The simplest way to make marriage equality a reality is through the parliament - ABC 774



SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; Budget repair.

JON FAINE: Dr Andrew Leigh, good morning to you.


FAINE: On behalf of the Labor Party, the issue in particular of marriage equality is a vexed one for the parliament. Malcolm Turnbull campaigned with a clear unambiguous promise to put it to a mass vote of the Australian people – a plebiscite. Do you not respect that that was what he was elected to do?

LEIGH: Mr Turnbull was against a plebiscite last year. Before the election he said one would happen this year, and now he's saying it might possibly be happen next year. And who knows whether that promise will actually come to fruition. But I'm guided very much by my former employer Michael Kirby, who said that a plebiscite would be alien to our traditions, unnecessary under the constitution and dangerous in the hostility it would cause to young LGBTI people.

FAINE: I understand there are flaws to it, but fundamentally if a politician campaigns on a policy and then is elected, are they not obliged to follow what they promised the people they'd do?

LEIGH: In this case, it’s a promise which could well lead to increased calls to mental help lines from young LGBTI Australians-

FAINE: I understand all of these arguments. They were put to the people at the election. You and your colleagues and others put those issues to the electorate, but the electorate voted. 

LEIGH: This is an important issue for young LGBTI Australians. I understand the point you're putting – that you're saying because the Coalition went to the election went to the election promising a plebiscite they should stick with the regardless.

FAINE: Politicians should keep their promises!

LEIGH: My argument is that in this case that promise would lead to a very bad place. Labor believes, as Malcolm Turnbull believed last year, that the simplest way to get this done is through the parliament. There's the numbers now in the parliament, as there weren't in 2012, to make marriage equality a reality. For my electorate – where same sex marriage was legal for five days in 2013 – there's people who were actually married back then who've now been waiting nearly three years to see their love translated into matrimony. We should just get on and make it happen.

FAINE: Has the Labor Party not learned the lessons from the republic referendum? If you can somehow create controversy and confuse the issues, you can actually stop progress.

LEIGH: I'm not sure what lesson you're drawing from the republic referendum but-

FAINE: Well, two-thirds of Australians wanted a republic but John Howard managed to split that vote between those who wanted direct election and those who didn't – so nothing's changed.

LEIGH: I thought the lesson you were going to take Jon was don't trust Malcolm Turnbull when he says he can get you anything you want with the Australian people.

FAINE: That's not what I was saying. It was quite the opposite, which is if the opponents of same-sex marriage, marriage equality, if the opponents manage to confuse the electorate and split the issues over process, you'll end up with no progress.

LEIGH: This is such a simple straight-forward issue, Jon. The Parliament should do what it does for a range of other issues. We didn't put equality for Indigenous Australians to a plebiscite; we didn't put equality for women to a plebiscite.

FAINE: Sorry there was. There was actually a constitutional referendum in 1967 on changing the status of Aboriginal Australians, that people in fact did vote for it?

LEIGH: To change the constitution of course they had to go through a referendum. But there's been a range of changes that have given equality to Indigenous Australians which didn't have plebiscites preceding them. Jon we can make this all too complicated. It's simply about letting gay and lesbian Australians marry the people they love. Let's just let Parliament get on and do its job. Don't charge $160 million to the Australian people for a vote which will be compulsory for Australians to vote in but optional for Liberal Members and Senators as to whether they obey it.

FAINE: Let's move then from the social issues to the economic issues. Malcolm Turnbull makes similarly a plea to the opposition and to the crossbenchers and says well can we meet in the sensible centre? He won the election, he has a mandate, do you or don't you respect that?

LEIGH: If Malcolm Turnbull wants engagement in the sensible centre on budget repair he has come to the right place. Labor is very happy to engage on that and indeed you saw last week Bill Shorten at the National Press Club putting together a package which would bring some $80 billion worth of savings. It's important that when we look at the budget, Jon we don't smash household budgets for low-income Australians in order to fix the national budget. And that's what Malcolm Turnbull's plan for example for a big corporate tax cut to the big end of town would do. Labor has suggested changes such as changing negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount so existing investors are protected but so we actually manage to make a difference to the budget as well as to deal with housing affordability. 

FAINE: It is ridiculous to ask the Liberal National Party Coalition Government to adopt your negative gearing policy. There's simply never going to do so. So is your tactic and the Labor Party's approach is pretend to be meeting Malcolm Turnbull in the so-called sensible centre by trying to govern from opposition?

LEIGH: Jon, you've got less faith than me in the idea that the Liberals might see sense on good economic policy. I think that certainly negative gearing has excesses in it, that's a view that Scott Morrison held at the beginning of the year, Malcolm Turnbull held when he looked at tax policy in the past. I don't think it's beyond the realms of possibility that the Liberals might look carefully one of the fastest growing tax concessions in the budget. But there are other areas too, we've proposed a way out their superannuation muddle which isn't retrospective but manages to achieve the same level of budget savings in a fair and balanced way. So I hold out more hope I think for my political opponents seeing the light than you do.

FAINE: Thank you indeed for joining us this morning. Dr Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer from Bill Shorten's federal Labor Opposition.




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