THURSDAY, 10 AUGUST 2017
SUBJECT: Marriage Equality
EMMA ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh is Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Competition and Productivity. He joins me from Canberra. Bill Shorten has made it clear that Labor hopes to push fiercely for the yes side of this issue on same-sex marriage. What form will that campaign actually take?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: It's great to be with you Emma. I think the push that we will make for this is a simple case that we didn't want to be here, we didn't want to be achieving same-sex marriage in this way. But given that we have this postal survey, Labor will participate in the process. But it's so unnecessary. We didn't have a postal survey for the last 20 changes to the Marriage Act, there was no postal survey to put in place the Racial Discrimination Act or the Sex Discrimination Act. Tony Abbott didn't offer the Australian people the chance of a postal survey when he set about breaking promises on health and education. It will be divisive, it will hurt families. We held a roundtable earlier this week with many gay and lesbian families talking about the harm that they anticipate will come. We have already heard allegations of polygamy and bestiality which will hurt kids in school yards and hurt families.
ALBERICI: Sorry to interrupt but the question was what form your campaign will actually take. Let me rephrase the question, presumably there will be posters, rallies, letterbox drops, special events that give you the opportunity to present and broadcast your case. How much will you spend supporting the LGBTI community in this way?
LEIGH: We certainly haven't figured out the full parameters of the campaign.
ALBERICI: You are the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, you have got to have put some money aside, it is not cheap exercise to campaign publicly?
LEIGH: Marriage equality groups have been anticipating this outcome, not because they wanted it but because they knew -
ALBERICI: Hold on a minute. Labor, Bill Shorten has staked his reputation on this, very forcefully in the Parliament. It wasn't a bit of grandstanding, was it? There will be something behind this in terms of campaigning isn't there?
LEIGH: Absolutely we'll campaign on it. I don't have a dollar figure for you tonight but we will certainly be arguing that Australians should in the first instance get on the electoral roll and then make sure that they vote yes. We will be running that campaign in all corners of Australia and also trying to make sure that people are brought into this postal survey who might otherwise be missed. We are worried that a postal survey run by the Bureau of Statistics which saw the crashing of the Census website on Census night last year could well have a lot of problems. For remote Australians, for silent electors, for Australians living overseas. We'll make sure it's as inclusive as possible but we didn't need to be here, Emma.
ALBERICI: Interestingly, Mathias Cormann was asked these questions on Twitter, I noticed, and one exactly as you point out on silent voters. These are politicians, high-profile people, judges, those who may have been victims of crime and for whatever other reason, aren't listed on the electoral roll. How would the ABS otherwise get their details to post them these ballots?
LEIGH: Well, the truth is we just don't know. This is one of many unanswered questions about this. The reason that the Australian Bureau of Statistics is running this process is that Malcolm Turnbull couldn't convince the Parliament to agree to it. So he's gone to this contrivance of a survey. But the Bureau of Statistics does not run elections. And when we do elections in remote Australia, we take weeks and weeks engaging people. The Australian Electoral Commission has careful processes in place for handling silent electors and for handling overseas elections. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, hard-working men and women as they are, just are not set up to this kind of exercise. So people will be disenfranchised - which is precisely what Malcolm Turnbull in the 1990s warned against when he talked about a postal survey being a bad idea.
ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, is Labor happy with the bill as drafted by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, with all its religious exemptions?
LEIGH: We didn't think it was perfect, Emma, but we would have supported it.
ALBERICI: Liberal MP Tony Pasin today on Sky News suggested that taxi drivers should be given religious exemptions, for instance, should possibly be allowed to deny a ride to guests travelling to weddings of same-sex couples.
LEIGH: Well, would you think it was reasonable if Australian taxidrivers were allowed to refuse entry into their cab to somebody because of the colour of their skin? I don't think most of your viewers would and I don't think most people would not think it was reasonable if we had in place legislated allowable discrimination against same-sex Australians. We need to make sure that those exemptions are as narrowly and carefully drafted as possible and they only apply to those with profound religious objections.
ALBERICI: And is Labor supporting the government when they say, in the event of no vote in the postal plebiscite, it will be binding on the Parliament - ie. no bill will come to the floor - but if it is yes, that won't be binding?
LEIGH: Emma, We have a simple position. We support marriage equality. The overwhelming majority of my Labor colleagues will vote that way if and when we get a chance on the floor of the parliament. I've got a picture up on the fridge in my electorate office of Emily and Ellie, one of the 31 Canberra couples who tied the knot in 2013 during that window when it was legal in the ACT. I just want Emily and Ellie and couples like them to be able to marry the people they love. That's what Labor wants, that's what Labor will stand up for and that will be true regardless of the outcome of this plebiscite.
ALBERICI: And I think it's a shame you did not get to do that in 2012 when Labor was in government and you did not campaign strongly in that regard then.
LEIGH: We had a free vote in the House of Representatives. If we had another free vote in the Parliament, Emma, then it would go through. If we had a repeat of the vote that took place on the 19 September 2012, we would have marriage equality straight away. That's the way in which other countries have moved on this, with the exception of Ireland which had to change its constitution.
ALBERICI: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Thank you, Emma.