Subject: (Marriage Equality)
GREG JENNETT: Simon Birmingham is one who is publically in favour of a free vote. Simon Birmingham take us to that lengthy meeting yesterday and in to last night, your own speech, what were some of the points that you conveyed to the party room and which I think you’ve made public anyway?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Indeed, look my position on this has been very clear for more than five years since I first advocated for a free vote position and indeed outlined my position on the substantive issue of marriage equality. Now in the end, the discussion was a constructive one from all parties, I of course argued my case as did everyone else in that room. More than 40% of Liberals in the room argued for a free vote which was welcome and very encouraging and most pleasingly of all, the Prime Minister made a very clear commitment at the end that this will be the last Parliament that there is a binding position for Liberal MPs…
GREG JENNETT: …what do you take out of that? Are you calling that a win for yourself and likeminded people or unsatisfactory, something in delay now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m very pleased that from the next Parliament onwards we can have confidence that Liberal MPs, on this issue, can exercise their conscience, their free will in whatever way it is determined in future and that is a very positive outcome and I welcome that sense of a compromise from the Prime Minister, in a sense, to recognise that there was a strong position from many people that, in this Parliament, we should stick with what has been Liberal Party policy, but that ultimately this is the type of issue that should be a free vote, a conscience vote, and that’s what would happen in future.
GREG JENNETT: If you were asked to vote in this Parliament, in the Senate, for same sex marriage, and there is talk in the building today that efforts are being made to bring this sort of thing on, are you comfortable to vote against it and adhere to the party position adopted last night?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m a team player and I’ll always be a team player in that sense and I think people need to respect and recognise that a big step forward was taken last night and we now have a situation where the Liberal Party is moving towards a free vote on this issue at the same time the Labor Party is moving away from a free vote on this issue…
GREG JENNETT: …this is far from resolved though, isn’t it? I mean, the Prime Minister was saying that discussions can now be held in the lead up to the next election around the alternatives which are a plebiscite, a uniform free vote across the party. Does that debate start now and does that get messy for the party?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I think there are two different issues here. So, there is the issue about whether or not the party has a policy position and what’s been accepted is that for the life of this Parliament we stand by the policy position, in the next Parliament and beyond it is accepted as a matter of conscience for individual members. There is a separate question of process around achieving marriage equality and how that occurs and that could be done by legislation still, it could be done by plebiscite means, these are matters that are up for debate now and up for consideration and I look forward to the advocates arguing their case around this and hearing the public’s reaction to those ideas.
GREG JENNETT: What’s your own attitude towards a plebiscite or even we’re hearing suggestions of a referendum, how do you think they might work?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m always very willing to hear the views of the people and I think I really want to encourage Australians to have their say on the idea of a plebiscite. It obviously has the upside of giving people a free and open vote and a say on this matter, but it comes at cost and would be a major national debate and people may think that this is still a matter the Parliament should resolve. I want to hear the views of Australians on that.
GREG JENNETT: Your own inclination though seems to be towards just letting Parliament settle it, is that correct?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look I haven’t given, until it came up yesterday by a few people in the party room, much consideration to the idea of a plebiscite. It has never been seriously on the agenda before, so I’d rather go and listen to my constituents.
GREG JENNETT: And reflecting on the day yesterday, the Prime Minister said “I had to make a call and I think this is the best call given the long and full debate” that’s in landing the result that we’re discussing today. Are you satisfied with the calls that he made and this kind of hybrid position, holding position that has now been adopted?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I didn’t get and people of my opinion in this debate didn’t get everything we wished for yesterday but we took an enormous step forward and I think the Prime Minister’s handling of it, in that sense, is to be applauded; that he has recognised that this will be a free vote in the future.
GREG JENNETT: and his authority within the party?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I don’t think that is in any question at all.
GREG JENNETT: Simon Birmingham, thank you.