RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
TUESDAY, 26 MAY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Marriage equality; GST on sanitary items; Budget fairness
PATRICIA KARVELAS: In the studio with me I have Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, representing the Labor party - hello Andrew.
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER ANDREW LEIGH: G'day Patricia.
KARVELAS: And also Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos, welcome Senator.
SENATOR ARTHUR SINODINOS: Representing the Liberal Party.
KARVELAS: Representing the Liberal Party! Well, let's hear about that. Let's go to an issue which is just breaking. It is going wild on social media and no-doubt, I think, leading news bulletins as well: Bill Shorten wants to bring on the marriage equality debate. He is tabling his own bill in the lower house next week, bringing it on. Arthur Sinodinos, I'll start with you: does this mean that next week the Liberal party room will finally discuss this issue?
SINODNIOS: Yes, I think there will be a discussion next week. What happens in relation to Bill's bill, I can't foresee at this stage. There was some speculation in the media that because Bill had brought it forward, there might be a feeling in the Coalition that we'd appear to be dancing to Bill's tune if we respond to that particular bill. And there would be reasons why that particular bill is coming on now, including the Labor National Conference – because it would be good for Bill to get this out of the way before the National Conference. But look, it's good to have the debate and Ireland has certainly galvanised everybody. What I've said in the past on this is that I suspect when it comes to the Liberal Party party room and the Coalition party room ultimately, there will be a conscience vote on this. We've been hanging back to see what Labor wanted to do because there was this debate about the fact that at the National Conference, Labor may go for a binding vote, which would make it harder for the Coalition to say it's a free vote. At the moment our policy is marriage is between a man and a woman. So there's a few hurdles to go before we know for sure next week what's going to happen. I know some of my colleagues like Warren Entsch and other want to raise the issue and have talked about having game plans on this. So we'll wait until next week, but certainly I would support - as I've said before - a conscience vote on this.
KARVELAS: And would you then vote for marriage equality in the Parliament?
SINODINOS: I have reservations about that. I want to see what the role of the religious will be in all this and what the safeguards are in that regard; I've said that before. Subject to all that, I want to discuss it in the party room because I want something that people ultimately feel is not a zero-sum game, but ultimately is unifying.
LEIGH: Patricia, I don't think anyone is proposing a model in which churches would be required to marry anyone. That's certainly not the way it works in all of the other advanced, English-speaking countries which now allow same-sex marriage. We're the only one of the advanced, English-speaking countries with a complete ban on same-sex marriage. Since the Parliament last debated it we've had a whole host of US states, conservative governments in New Zealand and the United Kingdom moving – and of course the Irish referendum. It reflects the fact that marriage equality isn't just a question of equity, but it's also something that can be pursued by well-minded conservatives such as Arthur. Marriage is ultimately a stabilising institution; we know a third of lesbian couples, for example, have kids. So I see no reason why that great institution of marriage shouldn't be extended to those who want it.
KARVELAS: Arthur Sinodinos, last night Malcolm Turnbull was my guest and he made it crystal clear, as he has before about this issue, that we are one of the only countries that stand out against this. Does it concern you that there are lots of US states where this is allowed, the UK under a Conservative Prime Minister has gone this way – does it concern you?
SINODINOS: Look, the thing I've noticed about social change is that you can't always – even in a globalised world – generalise from what other countries do and say: because they've done that, we can now do this. You've got to take people with you. You have to have the internal debate. And if it takes a bit longer to get the right outcome, I'm ok with that. But on social change more generally, Australia has been the sort of country where sometimes we've led on change and sometimes we appear to have lagged on change. But we're an inherently conservative place; we like to preserve the best of the past and improve where we can and that's not a bad model going forward.
LEIGH: Arthur is right about needing to step forward on change, Patricia. But I think of the comment made by his colleague Dean Smith, who said that he switched his view to support same-sex marriage after the Lindt care siege in which Tori Johnson, the manager there, was killed. Senator Smith said he thought to himself: there's a man who will never now have the chance to marry his life partner. There's couples out there – so many of them – who've sat in my electorate office and told me their stories, their feeling that they need this to happen now. For those couples, this is a pressing matter. There's kids growing up in schools and they would like to be able to have those kids say: yes, my mums are married, just like your parents are married.
