KIERAN GILBERT:   Joining me now we have Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham and Labor’s Michelle Rowland; Good morning to you both. Simon Birmingham, this is a real worry at a number of different levels, the trend continues, as I said to Mark Kenny and Bill Shorten seems to be in some sort of a turnaround as well.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well good morning Kieran, look I’m confident that when we finally get to an election, which is still more than one year away, the public focus will hone in on this issues that matter and what matters most are issues around jobs and growth and this is a government that this year has created around 23,000 jobs per month, a government that is investing at record levels in infrastructure, who has invested in our international relations with the delivery of free trade agreements that will help strengthen Australia’s position in to the future. I think we have a very good story to tell in terms of what we’re doing to strengthen the Australian economy in the future and I’m confident that will ultimately be the issue that determines the election.

KIERAN GILBERT: But that hasn’t been the issue, as you know, over the last week the big issue has been than of same sex marriage. This poll today had a clear majority, 70%, in every age group a majority in favour of legalising same sex marriage. Your side of politics is all over the shop right now it is a debacle to put it mildly in terms of knowing where you’re going. The Prime Minister says a vote after the next election; you’ve got him and the Attorney-General fighting publically over what you should do.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I wouldn’t accept that characterisation of things, Kieran. I think we took a step forward last week, not as big a step as I personally would have liked, but we took a step forward with the Prime Minister acknowledging this will be the last Parliament in which coalition members will be bound to support any position and so beyond that we can expect to have a free vote. There is a separate debate of process about how the matter is resolved – should it be a vote of the Parliament? Should it be a plebiscite? Should it be a referendum? And obviously, that’s a matter that is being discussed publically and internally because it is fundamentally a new debate that was not on the agenda until last Tuesday…

KIERAN GILBERT: …The Prime Minister is still not ruling out a referendum here and you’ve got the first law officer of the land sating on Sky News yesterday and last week that a referendum does not make sense here, you would need a negative question in order to change the constitution which already allows the Parliament to change this law.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, with the issue of a referendum, the high court has made it pretty clear that the constitution provides the powers for the Parliament to debate this issue and to resolve this issue without any need for a referendum, so I think that question is largely done and dusted. The question is, if you want to have a people’s vote, what type of people’s vote should it be in terms of a plebiscite? And in my opinion you need to have a vote that is as low cost as possible, so you want to keep the cost down because that is one of the criticisms I’ve heard from people over the weekend, you want to make sure that it is as expeditious as possible and dealt with as quickly as possible…

KEIRAN GILBERT: …So before the next election?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I think there is some merits to those arguments, but let’s have those discussions, let’s hear what the public has to say, but I frankly don’t want a political distraction like this during the election campaign. You also need to make sure that it is as simple and fair as possible and that means that whatever model is agreed to, it has to be one that everybody accepts, 50% plus 1 is the determining factor, and the issue rises or falls but is done and dusted once and for all…

KIERAN GILBERT: …so you think a plebiscite before the election? Because that would be the cheapest option and the most simple…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: If there is to be a people’s vote, then I think a plebiscite is the right way to go and it needs to be a simple and straight forward plebiscite, anything else would be seen as tricky.

Michelle Rowland, sorry to keep you out of the discussion for so long, but obviously it primarily deals with the government’s view on this issue. I guess the question to you though is, do you think the government might be doing advocates of same sex marriage a favour here? Because if there was a vote in Parliament right now, it probably wouldn’t get up even if there was a free vote, the numbers suggesting it would be very close, probably would not get up, therefore a clear plebiscite with 70% of the population in support of it, that would deal with it once and for all.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: Kieran, there will be a plebiscite and it’s called the 2016 election and at that election the people will be able to decide whether or not they want the Parliament to have a free vote on this matter or whether they want Tony Abbott to keep throwing around ideas about whether a referendum or a plebiscite…low cost, well the last estimates that we have is that it would be over $100 million to hold a plebiscite and who’s to say what he would do with this national opinion poll, essentially because that’s what it is, they’re still fighting about, as you say, whether they should have a referendum, they’re smacking each other down in public. I’m not surprised that the poll results we’ve seen today are reflecting the distaste for this government.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, in terms of the discussion that was had, a six hour discussion, the Prime Minister let everyone have their say and it was two to one against a free vote, isn’t he doing what his party has decided?

MICHELLE ROWLAND: But he hasn’t resolved the issue yet. This is a government that is still fighting amongst its own cabinet ministers and their not even narrow casting it they’re broadcasting it. They’re speaking to one another through the mainstream media and smacking each other down that way. That’s no way for an issue to be discussed and, you know, you mentioned, you know, are they doing, you know, is this doing any side a favour because it may have been lost in the Parliament? Well, firstly, we don’t know. We don’t know because we haven’t been privy to whether or not there is going to be a conscience vote from the government. The only thing we’ve been privy to is that they have denied the ability for the Liberal Party, for its individual members to make a decision on this matter. Now, who knows how it would have turned out, Kieran, who knows how the vote would have turned out? And I would say this, you know, this government likes to talk about the people having its say, well there is two ways that laws are made in this country, they’re made through the courts or they’re made through the Parliament. The court has said that this is a matter for the Parliament.

