MONDAY, 27 JULY 2015
SUBJECT: ALP National conference, same-sex marriage, China Free Trade Agreement
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Marius. How are you?
BENSON: I'm well. There was a lot of harmony at the end of the three days in fact throughout the weekend conference but there's plenty of reports of simmering tensions and divisions simply being papered over, is that the larger truth?
LEIGH: Marius, it ran the way in which a Labor Party conference should. I was the official conference spokesperson and I couldn't be prouder in the way delegates conducted themselves over the weekend. You would have been rightly horrified if there was no disagreement over anything because fundamentally Labor is Australia's party of ideas. And what the weekend showed is that unity doesn't require conformity. You can have a respectful debate over aspects of asylum seeker policy, over questions around same-sex marriage, over free trade - as great Labor Party conferences have had in the past. But fundamentally the things that unite Labor; our values of egalitarianism, opportunity and responsibility, remain extremely strong.
BENSON: What should we make of one of the more uncomfortable moments of this conference for some on the left, when Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong voted against the Bill Shorten position on turning back the boats but did so by proxy? Some saw that as a lack of courage of their convictions?
LEIGH: Proxies are perfectly normal and it's perfectly reasonable within a Labor Party context for people to take different views, even people from within Shadow Cabinet. Let's remember, that within that debate there was unity around doubling the refugee intake to 27 000, unity around giving a historic $450 million to UNHCR to help them do their important work. Yes, there was disagreement over turn backs and frankly no one wants to see them used often, and all of us were worried about the secrecy that shrouded the way in which the Abbott Government has used them. But that was just one part of a larger conversation around how to deal with the huge challenge of asylum seekers. And the speeches on either side were terrific. One of the striking things to me was that when protestors invaded the stage with a banner, delegates on both side of the debate just uniformly stood up and said this is not how we do things. If you want to win this debate, you've got to do it through the force of your oratory, not through shouting slogans and unfurling banners.
BENSON: But what about the claim of duplicity on the part of Tanya Plibersek in particular, because Senator Kim Carr says that while she was voting against vote turnbacks publicly within the Shadow Cabinet. She was abandoning that left position and arguing for turnbacks.
LEIGH: I think people have made too much of this issue.
BENSON: Did she though? Did she argue in Shadow Cabinet for turnbacks?
LEIGH: I'm not in the Shadow Cabinet, Marius, and if I was, I wouldn't be announcing its deliberations on NewsRadio. As much as I respect you, I think there is a value in maintaining the confidentiality of those conversations. But the person that cast that ballot was Terri Butler, Terri has been very engaged on this conversation over asylum seekers; many, many discussions with Richard Marles, shadow immigration spokesperson. So it was Terri who was on the floor on behalf of Tanya Plibersek, somebody who has been thinking through very carefully how to handle this and who like everybody else, is very supportive of the proposal to double refugee intake.
BENSON: Senator Eric Abetz from the Government says that the conference is evidence is that Labor is becoming more extreme on the left and he points towards the vote for same-sex marriage in 2019 to be a binding vote if it's still an issue then.
LEIGH: Well blow me down with a feather, Eric Abetz doesn’t agree with what's come out of a Labor Party conference. My understanding is that somewhere between two thirds and three fourths of Australians support same-sex marriage. It's the reality in Britain, New Zealand, Ireland and the United States, if Eric Abetz thinks this is an extreme reform he needs to get out more. Fundamentally, this is a conversation about how to achieve same-sex marriage. It's been in the Labor Party platform since 2011 and the conversation yesterday was how best to make sure that reform happens. Everyone just wants Tony Abbott to unchain the Members of Parliament, to let them actually vote their consciences on the issue of same-sex marriage. And if that happens, if the vote is brought to the floor of Parliament as Tony Abbott has promised, then I think we will be able to get this sensible reform over the line.
BENSON: When's your guess for when same-sex marriage might happen? Tanya Plibersek is hoping for marriage by Christmas.
LEIGH: Well the Prime Minister controls the agenda in the House of Representatives, so we’re somewhat at his whim. He’s said that he'll allow this debate but then he keeps on putting it off. He keeps on saying silly things like while we're dealing with one issue we can't deal with same-sex marriage but the fact is Marius, on any given day Parliament is dealing with a dozen issues. This needn't be an issue which dominates Parliament for more than a few days. It's a sensible reform and it's time Australia went ahead and got it done and said to people in love, you're allowed to get married regardless of whether you're same-sex attracted or not.
BENSON: Andrew Leigh just on another issue, the free trade agreement. The conference voted to have it open to amendment. Andrew Robb is negotiating in Maui in Hawaii now on the Pacific agreement, said that if we want to renegotiate the free trade agreement with China, you will simply undo it and you can't amend it without undoing years of work. It will cost $300 million a year if you change that agreement with China.
LEIGH: Well Andrew Robb is negotiating a position through the China Free Trade Agreement has been disappointing. He hasn't engaged with Labor, it appears he didn’t even engage with the State and Territory governments when he abolished these mandatory skills assessment. Labor is strongly supportive of free trade, you heard that not only from the leadership, you heard it from union delegates as they stood up to speak about the China Free Trade Agreement. But what we want to make sure is that Australian workers get a better deal out of free trade agreements and things like labour market testing for temporary visas, things like making sure occupational standards for electricians, Marius. This isn't a radical position, this is a sensible safety-first position when it comes to making sure Australians get a good deal out of the China Free Trade Agreement. There’s a two year review opportunity and Labor intends to make use of that.
BENSON: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marius.
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