Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: Same-sex marriage; Coal-fired power

David Bevan: A big ABC radio Adelaide welcome to Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Education Minister on the phone line, good morning Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, top of the morning to you all, and particularly the one very lucky South Australian.

David Bevan: Yes, and also to Greens Senator down the phone the line, Sarah Hanson-Young, good morning.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

David Bevan: You’re in a Tardis, we spent some money on you?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Oh well it’s our ABC.

David Bevan: It is, it is, and Mark Butler, he made it into our studio in Adelaide, good morning Mark Butler, Labor member for Port Adelaide.

Mark Butler: Good morning everyone.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, if we can start with you, if there’s majority support for the same-sex marriage postal survey today, will same-sex marriage be legal by Christmas.

Simon Birmingham: I am absolutely certain that it will be David, if there is a yes vote today, then later today in the Senate there will be a vote of a proposal introduced as what’s known as the Dean Smith bill, Dean Smith’s bill to bring about marriage equality, and to bring on debate on that bill tomorrow and if there is a yes vote I will be voting for that motion to bring on today to commence tomorrow to proceed then when the senate resumes in a bit over a week and I will be supporting that legislation, considering carefully any amendments to it that are proposed, and I am sure we can see this matter dealt with according to the will of the Australian people by the end of the year.

Ali Clarke: Mark Butler, do you see any problems with this?

Mark Butler: Well, the only problem is really emanating from the coalition party room, but I think Simons’ judgment is right, Penny Wong has co-signed the motion Simon has referred to, and I think Richard Di Natale and some other crossbenchers have as well, the Nick Xenophon team so there are clearly the numbers in the Senate to get that motion through today and as I understand it start debate on the bill formally tomorrow, then we’ve got two more weeks of sitting at the end of November and early December, there is no reason why we cannot get this done before Christmas.

Ali Clarke: What if people who feel strongly against it, they have been supporting the no vote, what protections should be in place or do you think will be in place?

Mark Butler: Well the Smith bill results from the Dean Smith bill as Simon referred to is the WA Senator has been a strong supporter of marriage equality in the Liberal party. His bill actually results from a cross party Senate Committee, a very very deliberative committee that looked at a whole range of these arguments around religious protections and came up with a bill that had support across the committee, so across different parties and it does have protections in there particularly for religious communities who choose not to solemnise same-sex marriages, but also for civil celebrants who want to register themselves as religious civil celebrants which I thinks an addition to the debate we have been having over several years about religious protections. So this is the result of some deep thought about how you reconcile I think community support for equality in marriage to same sex couples with some of those religious protections, the Paterson bill which has been dropped on the table over the past couple of days, goes entirely in a different direction and seeks to wind back existing protections for same-sex couples and LGBTI Australians.

David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, you have been critical of the process of having a postal vote, a survey, but once it’s all done, if the scenario that Birmingham and Butler have outlined happens and we have same-sex marriage in this country by Christmas, won’t Malcolm Turnbull in your view be due some credit because whatever the process he has got to the country into the positon you wanted us to be in, you would give him so credit yes?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look I l think everyone who has put aside their political spears for the last eight weeks and have gone out and campaigned will deserve credit for getting this through and I think one of the key things that we’ve seen happen, you know I didn’t want the postal survey I think we could have saved the public money and I think we could have had the Parliament do their job not dragged the LGBTI community and their families through this awful process. However, let me just say how proud I am of all the Australian’s who got up, campaigned, got out the vote, got on the phones, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the active campaigning, and millions of Australians have voted yes, and I think that is something to be really proud of. One of the positive elements is that it has created in what is often in this place a pretty rough and rumble partisan environment, it has really shown that as Parliamentarians, there are things that we can work towards together, we can have unity. And in South Australia it’s a really good example, and obviously all three of us on the phone’s today with you are yes supporters and we have all been out campaigning. Right at the beginning of this process, Penny Wong, Christopher Pyne and I did a press conference in South Australia urging people to post their votes, we’ve broken down some of those traditional lines in the Parliament and I actually think that is really really good thing, particularly at a time when the Parliament is looking very shabby. When, the public is not particularly impressed with how things have be going here, on this issue if we can get it over the line, if we can get marriage equality done before Christmas, I believe we can, then I think that is something that we should be all immensely proud of.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, will Malcolm Turnbull emerge from this if these are big if’s, because we don’t know what the final result is, but if he can get a marriage equality bill through the Parliament by Christmas, will his leadership be that much stronger as a result?

