Interview on Sky News with Laura Jayes

Topics: Nick Xenophon resignation, Same-sex marriage postal survey

Laura Jayes:    Let’s go to this breaking news now, Nick Xenophon has made it official, he is citizen X not Senator X now according to his media release. Joining me now is the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, he joins me from Adelaide, he is a South Australian senator, what do you think, Nick Xenophon has often caused the Government a few problems at a federal level, now it’s your state counterparts problem, how do you feel?         

Simon Birmingham:    Well look Laura of course, Nick Xenophon running for the state Parliament is a matter for the state election. I hope and trust South Australians decide that they want a change of government and the only way they’ll get a change of government is to support Steven Marshall and the Liberal party, rather, than to toy voting with Nick Xenophon and his team who have course not ruled out voting Jay Weatherill back into office. But I also note that they’ve announced today the replacement Senator for Nick Xenophon, which really is a reminder of the very mysterious workings of the Nick Xenophon team, you know if this was the Liberal party or the Labor party replacing a senator, the media and everybody else would know that party members, union delegates had come together and chosen the candidate to be selected. We have absolutely no idea who has chosen this new senator, presumably the result of some little background deal possibly between only two or three individuals choosing who the next senator for South Australia is which is a very curious way to operate a political party.

Laura Jayes:    Perhaps we are yet to learn a lot about the person who will replace the man, who will replace Nick Xenophon but they’re going to change their name I think to SA Best because Nick Xenophon is no longer in the Federal Parliament so we will see how that all pans out. Now Senator Birmingham, can I ask you about the same-sex marriage debate because I’ve spoken to on-the-record as well by the way some moderates who just say that they’re not going to cop this being delayed anymore, and I note the newspaper articles from Sarah Martin in the West Australian yesterday saying that conservatives are drafting their own alternate bill, they’re looking at religious protections and perhaps up to 100 amendments, is that fair enough?

Simon Birmingham:    Well Laura, let’s look at what the commitment was, and what I am sure will happen from here. The commitment was that the Australian people will have a say by the postal survey and of course it is proving to be an extraordinary success with some 77 per cent of Australians having had their say already, now if the Australian people have elected to vote yes through that postal survey then the commitment is that the Government will facilitate debate in the Parliament of a private member’s bill to bring about marriage equality in Australia.

Laura Jayes:    When you say a private member’s bill, is it going to be the Dean Smith bill?           

Simon Birmingham:    Well let me come to that question in a second. That it will be free vote across certainly the coalition party’s but the Labor platform says it’s a free vote for them as well. So it will be a free vote in terms of the bill, in terms of amendments, the Prime Minister has also been very clear, there is no reason why this cannot be done and dusted this year, and certainly that is the Government’s expectation, that if there is a yes vote, we should be able to get on, and get a result by the end of the year. Now in terms of the bill that you asked what the starting point for that is, well Dean Smith’s bill was developed following the release of an exposure draft bill by the Attorney-General earlier this year, it was referred off to a Senate Committee for examination and enquiry, and indeed introduced or developed a bill based on some of the findings from that Senate inquiry, so of all of the different proposals over the years that have been brought to the Parliament, it’s the most, developed, considered, explored bill that’s been brought forward. With that in mind I think that it is the logical starting point for a debate. Now of course any member of the Parliament in this free vote scenario can then proceed with amendments and develop amendments and that’s fine, that will be the Parliament operating free of party ties of such and people will consider each of those amendments as they come forward. In no way should that prevent it from being considered and being considered in the available sitting’s left of the year.

Laura Jayes:    Senator, can I ask you one quick final question, Michael Sukkar is concerned about some of the protections in place for perhaps an employee that believes in traditional marriage and gets demoted, will there be those protections in place in any bill, private member’s bill that is put forward?

Simon Birmingham:    Well there are a range of already pre-existing protections in the Sex Discrimination Act for religious institutions as well as for educational institutions with religious purpose. There are of course further protections enshrined in the bill that Dean Smith has developed following that extensive consultation process I spoke of before. Now others like Mr Sukkar, like Michael may choose to bring forward other amendments for the parliament to consider, that will then be in the hands of the Parliament, of course any amendments that are put forward, people will need to demonstrate the detriment that they think might be caused, that they’re seeking to prevent and of course demonstrate that existing protections particularly in terms of the anti-discrimination protections won’t in any way be unwound as a result of steps they may be seeking to put in place

 Laura Jayes:                Alright, Senator Birmingham, will get that result on the 15th of November, we thank you so much for your time, we’re going to have to leave it there today.