Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Latest Newspoll; Citizenship of Parliamentarians; Same-sex marriage
Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time, is this a worry a five-point drop for the Prime Minister in preferred PM, he’s only just in front of Bill Shorten now?
Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran there is no doubt this citizenship discussion has sucked the oxygen out of the rest of the political agenda in terms of what is covered in the media. And, that hasn’t stopped the Government from getting on with the job, the Prime Minister has been there advancing opportunities for Australian exporters to get more trade, more export opportunities, which of course would build on the record jobs growth we have generated, 370 000 additional jobs over the last year, and equally other Minister’s, I was out there yesterday talking about the next steps of implementation of our child care reforms that will deliver benefits to around one million Australian families, in some of the lowest and middle income Australian families.
Kieran Gilbert: And no one is listening?
Simon Birmingham: And this is no doubt one of the challenges when it comes to things like the polls, that whilst the Government gets on with its job, the fixation that the media, the commentariat, that others have shown with this citizenships issue, now it’s not of our creation, we are determined to fix it though, and fix it we will, we have declared a full disclosure regime that we will put to the Parliament, we of course will then make sure if Members and Senators have questions they are referred back to the High Court who has to make the ultimate decision.
Kieran Gilbert: There is the suggestion though in some of the commentary this morning that the Prime Minister in the Cabinet, that there is a loss of faith in him, and his judgment, in the wake of the handling of the citizenship case, it’s not just the polling numbers, it’s the internal numbers as well?
Simon Birmingham: I reject that entirely, and we are confident as a Government that we’re on the right course in terms of the economy of the nation, the job creation numbers we have are astounding in terms of our success, they’re driven by the fact we’ve opened up trade opportunities, they’re driven by the fact that there is a degree of confidence we’ve managed to build, they’re driven by the fact that small businesses and medium businesses know that they’re getting tax cuts under our government to invest and create new jobs, those are the sorts of fundamentals that our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull is focused on, we are as a government resolute in being committed to and continuing.
Kieran Gilbert: But you see these numbers, including comparisons to say with Julie Bishop and she’s a preferred Liberal leader, when you look at those numbers as well, so he’s not only losing a bit of paint against Bill Shorten but you’ve also got that comparison to factor in?
Simon Birmingham: Look, polls will ask all matters of questions at different times, that shouldn’t distract and will not distract the Government from issues that matter to Australian people, as I said before I think part of the challenge of the present, is that the news coverage is dominated by issues of Parliamentarians citizenship, which don’t impact on the jobs, livelihoods of Australian households or businesses. We as a Government are focussed on the issues around the cost of living pressures for Australians, how we reform the energy markets, to have cheaper electricity in the future to make sure we ease those cost of living pressures.
Kieran Gilbert: I know you want to focus on those matters but in the short-term obviously the questions for the Government.
Simon Birmingham: You’re proving my point Kieran.
Kieran Gilbert: But it is to deal with this citizenship issue, because it goes to the eligibility of those sitting in the Parliament and obviously as you said it’s a priority the Government wants to have dealt with, but in terms of referring Labor MPs, the Labor party has said overnight a spokesman, said that if Turnbull wants to fire this missile, we’ve got the ammo to go nuclear, is what they’re saying in relation to retaliation?
Simon Birmingham: Well don’t Labor just love to play politics. Let’s be clear about the Government’s stance. Every Member and Senator of this Parliament should declare fully the details surrounding their citizenship, so we have absolute clarity, then for any who are in doubt as a result of the very tight ruling the High Court made, then those cases ought to be referred to the High Court, now it’s remarkable that the Labor party is basically saying no we should get a clean bill of health for all of our MPs, that Bill Shorten and Penny Wong are out there as complete hypocrites saying that want a blank cheque for Labor Member’s and Senator’s, yet they are arguing over the type of disclosure regime that should be in place. Well we will put in place a disclosure regime that is clear and transparent, so the public can see entirely the citizenship issues around any MPs or Senators, but then we will treat every member of Parliament exactly the same, Labor, Liberal, National, Green, Independent, Calathumpian, it does not matter.
Kieran Gilbert: You could have Julia Banks, Nola Marino, Alex Hawke, these people that Labor says are among the foreign five, Tony Pasin, Ann Sudmalis, these Members would, these are the names that they’re putting out there now, question marks over these individuals that would also be referred if appropriate?
Simon Birmingham: Well Labor is just hurling allegations there, now we’re confident as to the status of those members and the legal position that they’re in. Of course, Justine Keay has already made certain declarations aa a Labor MP, and it would appear on the basis of what she has revealed publically, that she does have a problem and is in conflict with the existing provisions as found by the High Court, so Labor cannot get away with saying we will hold this threat over all these Liberal MPs but we expect a blank cheque and a clearance pass for ours. That does not hold or pass the credibility test.
Kieran Gilbert: On the same-sex marriage vote, we get the result on Wednesday, the expectation is that it will be a yes vote, that those conservatives within the party coming up with their alternative bill via James Patterson today, what’s your thought, your thinking on that particular Bill, is it any chance of having broad support within the Parliament?
Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, the postal survey has been an outstanding success with of course around 80 per cent participation by Australian’s and far above anybody’s expectations I believe. I hope and trust it does come back with a yes vote, I remain of the belief that Dean Smith’s bill is the appropriate and logical starting point for any debate, because it is the one that has already been subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, it was built upon the findings of a Senate Inquiry, built upon the exposure draft that the Attorney-General had released, now James Patterson or indeed any other Member or Senator is absolutely free then to bring to the Parliament whatever amendments they choose and those amendments should be considered by the Parliament, but we should be mindful during that debate that as we move if we are after this vote, to remove one form of discrimination, we don’t want to put in place other forms of discrimination instead.
Kieran Gilbert: And, it doesn’t have to go to the Party room does it? There is suggestion that this would go to the party room, but from my recollection the way that the decision was made by your colleagues was that if there was a yes vote that you would then facilitate a Private Members Bill, which is not something that traditionally goes to a party room for consideration?
Simon Birmingham: If there is a yes vote, then it will a free vote position for members of the Liberal and National parties. We will be able to consider a Private Member’s Bill, and consider independence brought to the floor in a free vote scenario and of course that is entirely consistent with ever since the idea of the plebiscite was first moved.
Kieran Gilbert: With a Private Member’s Bill you don’t have to consider that or give it authorisation do you, if you’re the party room, it’s done, you facilitate it, and then as you said any changes can be done subsequently?
Simon Birmingham: That’s right, the very notion of a Private Member’s Bill, is it is not a Government Bill, it’s a Bill that comes from the backbench, it’s not a Bill that is sanctioned by the Party room or otherwise, because otherwise then it would be a Government Bill, and so yes this will be resolved I trust by the end of this year, we will get the result on Wednesday, we will see I imagine Dean Smith’s Bill introduced to the Parliament, I hope and trust it will be debated, passed, possibly with or without amendments that will be up to the free will of every member.
Kieran Gilbert: It would be outrageous if some in your party room felt that they would try to circumvent the result of what would be 80 per cent of the population voting.
Simon Birmingham: If the people speak with a yes vote, then the Parliament must act by passing laws to change the Marriage Act and the Parliament must do so in a timely way. There is no reason why that can’t be done before Christmas and the Parliament can consider any amendments that ought to be very mindful in considering them, but as we remove one form of discrimination in the prevention of same-sex couples from marrying, we should not be putting in place other forms of potential discrimination against same sex couples in the future.
Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, thanks as always, appreciate your time
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Kieran.