Topics: Same-sex marriage

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much for coming along. It’s wonderful to see so many people here making a strong statement about marriage. Marriage is an important institution. It strengthens individuals, it strengthens families, it strengthens our society and the more people we believe who are married, who are in committed relationships, supporting one another, providing that mutual commitment to one another, the stronger our country will be. The better the opportunities will be to have long-lasting, stable, committed relationships. That’s why so many of us are indicating yes, are saying yes, in relation to the postal survey. Because for those of us who are married, we don’t believe that our marriage, that our long-term relationship, is any more important than anybody else’s. We value them all equally, and they should all be treated fairly and equally under the law. Over the coming couple of weeks, we encourage everybody to participate in the postal survey, to have their say, to engage in the debate respectfully. But importantly, we really do urge people to say yes. Say yes for equality, say yes for fairness, say yes for strengthening the institution of marriage, for giving more people the opportunity to benefit from making that life-long commitment to one another, from strengthening their relations in the bedrock of their family. That’s the message to everyone: participate, say yes, because it will make a difference.

Kelly O’Dwyer: I might also add a few words. So many of us are saying yes, because we do believe in strong and committed relationships, and marriage is the expression of those strong and committed relationships. We believe very strongly in the institution of marriage, and we want to see same-sex couples be able to have that commitment, make it publicly recognised, strengthen families, and strengthen the very fabric of our society. So we’re saying yes. We’re saying yes in the postal survey, and we’re encouraging other people to get out and say yes. The protection of religious institutions is very important. We respect our religious institutions, our churches, our mosques, our synagogues. It is important that they have the ability to determine what’s right for them. They should always be able to have the ability to determine who they marry, but we believe it’s very important as well for us as a nation, as a community, as members of the society, to strengthen the fabric of it by saying yes to marriage equality, and yes to those loving relationships that are all equal under the law.

Nigel Scullion: Thanks very much. The institution of marriage has a number of elements; a lawful element, there’s a number of elements. But the most important element that you are making a commitment to another individual, and you’re sharing a commitment in front of your peers. When you do something in front of your peers, it makes that commitment and it makes that institution stronger. You can’t have two sorts of equal, it’s as simple as that, and that’s why we can only have one institution and we can ensure that everybody gets access to the institution. That’s why I’ll be voting yes, and I encourage you to all vote yes. Can I say it is important to have your say, it’s very important to have your say, no matter what your views on the matter, and there have been some discussions around very remote places not being able to get access, so I’m working very closely with my colleagues Warren Snowdon and Pat Dodson to ensure no matter where you live in Australia, you’ll be able to get access and to be able to have your say. Because after all, that is all about equality. Thank you.

Darren Chester: Well, thank you Nigel, it’s great to be here with friends and colleagues, and ultimately I believe this is a decision that the Australian people are ready to make and looking forward to making. I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity for the Australian people to have their say on an issue which has divided the House, and in some ways has divided the community. But critically, this is an issue of respect. Respect for the quality of love between same-sex attracted couples, but also respect for the fact that people all have different views but need to participate in this debate in a moderate and respectful manner. I think there’s a lot of people in rural and regional Australia who’ve been waiting for this opportunity, and look forward to encouraging them to have their say. Personally, I’ll be voting yes, but I’ll be encouraging my community, the people of Gippsland, to make sure they have their say and we send a strong message back to the Parliament on Australia’s views in relation to this very important issue.

Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks everyone. We’re happy to take a couple of questions on this topic. If you want to ask questions about other topics, obviously, there are a number of ministers here and we can deal with those quite separately.

Journalist: Labor says- Minister, Labor says regardless of the outcome of this survey, they will be legislating same-sex marriage. What will you do?

Simon Birmingham: It’s important to respect the Australian people through this process. We’re giving everyone a say, we want to see a high turnout, a big participation, and we want to respect that outcome. I hope – all of us here hope – that it’s an outcome where people say yes, and that people say yes, and that then turns this into a really positive, unifying endorsement of change, and that’s the approach we’re taking.

Journalist: And if it’s no?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we need to respect the outcome, but we hope and are working to ensure that it’s yes.

Journalist: Can I ask the Attorney-General – is it accurate that the Queensland Liberal National Party stands with the Coalition for Marriage in supporting the no case?

