7 September 2017




SAMANTHA MAIDEN: We’re going to talk now live to Labor’s Penny Wong, an advocate for the Yes case. You didn’t want a plebiscite. Now we’ve got one, or marriage survey, sre you going to fight for a Yes outcome?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Absolutely. And I’ve said previously we didn’t want to be here. We didn’t want a plebiscite, this could have been settled – if we had a free vote in the Parliament – we would have marriage equality today. We would have got it done. But now we’re here, we have to win it.

So, my one message to supporters of the Yes case is let’s get this done. Let’s campaign. Get out and talk to people, get out and vote and settle this once and for all and do the job that unfortunately politicians in this place haven’t been up to doing.

MAIDEN: What’s going to happen in relation to the advertising? Mathias Cormann had suggested that the government was open to some form of legislative protections that would roll out the same rules that you have in elections. Are those discussions with the Labor Party underway already?

WONG: I think Senator Cormann said that he would be reaching out to stakeholders this weekend. What I would say is this: we’ve already seen some of this and this is why I understand that gay and lesbian Australians, LGBTIQ Australians and their families everywhere are going to be really disappointed at this High Court decision. Because we’ve already seen the sort of debates which are being rolled out, the sort of nasty debates, the arguments that opponents want to use.

They actually want to have an argument about every issue except the only issue on which there is a vote, and that’s whether loving couples can get married.

MAIDEN: Is there anything you’ve seen so far though that you think should be not okay under the new rules?

WONG: Let’s see what rules Senator Cormann proposes. I think everybody recognises there is an issue about vilification. But there’s also an issues about misleading campaigning. We’ve seen some of that already.

MAIDEN: You’re never going to avoid some of that.

WONG: True, but this is people’s lives. This is about people’s families Sam. So it’s not whether or not there is an argument about school reforms or a particular policy, this is about people’s relationships and people’s families. So it brings to it a much greater personal tenor and regrettably some of the people who are opposed to allowing marriage equality have used very hurtful arguments.

MAIDEN: You are in a long term same sex relationship. You have children.

WONG: Two kids.

MAIDEN: Two kids. Can you tell me, do they ask you questions about this debate? I’m just interested, you say that it has a personal element.

WONG: Of course it does.

MAIDEN: How has that personal element been for your family?

WONG: I gave a speech about this didn’t I? About what it feels like. Not just for me, but for people in my position, or people who have grandchildren or kids who have had children in same sex relationships. And of course it is upsetting.

But one of the things I often say is that the acceptance and affection from so many people in the community is so much more gracious and so much more beautiful than what you see in this Parliament. The way in which parents at our school or parents at the child care centre talk to Sophie and I about our family, and about this issue, I think demonstrates a humanity that is unfortunately lacking in so much of the debate at the political level

MAIDEN: Can you give us an example of that?

WONG: I’ll just say they are accepting and respectful in ways that sometimes are missing in this place. And I hope that what we can translate is that fundamental goodness and fairness in the Australian community into a Yes vote. And that means campaigning and it means getting out the vote because it is a voluntary vote obviously. It’s a survey, so don’t stick the survey onto the kitchen table and forget about it under the gas bill.

MAIDEN: Is it a problem though that Australians won’t get to see the legislation before they vote? They’ve just got to vote yes or no and they don’t get to see that actual legislation and they don’t get to see, for example, what religious protections are in place?

WONG: I think that’s a furphy, to be honest, because the legislation will still go through the normal Parliamentary process and people will have an opportunity to lobby their Members and Senators about the legislation. I think the people who are putting that up, they want to muddy the waters as much as possible and make sure that this survey becomes about everything else. Well, it’s only about one thing – can two people who love each other get married? That’s all it’s about.

MAIDEN: They argue, of course, critics, that it’s not just about that. That it’s the thin edge of the wedge, that other things would flow from that.

WONG: I’m interested in watching you try to be fair to this argument, because it is so ludicrous when you even speak it. Because it’s a ridiculous argument, that you can marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Wasn’t that what Eric Abetz said? That this would lead to people marrying the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

MAIDEN: Well he said it would lead, potentially, to more than one person being able to get married, or other things. But there was an exchange about Safe Schools in the Senate during Question Time, where George Brandis was asked questions about that. What’s your view on that argument that Same Sex Marriage gets dragged into this debate about Safe Schools?

WONG: I agree with George Brandis. There you go. Pause for effect. I agree with George Brandis, I think he answered that absolutely correctly. I put to him some of the arguments that people are saying this is a referendum on.

MAIDEN: Maybe he should join the Labor Party?

WONG: No, I don’t think that would work, but George Brandis quite rightly said it’s only about one thing – whether two people of the same sex can get married. So, he’s right. I think Australians are too smart to be distracted by the sorts of nasty arguments that some in the No case are peddling and I think the question is making sure we get people out to vote.

MAIDEN: Do you know from your own friends or community people who have been emotionally affected by this debate? We have this idea that the plebiscite would lead to suicides or affect people’s mental health. What’s your view from the people on the ground about people you know about how the debate is actually affecting them?

WONG: Sam, you’ve got kids, you’ve got a daughter. If she hears regularly from public figures that somehow women are less, or there is something wrong with her because she is a woman, I suspect that wouldn’t be good for her, and that’s the analogy. What we have is LGBTIQ Australians, kids who grow up in same sex couple families, hearing people say that there is something wrong with them or wrong with their families.

Now, I don’t speak to everybody in Australia who is affected by this. I see letters, I see emails, I see things on social media. I just want, at a simple human level, to have a think about what that must feel like if you’re consistently told by political leaders that there is something wrong with you or something wrong with your family.

MAIDEN: We’ll take another time to discuss all the issues that are going with North Korea and the Philippines but I won’t make you do it today because I know you’ve got other things to do

WONG: Bill Shorten and I are going to Korea and Japan, and I’m sure we can have a conversation before that.

MAIDEN: Thanks for that today Penny Wong.