Interview on 891 ABC Adelaide with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan
Same sex marriage plebiscite; Free trade agreements; Greens’ portfolio allocations; Racial Discrimination Act.
31 August 2016
08:35 AM

Matthew Abraham: In just a moment, Sarah Hanson-Young, she's … and she's an unhappy camper at the moment, by both behind the scenes reports but also some of the comments she's made about being dumped, I think it's fair to say from the immigration portfolio, something that she held very dear to her heart, and now is the trade spokeswoman for the Greens, Sarah Hanson-Young. We'll come to her in just a moment, once we sort out our lines up there, at … that's not our speaking lines, [laughs] it's satellite lines.

David Bevan: It's phone lines.

Matthew Abraham: On the dog and bone is Senator Simon Birmingham though, Liberal Senator, Education Minister from South Australia of course, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys.

Matthew Abraham: And Labor Senator for South Australia a second time around, Don Farrell, welcome Don Farrell.

Don Farrell: Thank you David and Matthew.

David Bevan: Don Farrell, if we could start with you, the Prime Minister says let's at least find some common ground, because the country – although we live in exciting times and it's all very wonderful and positive, we face some serious challenges. Now, is the Labor Party going to continue to pursue what some within the Coalition would argue are distractions, that is on the issues of marriage equality and other issues, or are you actually going to find some common ground that will make things better for our listeners?

Don Farrell: Well, we're always looking to find common ground to make things better for your listeners, and Labor has proposed a range of things which would address some of the concerns that the Government has raised, in particular in …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] And yeah, well the Government said we've got a $6 billion omnibus bill of cuts, that saving measures that both parties agreed to at the last election. Tony Burke, on this station yesterday was saying oh, you lied to us, you lied to us, there are extra measures in there we didn't know about, we did agree to. It turns out those extra measures amount to what, about a- just over $100 million. He's making a lot of fuss about $100 million in a $6 billion package. This doesn't look like a cooperative approach.

Don Farrell: Oh, well I don't agree with that, David. I think the Labor Party went to the last election with some serious ways of solving some of our debt issues. Our proposal about negative gearing, and look, just look at the one issue, that's the issue of the plebiscite in relation to gay marriage. There's $160 million you could save immediately by allowing a vote in the Senate rather than a plebiscite. So I don't think it's fair to say that we haven't been cooperative, and I think most people would agree that in terms of policies that we took to the last election, Labor did have a series of policies which would have solved some of our debt problems, and we were upfront about them. I think what you'll find is that as the weeks and months go ahead, a whole lot of things that the Government should have told us they were planning to do will emerge, and we'll see other proposals where they're seeking to make cuts. So I don't think it's fair to say Labor didn't make a contribution. I think we did, and we will continue to.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Education Minister. These are the words from Labor, but we are hearing some rumbles that there may be some middle room for both Liberal and Labor on budget reform.

Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew, let's put it in very clear terms for your listeners. What we are proposing in this legislation are a range of budget savings measures that were presented at both the election by both the Liberal and National Parties and the Labor Party. So we have gone out and we have looked at where there are obvious areas you would have thought consensus exists, and we're putting them forward first. And there are other areas …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] But to be clear, there is a tactic, isn't it not? You're really trying to make a point here, and does that end up in tears?

Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew, I think it's very valid point that in the end, the Labor Party proposed a bunch of budget savings measures during the election campaign. They had a look at savings measures …

Don Farrell: [Talks over, indistinct] Good one.

Simon Birmingham: … they happened to be savings measures in this case that we had also already proposed, so those savings measures are things that we want to see actually delivered and implemented. There should be no debate really about these. There can be others that the Labor Party did not propose that we didn't agree with, and ones that we proposed that they didn't agree with, that of course there's reasonable contestability over. But the ones we all agreed upon.

Matthew Abraham: Right.

Simon Birmingham: … are a pretty reasonable starting point, and yet you have the Labor Party actually playing ducks and drakes on this, not speaking clearly about what it is they will do. Now they should say, very clearly, now the legislation is out, the measures are detailed, what they're going to do, whether they are going to vote in the Parliament for the things they said that they would do during the election campaign.

Matthew Abraham: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia, the lone senator for South Australia. The Greens lost a senator in the last election. Sarah Hanson-Young, welcome.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thanks for having me.

