Subject: (Marriage Equality)
DAVID SPEERS: Simon Birmingham thanks for your time. The Prime Minister has made it clear that front benchers should resign if they can’t support what is the agreed party position now and that is no conscience vote and no support for gay marriage. So, what will you do, are you willing to resign over this or will you vote against any bill on same sex marriage?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well David, I’m a team player and I think a sensible compromise was struck by the Prime Minister yesterday in terms of there being a binding position accepting the view of the majority of the party room that there was a policy, a perception of a policy by many in the public over the last election cycle, sticking to that for this term, but acknowledging that this is the last term that there will be a binding vote on Liberal MPs, therefore we can all look forward to be able to exercise our consciences in future and, of course, at the next election voters will be well aware of the fact going through that that MPs will be exercising their conscience in future.
DAVID SPEERS: We’ll get to the next election in a moment, but what did you think about the way things happened yesterday, the fact that it was a joint party room decision rather than a Liberal party room decision?
SIMON BIRIMINGHAM: David I’m not terribly inclined to dwell on the history of yesterday, I’m somebody who always likes to look forward. My view is that it is a good outcome, that people are going to have that free vote from the next election, be able to exercise their conscience, that the Prime Minister has been so clear in that regard in his comments about the fact that this is the last Parliament of a binding vote. So, I welcome that, I thought it was a good outcome. Yesterday was a thoughtful, deliberative meeting where lots of well-considered positions were put by colleagues who respected the differences of opinion in the room.
DAVID SPEERS: So how would you articulate the government’s position on this now?
SIMON BIRIMINGHAM: I think that the government’s position is that this is the last term of a binding vote, that there will be in future a free vote afforded to members of the Liberal Party and that when it comes to how the process of gay marriage is resolved, there is an open question on the table now, should it be legislation, should it be a plebiscite? We’ll have a national conversation about that. That’s fine, that’s up to be resolved. They’re really separate questions though; do you have a free vote? That question has been resolved. Not yet, but after the next election we will…
DAVID SPEERS: …so it’s your understanding that after the election, you will have a free vote in the next term, whether there is a plebiscite or not before it, when the legislation comes to the house, you will have a free vote?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think it is very clear. The PM said that this is the last Parliament with a binding vote. The result of that is that, of course, in future Parliaments there will not be. I welcome that, I’m very pleased, and I think it is a sensible outcome in that regard. The other question is really a matter of process and we’ll see where that goes.
DAVID SPEERS: So what is your view on that? Is a plebiscite necessary on this issue?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s not necessary, but do the public want it? Will it be welcomed? Well I look forward to hearing the consideration of the Australian public in that regard.
DAVID SPEERS: Do you have a view on this though?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: David I don’t want to get too far ahead of us on this one. I’ve had a long public position, 5 plus years, in regard to this issue. So my views on the topic have been well-known around same sex marriage, my views on a conscience vote have been well-known. I’ve not given a lot of consideration in the past to the idea of a plebiscite or a public vote, let’s think about that and see what the public has to say.
DAVID SPEERS: Do you take Malcolm Turnbull’s take that this drags out the issue? It will be now fought at the election between the government and Labor and then when you have a plebiscite, when you choose to go down that path in the next term, you’ve got another divisive community debate about this as well and this crowds out a lot of other issues at the moment.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: When it comes to the government’s decision about whether or not to back in behind a plebiscite, I think we all have to take account of all of the political considerations and that’s a valid consideration as to how it plays out at the election, but it might be that the public are very warming in embracing the idea of a plebiscite, let’s wait and see.
DAVID SPEERS: For you personally, this is one of those difficult issues where clearly you have a view but you’re a team player, as you say, what do you say to your friends, gay couples that you’ll be talking to no doubt wanting the government to take a different position on this, what do you say to them?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That a big step forward was made yesterday, that the Liberal Party, for the first time in my 8 years, had a proper considered discussion on this matter, that thoughtful contributions were made and at the end of it there was an acknowledgement that perhaps there never should have been a binding vote position, but there has been, but that will come to an end at the next election.
DAVID SPEERS: The Prime Minister has handled this well?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look I think the Prime Minister has got us to a good outcome and I’m very pleased about that.
DAVID SPEERS: So those who take a different view within this party on this issue to the Prime Minister should get behind the position now and stop agitating for any change this term?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think it is pretty clear as to how we’re going to handle it on the free vote issue. There is obviously another process issue to be considered about this question mark over a plebiscite so the discussion doesn’t end here and there are some big questions still to be answered.
DAVID SPEERS: Simon Birmingham thanks very much for joining us.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, David.