Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Topics: English Australia Annual ELICOS Conference; Assault of Tony Abbott; Same-sex marriage; The mighty Adelaide Crows

Simon Birmingham: Thanks for coming along. There are a few things I want to touch on this morning. Firstly, I am thrilled to have just spoken at the English Australia Conference – a core part of our international education sector. This is an industry that now supports and underpins 130,000 jobs across Australia, generates some $22 billion worth of estimated economic activity thanks to the really positive engagement and offering that we provide to international students.

The Turnbull Government is committed to maintaining the high quality of our educational standards, including for our international students, and including especially in terms of their English language skills. This is essential to make sure that we continue to be a country of choice, a preferred destination for students to continue to come to, which provides jobs and economic opportunity in Australia, but enriches the learning experience for Australians students.

I also wanted to reflect on the views from Hobart and Mr Abbott overnight. The attack on Mr Abbott as reported is reprehensible. I have previously reflected on the fact that there are unfortunately a couple of extreme opinions on either side of this debate. We should also not lose sight of the fact that I’m sure 99 per cent of Australians are conducting this debate with the type of civility of engagement that we would expect, and I urge every Australian to engage in a civil manner, to have their say, to focus on the question at hand, which is simply should the law be changed to enable same-sex couples to marry in Australia. It’s a simple question. It’s a matter that people should get their survey form, fill it out, drop it in the post, send it back, have their say, and we can all move on from there.

Finally, on a much cheerier note, today is a big day in Adelaide – go the mighty Crows – and I hope and trust that we see a big, big win from Adelaide tonight and power on to the Grand Final.

Journalist: On same-sex marriage, your position is quite clear, there’s no doubt about that. Mr Abbott has taken the position today that- he’s said it’s a reminder about how ugly the debate’s become on the yes side. Do you think he has a case?

Simon Birmingham: I think there have always been extremes of opinion on both sides of this debate, and sadly there will always be idiots who participate in a foolish way on both sides of any such debate that has such strong opinions about it. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that 99 per cent of Australians engage respectfully, sensibly on the issue, and I urge every Australian to do so.

Journalist: The Hobart Police report to the media was fairly circumspect on the circumstances, as they invariably are, but are you prepared to take at his word that this was a person declaring support for the yes case and motivated by the yes case to act that way towards him?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I take Mr Abbott at his word. The behaviour is reprehensible. Of course, we’ve seen other reports in terms of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s godson reporting a similar type of incident coming from the other side of this debate. But I am confident these are minority fringes of either side, that there are good, decent Australians who are casting a no vote for their own reasons, and I respect them and their right to do so. There are good, decent Australians casting a yes vote, and I of course am doing that, and I urge other Australians to cast a yes vote to support and to promote equality, tolerance, and stability of marriage and relationships. And that’s what I would urge all Australians to focus on, the question that is at hand, and that question is a simple one: Should the law be changed to allow two Australians, same-sex couples, to marry in the future? And I of course am voting yes and I urge others to do so.

Journalist: Given your openness about your support for the yes case, do you sometimes reflect on the fact that this is the circumstances we’re in, and Tony Abbott finds himself in randomly, whereas it could’ve all been disposed of with a vote by the Parliament much sooner?

Simon Birmingham: I don’t think we should dismiss the fact that if this had just been resolved by parliamentary vote and pretend that there wouldn’t have been some element of public campaigning associated with that. A parliamentary vote would’ve initiated all sorts of campaigns to try to influence the votes of members of parliament, and so I think we would’ve seen many similar campaign tactics, styles and otherwise, and perhaps some of the ugliness that exists on the fringes as well. But let’s not let fringe ugliness from a minority of Australians get in the way of the fact that the overwhelming majority – I’m sure 99 per cent of Australians – are conducting this debate with the civility and respect that we should expect and that everybody should conduct it with.