KIERAN GILBERT: and if you’re looking at the cost, as you mentioned earlier, with respect the cheapest cost would be to have a vote in the chamber down stairs as opposed to going to 15 million voters.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: and that would be the cheapest cost. Look, there is…

KIERAN GILBERT: …and you support a free vote as everyone knows…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …My views on that have been known for 5 years so there are no secrets around that. There is appeal in the community towards having some degree of say. Equally, there is concern amongst the community around the cost and the distraction and the overwhelming majority of people I speak to are very clear that they don’t want to see this as a dominant issue during an election campaign and want to see the next election fought on jobs and growth. They want to see it fought on national security and the safety of all Australians. They want to see it fought on the issues that interest and matter to everyday Australian households.

KIERAN GILBERT: And I think that should be the political goal of the government to try and get it on its bread and butter issue, but to do that you’d have to have this vote by the end of the year not in the election year, would you concede that to achieve what you want to do?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well these are matters to be debated and resolved within our ranks. Obviously, we were given the mission last week, in a sense, out of that party room meeting to consider the idea of a people’s vote, to listen to our electorates and to our supporters in our community and what I’m hearing from those supporters in the community is that they don’t want to see this issue distract from the next election.

KIERAN GILBERT: On this poll, it shows Malcolm Turnbull is still the preferred Liberal leader and I spoke to one cabinet minister and asked how big is the anti Turnbull group within your party? And the response was “not as big as the ‘I’d take the devil as leader if I can hold my seat’ group” ie that even though people might not like Malcolm Turnbull, that he is still very much an option if the polls remain where they are.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that’s somebody with perhaps a very colourful turn of phrase, Kieran, but I’m not hearing any talk of that nature. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Can Tony Abbott survive though if the polls continue at this level? 54-46 and, as you heard Mark Kenny say, if preferences were factored in as people were surveyed, it would be even worse than that.

SIMON BIRIMINGHAM: Well as I said at the outset, I’m confident that regardless of leadership questions and the like, I’m confident that if we can get the people focussed during the election campaign on matters of jobs and growth and national security, this is a government with a very strong story to tell and that’s what I want to make sure we do, to make sure people understand what we’ve done to bring down forward deficits, to reign in the level of debt that would have occurred under Labor, to create a better environment for small business investment and for growth in jobs, to open us up to the world through free trade agreements. There are lots of very positive things that this government has to stand on and I believe we can win the next election on the basis of those achievements.

KIERAN GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, just from feedback that I’ve received via social media and e-mails and so on, that people do want our national leaders to be focussing first and foremost on those matters. Economic issues always decide elections, don’t they?

MICHELLE ROWLAND: The thing is I think the people of Australia are focussed on these issues. I think the people of Australia are very concerned about, predominantly, and this is the message I get time and again, it is job insecurity. Even people who are employed now, their level of insecurity is extremely high and, you know, Simon wants to talk about the record, this is the highest unemployment rate that we’ve had in decades under this government; double the deficit. People who are in jobs now, no plan for the future, just looking at, just looking in to the past, just looking inwards within their own party and not looking out for the people of Australia…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …Triple the jobs growth last year compared with the last year of your government…

MICHELLE ROWLAND: …Mate, go and speak to the people of Greenway and ask them what’s concerning them. Let me tell you, you go out in to your community, people are concerned about not only their jobs, they’re concerned about the future of their children being able to find jobs of the future which is why this feedback has been given to Bill Shorten for some time and why he has picked it up as an essential plank of Labor’s forward looking policy agenda. This is what people are concerned about and I wouldn’t go resting on any laurels or anything about how good your government’s been because quite clearly the people of Australia disagree with you.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Nobody is resting on laurels, Michelle. What we are confident of is that with jobs growth significantly higher than it was under your government running at 23,000 per month with people giving a vote of confidence in the Labor market by virtue of the fact that the participation rate has gone up so markedly showing that people are actually entering the Labor market, wanting to seek work, that is a sign that we actually have an economy where confidence is growing.

KIERAN GILBERT: That’s all well and good, but you very rarely focus on it. I mean, you’re doing your best this morning, admirably, and well done on that, but the fact is the last week has been all over the shop.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look Kieran, the media coverage may not focus on it, but I can tell you that 99% of the government’s time and effort is spent focussing on real policies that are about delivering jobs and growth and security for Australian families.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: …well manufacturing workers in SA disagree with you…

KIERAN GILBERT: We’re out of time. Michelle Rowland, Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.