Matthew Abraham: You – putting aside budget reform, you want to blow open our free trade deals, and use free trade agreement sceptics such as Nick Xenophon to do so. Is that responsible?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I – well it is, because I think what we've seen for far too long is a system of secrecy and total lack of transparency used to sign up Australia to these trade deals, whether they are strictly kind of bilateral or multilateral in terms of the issues under the TPP. But of course, it's a system that's quite archaic. The rules for how these treaties, and how these trade deals come about the process were set down some hundred years ago, and it's done by the executive, behind closed doors, Parliament can't amend them, and in fact at the end of the day, after they're all signed off, Parliament is basically asked to take it or leave it. And it's incredibly undemocratic. Obviously for us in South Australia …

David Bevan: [Talks over] It's also incredibly risky, is it not? If you start trying to unravel trade deals that have already been inked and signed.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well I think the issue here is that Australia is – and we heard the Governor-General's speech to the whole of Parliament yesterday, listing Malcolm Turnbull's aims for this next term of government. There is a number of trade deals currently on the table being negotiated, and Australians have every right to know what is going to be on the table, what sacrifices the government is signing them up to, and really what the cost benefit analysis is. Because whether it's Australian workers or consumers such as cancer patients who are going to have to pay more money for access to new cancer drugs, medicines, those types of things should be on the table, and there should be a full and frank debate.

Matthew Abraham: But didn't your leader, Richard Di Natale say that he didn't want to reopen the trade deals?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I'm – [laughs] I saw that little bit of misgive in the paper yesterday. Richard Di Natale and the Greens are solid, we are all solid on the idea that there are a lot of losses going on under these trade deals that are [indistinct] …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] So he wants you to unravel these trade deals?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well it’s not about unravelling them, guys, it’s about the idea that currently they are being done behind closed doors and in secret and just like I did in the detention sphere, all secrecy, keep the public in the dark, treat us all like mushrooms, we’re not prepared to see that continue when it comes to signing Australia up to things like the TPP.

Matthew Abraham: You don’t like us talking about what goes on behind closed – you don’t like things being kept behind closed doors, so take us into the exchange between you and Mr Di Natale when you lost the immigration portfolio.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well you know, I’ve actually been really up front about this; I was extremely disappointed to lose the immigration portfolio, it’s something that I’ve put my heart and soul in, it’s something that I’ve worked very passionately for. It’s the issue in fact that really drove me to get involved in politics as a university student many years ago and I’ve been upfront both with him and publicly about my disappointment but I must say I’m…

David Bevan: [Interrupts] Why were you surprised and confused, why do you use the word confused? Disappointed and confused?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well because I guess the… I think the reasonings that Richard gave in terms of needing to refresh I disagree with, I think I’ve done a good job in that portfolio, I think Nick McKim will do a good job but I would have liked to have continued it.

David Bevan: Do you – I bet you went ballistic. No Sarah Hanson, if you say you were disappointed and confused, that’s code for I went absolutely ballistic.

Sarah Hanson-Young: No, look…

David Bevan: Were you shouting at him?

Sarah Hanson-Young: … I made it… No I don’t shout in those types of scenarios but you know I made it very clear, my position, but he is the leader and it is his decision and I accept that and I’ve now rolled up my sleeves and I’m getting on with my new portfolios and Senator Birmingham’s on the line here, he and I are going to be having some tough discussions over the next few months hopefully about the education portfolio. I look forward to that.

Matthew Abraham: Okay.

Sarah Hanson-Young: And I really look forward to tackling the notion of free trade and are Australians really getting a fair deal.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, Senator Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, while the focus is meant to be on the budget repair, we do know that the focus will be maybe self-inflicted, one will be on the marriage plebiscite and the other will be on Cory Bernardi’s agenda on giving people the right to loathe each other publicly. On to the marriage plebiscite, why not just accept the vote of Parliament?

Simon Birmingham: Matthew because we took a very clear policy to the election and essentially what your question implies and what the Labor Party and the Greens seem to be suggesting we should do is break our promise and not go through with the policy we took to the election, well that’s not what this government is going to do, we will stick with the policy we took to the election to give the Australian people a say on the issue of marriage equality. There is wide support for the idea of having a plebiscite, pretty much any poll you look at suggests people do want to have their say.

Matthew Abraham: There’s a high risk it’ll lose isn’t it? That’s why the people really pushing the plebiscite are those who are opposed to gay marriage.

Simon Birmingham: I believe it will succeed.

Matthew Abraham: Why do you say that, because the last time there was a major vote on freedoms was I think under the Hawke Government in ‘88 where there was four questions put to the Australian public including the right to get compensation from state and federal governments for loss of income and loss of business, the freedom of religion and…

David Bevan: …right to jury trials.

