Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
LEIGH SALES: A private member’s bill on same-sex marriage has already been introduced into the Senate, as Mr Shorten said and debate is under way. With me now live from Parliament House in Canberra is Senator Mathias Cormann, one of the architects of the plebiscite. Senator, thanks very much for joining us. We heard you say in that story earlier that the Smith bill needs some improvements. What specifically would you like to see?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is going to be the debate over the next few weeks. Tomorrow, we will start the second reading debate. The amendments will only be debated in the week starting the 27th of November. So over the next week or so, there will be the opportunity for people of goodwill from right across the Parliament to explore how we can ensure that appropriate religious protections are in place. Senior members of Parliament from all sides, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and others, have said in the past that appropriate religious protections are important. Indeed they are and indeed that is going to be the conversation over the next week or so.
LEIGH SALES: You've been one of the leading proponents of the no vote. Could you give me a sense of what you think would be the type of protection you'd like to see tin?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Actually, I have not taken an active role in this campaign, because I was responsible for the process overall. My personal view was on the record. But I have also always said that I will act consistent with the verdict of the Australian people. The verdict of the Australian people today was emphatic. I will be voting yes. There are a range of areas where I believe there is scope to explore whether the protections in the Smith bill can be appropriately further improved, whether that is in relation to the protections for marriage celebrants, not just religious celebrants, but marriage celebrants generally. The whole area of protecting freedom of speech for people based on their religious views and arrangements for religious charities. There are a range of areas where I think it is worthwhile to have a conversation. I think the Smith bill is a good starting position. We certainly now, we must act to implement the wishes of the Australian people. But I think it is appropriate, in the usual way, for the Parliament to now assess so that we ensure that the bill is as good as it possibly can be.
LEIGH SALES: You're quite right, I should have been clearer in my language on your position on the no. If the amendments that you are seeking don't get through, will you still vote yes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will vote for the bill. But I will also, as I have said to people, now engage with colleagues to explore what amendments might be able to achieve a consensus across the Parliament. Every individual member is able to move, initiate and move amendments. But in the end, amendments will only get up if they secure majority support. In the end, I will be supporting the bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry, yes.
LEIGH SALES: And how do you see this unfolding in terms of time frame? Do you share the confidence of others that it can be resolved by Christmas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, I do. The motion that was passed unanimously by the Senate today ensured that tomorrow we would start the second reading debate. Should the second reading debate finish tomorrow, we will then adjourn the debate so that the debate on amendments will only start in the week of the 27th of November. That whole week, that whole first sitting week of the final sitting fortnight, has been earmarked for debate in the Senate with extended sitting hours on the Tuesday. If the consideration of the legislation has not been finalised by the end of Thursday, November 30 then we will continue to sit until it is finally dealt with.
LEIGH SALES: Do you accept that there's been a cost to LGBTQI Australians in going through this plebiscite process?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I said at the beginning of this process that this would be a unifying moment for the nation. I believe that is true. The truth is that there are good people on both sides of this argument who have strong and sincerely held views. The only way to resolve these sorts of disagreements is through a ballot. That is what happened. The decision is emphatic. I believe that people who are in favour of the status quo will find it easier to accept the change, which is a significant change, in particular for some. I think they will find it easier to accept a change having been part of the decision-making process. Now that the decision has been made, I think the country can move on. There has been an unresolved debate in Australia for some time. I believe that this process has helped facilitate a more permanent resolution of this issue in a way that brings the country together.
LEIGH SALES: Senator Cormann, always good to have you on the program. Thank you very much.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.