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Transcript of interview with Kim Landers: ABC AM: 11 October 2016: same-sex marriage; Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT

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11 October 2016

Topics: same-sex marriage; Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT.


KIM LANDERS: The Attorney-General George Brandis joins me now from our Parliament House studio. Senator, Good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Kim.

KIM LANDERS: The Government’s election commitment to hold a same-sex marriage plebiscite looks doomed to fail. What will you do next?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, today is the opportunity for the Labor Party to show that it really does believe in marriage equality or whether it’s just playing a political game here. We took a commitment to the election to deal with this issue promptly in the new parliament, by way of a plebiscite and we have been as good as our word.

KIM LANDERS: Well Labor’s been dropping huge hints that this wasn’t going to be its position so what do you do now?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve introduced legislation to establish a plebiscite, we’ve released our proposed, or an exposure draft I should say, of proposed amendments to the Marriage Act that we would introduce in to the Parliament after they have been reviewed by a parliamentary committee in the event the plebiscite were to pass. Contrary to what Tanya Plibersek said in your interview a few moments ago, three weeks ago I had a discussion with Mr Dreyfus and with Terri Butler from the Labor Party, in my office, and I said to them, I said to them nine times - what is it that you would like us to change about this plebiscite bill to secure your support - and nine times they refused to answer my question. So it’s all very well for Tanya Plibersek to speak about her commitment to marriage equality but when it comes to actually taking the steps to ensure that we achieve that outcome, the Labor Party is nowhere to be seen.

KIM LANDERS: You mentioned proposed amendments to the Marriage Act which include re-defining marriage as being between two people rather than a man and a woman, allowing religious bodies and organisations to be able to refuse to provide goods and services

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for a same-sex marriage. There are reports this morning though that that doesn’t go far enough for some of your conservative colleagues.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, in the reports in the media this morning there are some more conservative people who say it doesn’t go far enough, and there is a report that Mr Croome, a spokesman from the LGBTI community who says it goes too far. So whenever there is an intensely contested area of policy, if you have people on the extreme edges of the debate saying that it doesn’t go far enough in opposite directions, it probably tells you you’ve hit a sweet spot in the middle.

KIM LANDERS: So are you saying to some of your more conservative colleagues you are reassuring them are you, for example small businesses would be protected if they don’t want to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No I’m not saying that. This is an exposure draft, I’m at pains to emphasise, so we can discuss it with the Labor Party, we can discuss it with anyone who is interested in discussing it. But this exposure draft shows where my thinking has brought me having, at length spoken, to both church groups and conservative groups on the one hand and LGBTI groups on the other. And it, I think, strikes the right balance between making the simple amendment to reverse the 2004 limitation of marriage to a man and a woman and recognising overseas same-sex marriages, while at the same time, providing appropriate protection to ministers of religion and a right of conscientious objection to civil celebrants…

KIM LANDERS: You’ve referred…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …and protection for churches and religious bodies, but not beyond that.

KIM LANDERS: You referred a moment ago to the extremes on both sides of the debate. So are you saying to some of your more conservative colleagues that they are being a bit extreme if they then come to you and say, well look we don’t think that these enshrine enough protections?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there is a range of views and in a debate as contested as this has been, and we know what an intense this has been, of course there will be a range of views from those who are adamant that they would not like to see any change to the existing law at all, to those on the other side of the question, who wouldn’t want to allow for any religious exemption or protection of conscientious objection at all. As I said to you Kim a moment ago, I think this legislation has landed in the sweet spot in the middle where there are protections for churches and ministers of religion and a recognition of the right of conscientious objection by civil celebrants but the exemptions don’t go beyond the ceremony of marriage, or matters reasonably incidental to it.

KIM LANDERS: So sweet spot or not, Labor is not going to support, it would seem, this legislation. So therefore I ask you, how serious is your commitment to introducing same-sex marriage in Australia? For example, if the legislation is blocked would you personally try to persuade the Liberal Party to allow for example, a free vote in the Parliament on a private members bill for marriage equality?

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ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Kim, I am a member of the first Australian Government that has prosecuted this issue. John Howard didn’t, Kevin Rudd didn’t, Julia Gillard didn’t, Tony Abbott didn’t. Malcolm Turnbull has done so and I am the first Attorney-General in a government that has prosecuted the issue. So it is all very well for the Labor Party to go through the motions of saying they believe in this. We could have this outcome,the public opinion polls tell us very clearly, we could have this outcome four months from today if the Labor Party put the political games aside and really committed themselves to the issue.

KIM LANDERS: If I can turn to another issue, the Royal Commission in to Youth Detention in the Northern Territory begins its first public hearings today. It has just 25 sitting days, it’s due to report in March. Would you be open to giving commissioners extra time if they request it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it’s important that the Royal Commission deal with the business before it as efficiently and at the least cost that it can. That having been said, I indicated to Justice White and Mr Gooda at the time they were appointed that the Government would always be open to an approach from them if they felt that they needed more time. Now, we haven’t had such an approach as you say it’s only the first hearing day but if next year they come to me and say we need an extension of time - just as we extend the time on the McClellan Royal Commission and they Heydon Royal Commission, then we would look sympathetically at that.

KIM LANDERS: And if the Royal Commission is extended and the cost goes beyond the estimated $50 million, will the Commonwealth pick up the tab for the extra time?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There is an intergovernmental agreement between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Government to share the cost fifty-fifty.

KIM LANDERS: Attorney- General thank you very much for speaking to AM.