still confident that all your Labor colleagues will be safe through that process?
DREYFUS: I am confident because we have a process, and that process has stood current Labor Members and Senators in good stead. And it’s in very sharp contrast to the disrespect that has been shown to the Australian Constitution by other members of this Parliament, particularly Coalition Members and Senators, and in direct contrast to the carelessness which Liberal and National Party Members and Senators have approached this.
They’ve taken, as was revealed in the referrals that have been considered by the High Court already, they’ve taken no steps at all in most cases, not even to examine their citizenship status. And as a consequence, they’ve taken no steps either to deal with their citizenship status.
Labor is in a very different position of subjecting every single person who is considered as a candidate for the Australian Labor Party to have a very close examination of their circumstances, not just on citizenship, but on all of the other aspects of Section 44. And when there is a problem discovered in that vetting process as to citizenship, steps have been taken in every case to make sure that all Labor candidates are eligible to stand for office.
JOURNALIST: If you’re confident of your legal advice about all steps reasonably required excusing Justine Keay and Susan Lamb, why won’t you agree to those cases, where the renunciation was not effective by the nomination date, being referred to the High Court?
DREYFUS: Well the Liberal Party, from the Prime Minister down, has invented new law. I think that what we’ve seen from the Prime Minister with his memorable phrase in Question time in the House of Representatives, trying to tell the High Court what to do, with the phrase “and the High Court will so hold”. I think that’s given the Australian people a clear idea of how much faith we should put in the Prime Minister’s view of the law and the Constitution. They are making it up.
Let’s be direct about this. The Government, starting with the Prime Minster, is asserting something that the High Court has never said. At no point in either of the two cases that the High Court has looked at this, Sykes v Cleary back in 1992, and the recent round of referral decisions that are called Re: Canavan, in neither case has the High Court said that it is necessary for a candidate for election to the Parliament to have actually renounced as at the date of nomination. In direct contrast, what the High Court has said very, very clearly, is that what is required is that candidates for office take all reasonable steps. And Labor is confident that in the case of our current Members and Senators, they have all taken reasonable steps to deal with their dual citizenship issue.