Simon Birmingham: David, I will let others comment on that, if we can get legislation through then Malcolm Turnbull will have been the Prime Minister who has overseen a process to deliver it. I hope that there is a strong yes vote today and if there is a strong yes vote, then I hope for that gay and lesbian Australian’s this will be somewhat of an analogist to the 1967 referendum in which a strong vote in terms of counting Indigenous Australian’s as part of the Australian population and recognising them as citizens was seen as a watershed moment and I that today we can have a similar watershed moment in terms of recognising equality. I really do thank all Australians who participated, if we’re looking at a participation rate of around 80 per cent well that dwarfs, dwarfs the number of South Australian’s who voted in local government elections, it will be three to four times the number of South Australian’s who voted in local government, will have chosen to participate in this voluntary process. It overall is the process that will give whatever emerges from this Parliament, the seal of approval of the Australian people, and of course our job if it’s a yes vote today is to act comprehensively, swiftly, decisively and appropriately, on that will of the Australian people.

Ali Clarke: So then Mark Butler, Labor member for Port Adelaide. How much credit will you give Malcolm Turnbull?

Mark Butler: Well I was about to say we shouldn’t get carried away about this being a notch on Malcolm Turnbull’s belt if get a yes vote recorded in about 40 or 50 minutes, I mean still my anecdotal feedback from people in the community I live and represent is that people think this was a waste of money, people think the Parliament should have just got on and done that. And also we saw research yesterday confirmed that about two-thirds of Australians would not want to see this process repeated, in an essential poll that was published yesterday. So yes, people have voted in very large numbers, this is an extraordinary turn out, I think higher than anyone expected, but the Liberal party and Malcolm Turnbull in particular should not see that as an endorsement by the Australian people of the process. They think Parliament should have done it, they think $122 million could have been spent on something else and while Simon Birmingham and Christopher Pyne and some others in the Liberal party have actually got out there and campaigned for a position of a yes vote, Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t, he has really sat back as a spectator in this and I think that was pretty weak of him.

Simon Birmingham: That’s not true Mark, Malcolm Turnbull addressed the yes rally in Sydney, published various posts encouraging people to vote yes, and did countless interviews urging Australians to vote yes.

Mark Butler: Well I don’t think that is key to the work at all to the work has been done by most other political leaders in this debate one way or another, whatever your view.

Simon Birmingham: He’s also been getting on with being Prime Minister at the same time.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I think the issue here is going forward if we get the yes result today, which I’m hopeful that we will, it’s how the next few weeks are managed by all of us. If there is a process where we see the opponents to marriage equality abuse the time in the chamber, use some of those awful, nasty arguments that we have seen rolled out during this postal survey, if they use their privileges in the Parliament to do that to frustrate the process to try and delay this, I think this would be an act of democratic bastardry and betrayal and it’s now that we are going to need some proper leadership from people like the Prime Minister to ensure that doesn’t happen. That those on his team…..

David Bevan: We may be getting well ahead of ourselves here, because nobody knows what the result, the polls could be wrong, we could be in for a Brexit style or Trump style shock. Mark Butler?

Mark Butler: Yeah but the polls were only showing Hilary Clinton marginally ahead of Trump just before the election and actually she won the popular vote by three million, she just didn’t win them in the right place. So, I don’t think you can really compare these things, some of the polls have been showing very substantial margin of around 20 points right through this survey and if anything that margin has seemed to have grown. So yes you can’t count your chickens before they’re hatched but the idea that a no vote could get up in the face of all of those polls would just be extraordinary and I dare say unprecedented.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Hearts would be broken right across the country.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, we’ve got a question from a listener via the text line, how strong does support for a yes position have to be in order to get it through the Parliament?

Simon Birmingham: A yes vote is a yes vote, the majority will of the Australian people, whichever way this decision goes, ought to be respected

David Bevan: So the rule is, it’s a simple majority, it’s 50 per cent plus one?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right David, there is no other way to assess this, there has never been a contemplation that there was winning margin or super majority required, a simple majority ought to be respected whichever way this result goes, I trust and hope that there is a simple majority in favour of yes and we can get on with doing this as I said swiftly, that we can end this form of discrimination and certainly not put into place any additional forms of discrimination during the process.

David Bevan: So if it’s a simple majority no, 50 per cent plus say no, then what happens, the no legislation is put up or a private members bill would still go ahead and you still end up arguing about it?

Simon Birmingham: We will get on with other business then David.

Ali Clarke: You had a question for Sarah-Hanson Young about coal?