KARVELAS: On RN Drive, my guests are Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh and Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos. Let's move to another issue, because we've got lots of issues. Tony Abbott says removing GST on pads and tampons is certainly not something the government plans to do. But we've just had news that Joe Hockey has asked Treasury to cost removing the GST from sanitary products. He says: "When I receive those costings I will write to the states for them to consider the issue ahead of our next meeting in July." What's going on, Arthur Sinodinos?
SINODINOS: I don't think there's an inconsistency here.
KARVELAS: Oh, come on!
SINODINOS: What the Prime Minister was saying at Question Time was: look, this is not something that originated with us; it is a matter for the states and territories. What Joe has done is write to – or he will in due course – write to the states and territories, once he has the costing, because he made that undertaking last night. Then it will be up to them. We've had news from Queensland that –
KARVELAS: Well the question then is: should he have made the undertaking? Would you have made the undertaking?
SINODINOS: Well look, I'm not the Treasurer, and I can come to that. But my point is, last night he was asked a specific question and he made the point that this is a state and territory tax. He gave an undertaking that since it's their base, he will ask then. Perfectly understandable in the circumstances. What the Prime Minister was saying today is: look, this is not a proposal that originated with us but it's a state and territory matter. The two are not inconsistent, and I'm glad that Joe is discharging his obligation, in due course, to write to the states and territories. The only point I'd make about this matter in the broad is that we should be careful about focusing on a particular product at any one time. Because this GST debate has got to be in the broader context of tax reform where probably what we should be doing is broadening the base and looking at what we do in terms of income tax and –
KARVELAS: So you actually think it should be broadened, not narrowed?
SINODINOS: I'm talking about a context where there is a package of measures which also involve reducing income tax and doing other things. I think we should talk about tax reform in the broad.
KARVELAS: What do you think, Andrew? You don't think it should be broadened, do you? What's your position on tampons, by the way, and sanitary products?
LEIGH: Patricia, if the government want to go down the path of taking them outside the GST net, then they'll have Labor's support. But one of the things that has constantly surprised me about this government is that people say the political cycle is speeding up, but the backflip cycle seems to be speeding up as well. It took them a couple of years to drop their unfair parental leave scheme; it took them a year to drop their unfair pension indexation changes; it took them a week to drop the call for the iron ore price inquiry and now we're now down to less than 24 hours on this latest policy backflip. Going from Joe Hockey last night saying that the GST ought to be taken off tampons, to the Prime Minister saying today that it wouldn't happen. I think Australians are really crying out for a bit of policy clarity from the government, a sense of stability and therefore the ability to make long-term decisions. Bill Shorten, in his Budget Reply, was focusing on some of those long-term issues in terms of science, technology, engineering and maths as a way of making clear the stability that people need to make decisions.
KARVELAS: Ok, let's get to some Budget measures. I'm here broadcasting from Parliament House for Radio National Drive, largely because the Budget is being debated as well. Senator Sinodinos, the Government's childcare package is looking very shaky unless Scott Morrison can pull some crossbenchers into the fold. How's he going – how close is it? Family Tax Benefit B is the big thing, it's the 'Home Alone' thing. I love the way Nick Xenophon, another brilliant Greek, puts it. You know that it's the Home Alone thing of leaving kids over six vulnerable – what do you think of that?
SINODINOS: Look, the dilemma is this, and the Prime Minister laid it out very clearly. To pay for the childcare measures, we're saying we want last year's measures around family tax payments to be passed, those savings. But if people don't want to pass those savings, the Prime Minister made it clear – and I think Scott Morrison said so as well – what alternative savings are you putting up? Because we don't want a situation where we're just continually increasing spending in net terms. We want to be on a path where we are getting the budget back closer to surplus. The sooner, the better. That is the dilemma we face. We have to have a macro lens over this whole debate now. It's not just about the individual measures – it's about the progress we make as a whole. Moving the budget closer to surplus; the sooner, the better.
