Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Same-sex marriage; Labor’s $150 billion tax slug




Kieran Gilbert:  To the issue of same-sex marriage and the postal vote. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney says the push to legalise same-sex marriage could lead to people with traditional views being harassed and coerced. Anthony Fisher has told The Australian, the protections for faith-based institutions are unclear. He says religious schools, charities and hospitals could be coerced to comply with a new view of marriage if there is a yes vote in the postal ballot. For reaction I spoke to the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham:     Well Kieran, I think people should be reassured. Firstly, that all serious proposals that have come to the Parliament in relation to delivering marriage equality have had strong protections in place in relation to ministers of religion, in relation to church-owned property, and ensuring that religious institutions and those who practice on their behalf are able to continue to preach according to their doctrines, their faiths. Now, further than that though, we already have in the Sex Discrimination Act clear protections in place for faith-based schools and educational institutions to, again, be able to employ staff, undertake teachings that are consistent with the faith, the doctrine, etcetera, of those religions. And I have seen absolutely no proposal that would change the operations or workings of those provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act. That should give absolute confidence to Archbishop Fisher, to church leaders, to faith-based schools around Australia that they would continue to be able to operate and teach precisely as they do today.


Kieran Gilbert:  So there’s no- there’ll be no implications from legalisation of same-sex marriage for Catholic hospitals or Catholic schools, Catholic- one of the other areas that’s been raised by the Archbishop: welfare services. He’s worried that those that- Catholic welfare services providing counselling and so on, that they too would be required to assist same-sex couples.


Simon Birmingham:     Kieran, I am 100 per cent confident that the Parliament will ensure appropriate safeguards are in place for ministers of religion, for civil celebrants who may have objections based on faith grounds or otherwise, for religious organisations to all be able to continue to operate according to their faith. This is not a debate about the operation of churches or the freedom of religion. Indeed, there is an opportunity within this debate to ensure we are very clear in showing respect for freedom of religion, respect for people to continue to be able to practice their faiths according to their beliefs; but to also show respect to the thousands of people in long-term same-sex loving relationships around Australia. To show respect that their relationships are as equal as any other committed long-term loving relations and that’s why I will certainly be encouraging a yes vote.


Kieran Gilbert:  The Archbishop says that many people believe redefining marriage won’t affect them. Respectfully, he says I would say they need to take another look; it will affect every Australian. What’s your reaction to that statement? Do you agree or disagree?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I think most people – if you went to New Zealand, to the United Kingdom, to parts of the United States, to Canada where people have had experience of this change – would say it has had not one iota of impact on them. But in the end, if this change goes through, your marriage, my marriage will be completely unaffected by it. Our relationships will continue; our lives will continue. But for thousands of Australians who currently do not have the security of the commitment of marriage from their loving partner, who do not have the recognition of society from that engagement in marriage, their lives will change and their lives will change for the better. And our society will be the better for the fact that those Australians have that strong bond, that strong commitment which, of course, is very much at the heart of providing support, recognition, respect to one another and to those individuals in those relationships.


Kieran Gilbert:  Dan Tehan – the Member for Wannon and one of your Liberal frontbench colleagues – is opposed to marriage equality, or the legalisation of same-sex marriage, but he says you’re not going to advocate a no vote in his electorate. He’ll leave it up to the voters to decide. Will you do the same in terms of your South Australian constituents?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, it’s entirely up to each and every Australian on the electoral roll to decide. Now, I will be voting yes and I’ll be encouraging Australians to vote yes. I’ll argue the case as to why I vote yes and why I support marriage equality in Australia, but that is up to each and every individual member of the Parliament as to how the conduct themselves, and ultimately up to each and every individual Australian as to how they choose to vote. And that’s the reason why, of course, we are providing them with this opportunity, so that the will – the intent of the nation – can be clear at the end of it.


Kieran Gilbert:  Now, on to reports in The Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, Herald Sun this morning in relation to the tax hit from Labor’s policies. A number of different, well, versions of this – a few different numbers. Was this the Parliamentary Budget Office analysis?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, look, in terms of my understanding, is it’s a Parliamentary Budget Office analysis, but I’ll leave that indeed for the Treasurer or others as to precisely where the figures have come from. But it is very, very clear from Labor’s announced policies to date that they are going to have higher taxes on wage earners, on houses, on small businesses, on investments, on companies. And a tax slug of that magnitude whether it’s more than $100 billion- more than $150 billion applying across all of those different areas of the economy, of people’s incomes, of people’s investments can only be bad for jobs, can only be bad for wages growth in the future, can only be bad for our economy.


Kieran Gilbert:  What about the Government’s agenda given you’re only 12 months in and already targeting Labor in a negative sense in this regard? Does it show that the Government’s lacking its own agenda if you already have to be targeting Labor’s?


Simon Birmingham:     Kieran, it’s important that we continue to prosecute the case each and every day in terms of our agenda – which absolutely we have been doing and we’ve had strong success since the Budget this year in getting a number of our reforms and measures through the Parliament. But that we also highlight the contrast. Often oppositions are characterised as a policy-free zone. Well, the Labor Party under Bill Shorten is a policy danger zone – a danger to our economy, a danger to the jobs of Australians, a danger to the income and wages of Australians. Because they are proposing, very clearly, higher taxes on wages and income, higher taxes on small businesses and company, higher taxes on housing and investment. I mean, people need to understand this.


Now, the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull is crystal clear that we will not allow tax revenue to grow above the 23.9 per cent of GDP that we have brought it down towards. It is important to understand that the Labor Party went to the last election proposing an endless increase in taxation as a share of the economy and that is clear from what they have said to date that that is their plan again and that contrast needs to be understood between a high wages, high economic growth party that is the Liberal and National parties versus a high tax, lower economic growth party that is the Labor Party.