Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning and welcome to the program. Today the latest on the same sex marriage postal plebiscite. Where is it at? And in terms of legal protection, what is the Government doing to ensure that this debate is carried out as normal elections are with penalties against misinformation and so on. Joining me now is the Acting Special Minister of State, Mathias Cormann. Minister, than you very much for your time. First of all the Opposition saying, why didn’t the Government look at legal protections sooner as you were considering this option. What is your response to the Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus who has been making this point this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have. The proposal that we put to the Parliament for a compulsory attendance plebiscite on 25 November would have been conducted under the auspices of the Electoral Act. All of the usual protections would have applied, including authorisations and offences in relation to misleading and deceptive conduct and the like. It is not true to say that there are no protections. The usual protections under our laws against hate speech and the like, including civil and criminal penalties at a State level, continue to apply in the usual way. Let me just make the general point, the Government is very committed for this to be a fair process, to give all Australians the opportunity to have their say on whether or not they believe the definition of marriage should be changed. We call on all Australians to vote with their conscience and to participate in this process with courtesy and respect. What I have said in good faith ... interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Will you legislate in that regard?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I have said in good faith, and this is an invitation really from the Government to both sides of the debate, now that this exercise is underway, now that this survey is underway and all Australians are being given this opportunity to have their say, if there is a view that it would be desirable to have the usual protections that are enshrined in the Electoral Act available for this exercise, then the Government is open to work constructively and in good faith with all parties in the Parliament to make that happen. We can make that happen this week. What I am talking about here are the usual arrangements that would be in place for campaigns of this nature, including in relation to authorisations and the like.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Statistician in previous instances like in 1974 when this was done the last time in relation to the National Anthem, the Statistician involved apparently, has said this morning that there was some weighting put to the numbers. Will the ABS give you raw numbers or will there be some weighting applied to those that don’t vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a survey, a statistical collection exercise. Every response will be counted as one response. This is going to be a question on whether a majority of Australians express a view that they are in favour of changing the laws to allow same sex couples to marry. Or is there a majority in favour of maintaining the status quo. Every Australian will count for one response.
KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to the ABS, their statutory independence considered, are you able to require them to do that? You can ask them to collect data but are you also able to tell them how they collect that data and how they handle it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are right, the Australian Statistician operates independently. But the Treasurer under the ABS Act has given the Statistician the direction. The direction is quite clear in terms of the information that he wants collected. The Treasurer has asked the Statistician to request information from all Australians on the electoral roll in relation to their views as to whether or not they would like to see the law on marriage changed to allow same sex couples to marry. There is no proposition in that direction of any weighting. We want to know what the views are of all Australians. We have asked that to be aggregated and counted on the basis of each Federal electorate and on the basis of each State and Territory and on a national basis.
KIERAN GILBERT: Penny Wong gave a very heartfelt speech in the Senate. You were in the Senate when she did that. Do you feel for her and others in a similar situation that feel vulnerable in all of this, particularly for their children, when it is raised that children should be raised not by same sex couples when really it is irrelevant to the debate on marriage giving same sex couples can have kids already?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, I have got a very high regard for Penny Wong. We are fierce competitors, but I would like to think that at a personal level we are good friends. I understand exactly what she is saying. All parents love their children. I would say to all Australians, good people across Australia have strongly and sincerely held views on both sides of the argument. People are entitled to have their views. But as I have said at the beginning, I would urge all Australians, vote with your conscience, express your view through this exercise as per your perspective on this issue, but for those of you, for those Australians involved in this campaign, it is going to be very important that this debate is conducted with courtesy and respect from both sides of the argument. I believe that Australians would judge anyone from either side of the debate very harshly if this exercise was conducted in an inappropriate way or with unacceptable language.
KIERAN GILBERT: Has this shored up the Prime Minister’s leadership in this sense, because it has been to be frank a diabolical issue for the Coalition?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has demonstrated very strong leadership through this. He has managed this process exceptionally well. You are right, there is a diversity of strongly held views in our party, reflecting a diversity of strongly held views in the community at large. The Prime Minister has managed this extremely well, provided strong leadership to our party. We are going through a process that we believe will help the community move forward from this issue, which has been around for a very long time. The reason we believe it is important to stick to our commitments to give every Australian a say and to enable every Australian to participate in this decision, is that we believe that this is the only way for the losing side of the argument to accept the decision.
KIERAN GILBERT: One of the problems, just finally on this issue I want to ask you a couple of other matters. Is the process being handled by the ABS, apparently yesterday the AEC website was down according Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business during Question Time made that assertion. So it shows some of the potential logistical obstacles here.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I met with the Australian Electoral Commissioner after Question Time as it happens. He tells me that this is completely wrong. He was absolutely adamant that at no time did the Australian Electoral Commission website crashed. I call on the Labor party and I mean this is a non-partisan, sincere way, I appreciate the fact that the Labor party has said that they will participate in this process, they will participate in this process on one side of the argument. Now that this process is underway, now that they have committed themselves to campaign as part of this process, I think it is time to leave the political rhetoric at the door.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Simon Benson story, front page of The Australian this morning about the bid to block a super union. Have you got any more information you can share with our viewers on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We consider that a merger of the CFMEU and Maritime Union of Australia, both unions with a bullying and militant and intimidating culture, is a real threat to our economy. This is a threat to our productivity, it is a threat to jobs. What is proposed is that there should be a public interest test for the commission that is making judgements on whether or not such a merger is in the public interest.
KIERAN GILBERT: Like with companies?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Similar, yes.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finally on the CBA, this money laundering controversy. The Government says it is looking at further measures, the Treasurer suggesting that. Why don’t you look at a Royal Commission now? Why is that off limits still?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The process is actually working. The allegations that are being investigated are very serious matters, but the process is working. What the Government’s focus is on all the time is not to have just another inquiry which will tell us things that we already know, but continue to make decisions that actually make a positive and tangible difference.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister Cormann, we are out of time. We will talk to you soon, appreciate it.