George Brandis: Well, that’s a matter for the organisation. I’m not aware of that. The views of individual Queensland members of the Liberal National Party are a matter for them, of course, because on my side of politics, we respect the right of the Parliamentary wing to have a different view from the organisational wing. So, questions about the organisational wing really ought to be directed to it.

Journalist: But if an individual is sending those messages out on behalf of Coalition for Marriage, claiming that about the LNP, should they cease doing that?

George Brandis: Well, I’m not going to comment on matters that are a matter for the party organisation in Queensland.

Simon Birmingham: Anything else?

Journalist: One of the big arguments on the no side is to do with the Safe Schools Coalition, conflating that with the issue of same-sex marriage. I know you’ve already come out and said that they’re not connected, but it hasn’t really stopped that argument being put. How are you, as Education Minister, going to ensure that argument doesn’t get out of hand?

Simon Birmingham: I want to give reassurance to schools, school systems, parents around the country, that Sexual Discrimination Act provisions that allow for faith-based schools to teach according to the doctrines of their faith will in no way be changed by either this postal survey, or any of the legislation that’s come before the Parliament which would enact marriage equality. So people can have absolute confidence that in their school systems, where they are faith-based schools and they wish to employ according to the doctrines and tenets of their faith, where they wish to teach according to the doctrines and tenets of their faith, they will absolutely be entitled to continue to do so into the future.

Equally, in terms of other anti-bullying programs that may occur in schools, we should have confidence that our school systems, our school leaders deliver anti-bullying programs in ways that are focused on ensuring the inclusivity of children around the country, that we have tolerant, respectful learning environments, but in no way ought that be pushing any other agenda. Equally, in no way should people expect that any change is going to have any change to the impact of those anti-bullying programs. We see governments, like in New South Wales, ensuring that they’re comprehensive, that they address all the different issues, as they should, to create the right learning environment.

Journalist: Minister, a notable absentee today: the Prime Minister. Would you like to see him taking more of an active role in this? He’s a busy man, but he …

Simon Birmingham: The Prime Minister launched the Liberals and Nationals for Yes on Sunday. I think that was a pretty prominent role, a very strong and passionate endorsement that he gave. Nobody can be in any doubt about Malcolm Turnbull’s position, or as he likes to say, Malcolm and Lucy’s position. They’ll both be voting yes, they’ll both be saying yes, and I know that he will reinforce that at every opportunity.

Journalist: One for the Attorney General. You’ve all said until you’re blue in the face that there’s only one issue on the survey form. Will the outcome of the survey be legitimate if Australians decide on extraneous issues like freedom of speech and Safe Schools?

George Brandis: Well, the question on the survey form has been designed to be as simple and as straightforward as possible. Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? That is the question, and it is the only question on which the guidance of the Australian people is being sought. But I would urge people, as my colleagues have done, to express their view. If you believe that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, vote yes. If you want to support the existing definition of marriage and want to see no change, then vote no. But the most important thing is to participate. But what you’re participating in is one question, one question only: whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Like so many of my Coalition colleagues, I believe the time has come in Australia for there to be a resounding, emphatic yes vote in favour of that proposition. I would not like to see the debate diverted by extraneous considerations.

Journalist: And are those voters being misled, though? Are they being misled by being asked to consider those things?

George Brandis: This is a public debate in which people are at liberty to offer a variety of views, but at the end of the day there is only one question.

Journalist: Just on another matter, should Stuart Robert come clean and explain the structure of his business dealings?

Simon Birmingham: I think if we’re done with questions on marriage, thank you very much everybody.

Journalist: Can I just throw one more in? The legislation, the no side say they need to see the detail, they need to make sure the religious protections are there, if not in that legislation then in separate changes at state or federal level. I mean, what do you say to that? Is there anything being hidden here?

Simon Birmingham: Obviously, bills have been brought before the Parliament. We can say with absolute conviction that the people standing here support religious freedom. The people standing here will only allow a bill to pass the Parliament that guarantees the religious freedoms of Australians, that guarantees that churches, ministers, celebrants are able to operate according to their convictions, their values. We want to make sure that the laws that pass the Parliament respect religious freedom just as much that the laws we hope will ultimately pass the Parliament respect the loving relationships of same-sex couples, and give them equality before the law too.

Thanks everybody.