David Bevan: Well Jay Wetherill was tweeting earlier today, that he was referring to an article on the Bloomberg website, Mark Butler, he says China is over coal, bored with oil as it charts renewable future. Well the Washington Post have put out an article a few days ago saying that Germany is actually about to open more brown coal mines because they’ve got the renewable mix wrong. They’ve started to phase out their nuclear power, they haven’t got their renewable infrastructure in place so Germany which is the spear carrier for renewable energy is having to dig up more coal in fact they’re bulldozing one village that has been there since Roman times to put in an open pit.

Mark Butler: Well look I haven’t seen that particular piece but I read a lot about the German energy system because it is seen in Europe and around the world as a leading system. It’s way ahead of Australia in terms of its renewable penetration in spite of the fact it doesn’t have anything like the solar resource we have or the wind resource. I think there is one coal-fired power station under construction in Germany and I think it’s the only coal-fired power station under construction in the EU and it’s been under construction for many years. So yes there is an issue there that they’re winding back their nuclear power plants and they have accelerated that really in the wake of the Japanese disaster, but the growth in renewable energy there in Germany is still very very strong and so there might be one piece in the Washington Post but look it doesn’t reflect everything else including that the International Energy Agency has said in its world energy outlook that it published yesterday that says that renewables growth continues to outpace predictions.

David Bevan: It was [indistinct] from the Friends of the Earth in Germany, he said there is no bigger impact on the environment than brown coal mining, and we are the world champion, this is Germany.

Mark Butler: Absolutely, having the conference of the parties, the climate change conference in Germany. This has lifted the attention of the international community of what Germany is doing and Michael Bloomberg has been critical of Germany and its continual reliance on some coal-fired power. But put this in context. About 40 per cent of Germany’s electricity is obtained through coal-fired power, the last measurement in Australia was almost 80 percent, about 76 per cent so they are still way ahead of most other countries, but they’ve got some challenges because of the shutdown of their nuclear plants.

David Bevan: Well they’re embracing coal, in that there digging up a village in order to start-up another coal-fired power station and…

Mark Butler: As I said, there is one under construction in Germany, as I understand it which is the only one under construction in the European Union.

David Bevan: But this is a gigantic new mine?

Mark Butler: Well another mine might have run out, so this idea that they’re expanding coal-fired power as a share of their energy mix is simply wrong.

David Bevan: They won’t meet their targets either as a result of all of this? Look, the point is that rather than being purists and Jay is obviously a purist now, he’s drunk the cool-aid and he’s an absolute purist when it comes to renewable, you can’t have anything to do with coal. Even our allies in all of this Germany, have shown look sometimes you have to compromise? Why can’t you compromise?

Mark Butler: Of course sometimes there is a compromise but you’ve got the UK that will be shutting its last coal-fired power station in 2025, Canada in 2030, in the last couple of months Italy and Holland have announced they will be shutting their last coal-fired power stations in 2030 despite the fact that some of them have been built in the last 10 or 15 years, so well before the end of their design life, there is no question about the general trend, you might be able to pick out a newspaper article here or there David, but there is no question according to the International Energy Agency which is the peak body, it’s not Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, the peak body for the energy industry across the world that there is only one direction here.

David Bevan: I was arguing the trend, arguing whether we need to take a purist approach as we…….

Mark Butler: [Talks over] Australia as being purist, there is not another OECD country that has a higher reliance on coal-fired power than us, and at the moment we’ve got election campaigns in Queensland being fought on whether or not we build additional coal-fired power stations, while we already get twice the share of our electricity from coal that for example Germany gets and a multiple more than the home of coal-fired power the UK gets which is about to shut its last coal-fired power station.

Sarah Hanson-Young: We’ve got to get serious, if we’re going to deal with global warming, climate change and reducing pollution we do have to get out coal that is what the scientists tell us, that is what industry knows. It’s one of the reasons why one of the country’s biggest companies, biggest coal companies, AGL, is saying actually we’ve got to get out of this, it’s not worth the investment and it’s not worth the risk to, in relation to climate change. I think it is important Mark, that you’ve raised this issue, the building of the world’s biggest coal mine in Queensland in Adani, because if that is to go ahead, it is absolutely no way the world would be able to tackle dangerous global warming and Australia has to know that if we allow this to go ahead we will be internationally shunned on the stage…

David Bevan: Sarah-Hanson Young thank you for your time, Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia.

Ali Clarke: Mark Butler, also thank you Labor member for Port Adelaide and Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator there as well.

Minister Birmingham’s media contact: Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
Benn Ayre 0428 342 325