KARVELAS: Andrew Leigh, isn't he right? I mean you're always saying: oh yes, that childcare package looks good, because it's spending more money. But don't you actually have to find the savings to spend extra money? You can't just keep promising to spend extra money, can you, endlessly?
LEIGH: Absolutely, Patricia. I think again of the Home Alone analogy. This is a government that is saying: if you want our childcare package, then the kid has to get it. They're not going to support childcare reforms unless money is taken away from pregnant mums who are, in their words, 'double dipping' on paid parental leave.
KARVELAS: Well, they've stopped calling it that.
LEIGH: But that's what the budget papers call it. Then, they also want us to support this very regressive plan to take $6,000 away from families on just $60,000. The notion that you'd rip away one-tenth of the income from the poorest families is just abhorrent to many Australians, particularly with inequality now at a 75-year high. So it's really important, I think, that we look to savings such as Labor's multinational tax package and our high end superannuation package, where most of the revenue comes from people with more than $3 million in their superannuation accounts.
KARVELAS: Ok, I want to get to terror because it's been – or national security rather – it's been the big issue of the day and therefore, we're going there. Arthur Sinodinos, is it a mistake to put on the table stripping an Australian citizen of their citizenship? Effectively anyone who has the potential to have dual citizenship – someone like me who has the ability to apply somewhere else – would be treated differently to another Australian who doesn't have that. Isn't that a really problematic system?
SINODINOS: The argument that's been put there is: you have made a decision that you want to go fight for ISIS, Daesh, whoever. In that sense you've renounced the Australian way of life and you've said, in fact, that you're committed to destroying the Australian way of life. In that sense, you've renounced your Australian citizenship without the government having to do anything. All the government is doing then is formalising that process. I think what's important in this debate is to draw a distinction between those who have potentially another citizenship that they can go to, and those who would be rendered completely stateless if they were in the situation where they only had one citizenship and you were taking it away. The Government has obviously drawn a line in the sand about this and said we'll have a discussion paper around these issues. We can debate them in more detail and –
KARVELAS: But there's still an area of grey.
SINODINOS: Yes but let's put this in perspective. We're talking about people who've made, apparently, a conscious decision that they do not want the Western way of life. They're actually committed to destroying the Western way of life. It's not us leaving them, they're leaving us. That's the point.
KARVELAS: Andrew Leigh, isn't Labor in lockstep with the Government on terrorism issues? Aren't you agreeing to everything?
LEIGH: Patricia, there's a process issue and a substance issue here. In terms of process, Scott Morrison first flagged this in January last year and has only now brought out his six-page discussion paper, which was apparently leaked to the Daily Telegraph before it was presented to Cabinet, if the reports from Peter Hartcher are to be believed. In terms of substance, it's been true for a long time now that somebody who fights for a foreign power against Australia automatically loses citizenship, and there's various other circumstances in which the Immigration Minister can strip citizenship from someone. But we signed up in 1973 to a convention on statelessness without any reservations. So we need to make sure that what we do is consistent with what we've agreed in the international arena, while of course making sure that we crack down on terrorism in the way that Arthur has very articulately outlined.
KARVELAS: You have no reservations about anything they're floating in their discussion paper?
LEIGH: I certainly have reservations about moves which put us in breach of that statelessness convention we've signed.
KARVELAS: But Arthur Sinodinos says he's also concerned about that so is there any difference?
LEIGH: Let's be specific about this. The question is whether or not you can strip Australian citizenship from someone who has the option of applying for citizenship with another country.
KARVELAS: But why would another country want them?
LEIGH: Exactly. That's the point. And therefore you've got to think that going down that path would lead someone to become stateless, and if that happens then that's in direct contravention of a pretty sensible international convention Australia signed up to 40-odd years ago.
KARVELAS: Alright, well it's been fun to have you both in. You seem rather friendly with each other, as usual. Politicians all pretend they don't like each other.
LEIGH: There's no politician on the Coalition side I like more than Arthur.
SINODINOS: Warmly reciprocated.
KARVELAS: He's a very likeable man. Thank you to you both.
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