Matthew Abraham: Right to a jury trial and that got lost in every state. It didn’t even get to the 50 per cent mark in your home state of South Australia, the vote was 26 per cent yes, 74 no. Why do you think plebiscite will get it?

Simon Birmingham: Great okay Matthew, I vaguely recall the Hawke Government referendum when I was in school, I do recall that there were multiple questions being asked at the time and…

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] They all went down.

Simon Birmingham: Yeah and the whole point of that was there were multiple questions being asked at the time across a range of different issues. This plebiscite, if it goes forward, will be one simple question…

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Yeah but the key point is that if there is a successful scare campaign run against it, that this was a Labor attempt to introduce a bill of rights.

Simon Birmingham: So Matthew, let me also make the point though, Matthew, it’s a bit of a self-defeating argument isn’t it to say the Parliament should legislate this because the people might vote against it? I mean if Australians actually don’t want this reform, then why should the Parliament be legislating it?

Matthew Abraham: Well…

David Bevan: Malcolm Turnbull though, does want marriage equality, he’s made that quite clear, he doesn’t want his agenda sidelined by the marriage equality debate. Wouldn’t it make sense to show some leadership and once the plebiscite bill fails, give MPs the right to cross the floor?

Simon Birmingham: Well we don’t want to see this matter determined in any other means than via the plebiscite policy that we took to the election because that is the commitment we gave to the Australian people about how this issue would be resolved under a Turnbull Government. In the end we won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, 960,000 plus more votes than the Labor Party, we have a strong mandate to pursue our policies, that’s exactly what we’re going for on this matter and of course a plebiscite vote will give what is a significant social reform legitimacy and acceptance rather than what would be a greatly contested outcome if it were now rammed through the Australian Parliament, denying people a say that many people want on this matter.

Matthew Abraham: Okay let’s go to Labor Senator for South Australia Don Farrell, Don Farrell you’re opposed to a plebiscite but is there a great risk and there’s a great tension going on within the Labor Party in the backrooms and in caucus over this very issue because if you block a plebiscite now then are you putting off the whole issue and maybe reform of gay marriage two to three years down the track at least?

Don Farrell: Look a lot of thought has gone into the issue in the Labor Party, Matthew, we resolved our position in the Labor Party at the National Conference last year and I was intimately involved in all of those discussions and the policy that the Labor Party adopted was one of support for same sex marriage but getting all of our MPs a conscience vote so I don’t think it’s fair to say that there was any controversy in the Labor Party.

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Indistinct].

Don Farrell: Beg your pardon, Sarah?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think the Labor Party position is so confused the fact that you have a conscience vote now but then in a couple of years’ time, it’s going to be a binding vote and really Don, the reality is that the Labor Party have …

Don Farrell: [Talks over] I don’t- I don’t …

Sarah Hanson-Young: … come up with this system to kind of placate people like yourself when- must say, when we were all sworn in yesterday I think there was a couple of Coalition backbenchers like Cory Bernardi who were happier to see you than your own side.

Matthew Abraham: Woah.

Don Farrell: Oh look, that isn’t fair. My colleagues were very pleased to see me Sarah. I think you might find you’ve got more problems on your side than I’ve got on mine I think some of your- I think …

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Laughs] [Interrupts] Look, I think we’re all pretty clear on the fact that we support gay marriage, that’s for sure.

Simon Birmingham: In the spirit of collegiality I was happy to see everybody. [Laughter].

David Bevan: Oh well, well …

Simon Birmingham: I love you all.

Matthew Abraham: Well, of course but what a great sledge from Sarah Hanson-Young but [laughs] Don Farrell putting aside these slings and arrows from the Greens …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] What was the strategy Don Farrell from the conservatives within the Labor Party? Was it we’ll give you a free vote now when it can’t work and we’ll lock you in to support it when the issue is dead and gone because the plebiscite will have failed?

Don Farrell: Oh look, I don’t think that was the thinking at all David. Look, these things are matters of discussion and compromise in the Labor Party. I supported the compromise, I think it’s a sensible position. I don’t think- Simon was saying that the Australian people want to vote on it so I think, to be perfectly honest, the Australian people have had enough of elections and what they’d like the Parliament to do is to resolve the issue one way or the other, that’s how we did it last time the issue was debated.

David Bevan: Well yes and Don, if you’re given a free vote in the Parliament, let’s say a bill for marriage equality, not a bill for a plebiscite but a bill to enact marriage equality came up, how would you vote?

