SUBJECTS:  Government’s post 2020 emissions reduction target; marriage equality


DAVID PENBERTHY: We’re going to be asking Senator Birmingham about the Coalition’s emissions target given his background as a Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and also the Murray Daring, he brings some insights to that. Forgive us Senator Birmingham for kicking off with the big issue of the day which is of course gay marriage. Thank you for your time. Do you agree with your fellow South Australian Liberal Chris Pyne that Tony Abbott is guilty of branch stacking by using the National Party MPs to block a free vote on gay marriage? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning Penbo and good morning to your listeners. Look I think we had a constructive Party meeting yesterday. It was a very long Party meeting; it was the Liberal Party and the National Party. In the end more than 40 per cent of Liberals in that meeting supported the idea of a free vote and what I am very happy about today is that the Liberal Party has made a big step towards having a free vote. While Labor’s policy is to move away from a free vote on marriage we are now going to move towards one, that is what we’ll have after the next election and that is a very good outcome. 

DAVID PENBERTHY: Not trying to be a smart aleck though Senator, a constructive meeting that sounds like a bit of a euphemism. It sounds like it was more of a stand up brawl. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It was far from that Penbo, really. We had yes it was a six hour meeting so it was a long meeting but that was so that everybody could have their say who wanted to have a say. It was actually very constructive in that sense. Everybody I thought spoke with some passion but also with a sense of respect for those with opposing views. Ultimately we’ve landed in a position where the Prime Minister has committed that this will be the last term of Parliament in which Liberal Party Members are bound to a position on marriage equality and as somebody who for five years has advocated that we should have a free vote, I am very pleased that he’s now made that commitment. 

DAVID PENBERTHY: So does that mean that there won’t be a vote during this Parliament? That it will be put off until the next Parliament?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that’s a matter for how the Parliament functions, it’s a separate question but, it is probably unlikely to come to a vote. If it does, it is obviously unlikely to pass in this Parliament and I know that will disappoint many advocates for change but, 
ultimately I think people should greet and welcome the fact that the Liberal Party, in accordance with its principles, will go to a position that probably should have always been the case, which the PM again acknowledged, that on this issue, from the next election forwards, allowing his members to exercise their conscience on what is very clearly a matter of conscience.

DAVID PENBERTHY: You said more than 40% of the party room supports the free vote position which you yourself spoke in favour of. How favourably disposed are those people now to Tony Abbott as the leader of the Liberal Party?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I trust that 40% plus of Liberals are as pleased with the outcome as I am, that it really is a significant step forward, that we are now locked in to a position where those who have differing opinions will be respected for their differing opinions and are able to exercise those differing opinions after the next election and I think that is properly in accordance with Liberal principles. Some people will rightly say “well why shouldn’t that happen now?” Whilst I may have preferred for that to happen now, I respect the fact that the majority of my colleagues felt that the electorate and their voters believed that at the last election that we had a clear position in favour of the status quo and that that should be maintained as a party position for the life of this Parliament, but also giving voters the clarity at the next election that it will be a matter for individual members and they can take their views up with individual members rather than looking at it as a party matter.

DAVID PENBERTHY: It doesn’t sound like your colleague and fellow South Australian, Chris Pyne, is as generous in his assessment in the way it panned out. To accuse the PM of branch stacking, that’s the sort of criticism you would normally make of your opponents.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Christopher has a wonderful turn of phrase sometimes and he is very witty and clever and clearly there was a question over whether it should be a joint party room meeting or a meeting of the Liberal party room alone. In the end, we met together, we discussed the issue together. That’s history, that’s what happened yesterday. I’m really looking to the future and for me the future is about the right of individuals to properly exercise their conscience.

DAVID PENBERTHY: and look, Senator Birmingham, sorry we have taken a fair bit of time on this, the emissions targets set by the coalition, do they go far enough?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They go a long, long way in fact. It pitches Australia really as a country that is neither a leader nor a lagger but, in the middle of the pack making a sensible global contribution. A 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 is really up there with many major economies especially when you consider it on a per capita basis or a GDP basis. In fact, on the basis of per dollar of GDP, our emissions reduction target is more than any other major developed economy, including the EU, US and Canada. So it really does demonstrate a commitment to taking this issue seriously and Australia making its contribution.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Senator Simon Birmingham thanks very much for joining us this morning.