Don Farrell: Well, we’d have a conscience vote and [indistinct] …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] No, no, no- how would you vote according- how would you vote according to your conscience?

Don Farrell: … in the past when this issue has been raised I’ve voted against marriage equality and in favour of the traditional view of marriage and I would expect that I would do that again if the bill is introduced.

David Bevan: Oh, maybe that’s why Cory Bernardi was happy to see you.

Don Farrell: [Laughs] Look, I don’t know why he was happy to see me but let me tell you all of my colleagues were very happy to see me back as well.

Matthew Abraham: Speaking of Cory Bernardi and his legislation, Simon Birmingham, is he posing a major distraction for his own government, his own party that wants to make the issue- the economy stupid and not a gay marriage reform or 18C?

Simon Birmingham: Matthew, Cory is perfectly entitled to introduce a private member’s bill which is what he’s done. That’s not distracting the Government at all, we’re getting on as we will today with introducing a raft of bills into the Parliament, focusing exactly on Budget repairs starting with how we try to get the Labor Party to agree to Budget reforms and Budget savings that they themselves supported during the election campaign.

David Bevan: But would the effect of the Cory Bernardi bill effect- be the same as the George Brandis bill when George was the Attorney-General under Tony Abbott and that is you would in state, in the legislation it would be a crime to incite hatred of another race but it would not be a crime to offend a person on the basis of race. Is that it in a nutshell?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I think that might be an accurate reflection of Cory’s bill, I’ve not looked at the detail of it. I- my recollection of events …

Don Farrell: [Talks over] Didn’t you sign up- 

Simon Birmingham: … under the Abbott Government though- …

Don Farrell: … didn’t you sign up to it …

Simon Birmingham: … my- my- recollection of …

Don Farrell: … haven’t you signed it [indistinct] …

Simon Birmingham: … is that we never got to the point of legislation [indistinct] …

David Bevan: What’s your question Don Farrell? We always like questions from …

Don Farrell: Yeah look …

Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] I’m still trying to answer David’s question actually [laughter].

Don Farrell: … I thought that Simon had- I thought Simon had signed up to it and he was saying that he didn’t understand what he was signing up to.

Simon Birmingham: No, Don I have not but I fully respect the right of Cory and those colleagues who have but the important point I was trying to make in answering David’s question there is that under the Abbott Government before Mr Abbott took the matters off the table, we never actually got to the point of legislation being introduced into the Parliament [indistinct] …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] So, if that’s a private member’s bill …

Simon Birmingham: … not actually one to compare David.

David Bevan: Okay.

Matthew Abraham: If that’s a private member’s bill does that mean you would be free to vote against it and if so, would you Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham: Well, if it’s a private member’s bill, I assume that Cory will raise it through proper party room processes at some stage and we’ll consider it then.

Matthew Abraham: But you would have a free vote on it, wouldn’t you as a party?

Simon Birmingham: No, not necessarily.

Matthew Abraham: Oh okay.

David Bevan: Okay, so what will happen then, once Bernardi’s got his bill sorted out to give us all the right to offend people, the Liberal Party, the Coalition would then have to decide whether or not to enforce party discipline to support it or to reject it.

Simon Birmingham: Well, they’re all matters that will be resolved. Look, not every- and there are lots and lots and lots of [indistinct] …

David Bevan: [talks over] I can see why people are saying this is a big distraction.

Simon Birmingham: … private member’s bills introduced into the Parliament, the overwhelming majority of them never come to a vote in the Parliament and so these matters all become relatively moot matters. But look, David, you putting it as the right to offend and so on, there are examples out there for which I understand why it is that people have concerns about the operation of this aspect of the Racial Discrimination Act. You look at circumstances where uni students at present from Queensland are defending themselves because they complained about being turned away from a computer lab because they weren’t themselves Indigenous students. Now, I think there are some examples out there that I understand why the concerns exist but it’s not the Government’s priority at present. The Government today is getting on with introducing Budget savings and hoping the Labor Party agrees to what they said they’d do before the election.

Matthew Abraham: Thank you very much Simon, we must move on. Simon Birmingham, thank you. We want you all to call now, not the three senators, if you want to play in- for the show tickets. Sarah Hanson-Young, thank you, Greens trade, finance and education spokesperson …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thank you.

Matthew Abraham: … and Don Farrell, Labor Senator for South Australia. Thank you to Don Farrell.

Don Farrell: Thank you [indistinct].

Matthew Abraham: That’s Super Wednesday. It was quite good, I quite enjoyed- [laughs].