SUBJECTS: Marriage Equality; savings measure; changes to media ownership legislation

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, the Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. I want to start on the issue of same sex marriage. This morning Simon Birmingham couldn't have been clearer, I asked him: is there any chance the Government could change its position and support a conscience vote on same sex marriage in Parliament if the plebiscite is knocked over. He said no unequivocally. Plebiscite or no change.

Well that's disappointing because we all know that even Malcolm Turnbull doesn't support a plebiscite and he's said that as much when the party room decided this while Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister. In his heart of hearts he does not believe it. He has articulated the same, that he doesn't think that this is an optimal outcome but let's face it, this was all about Malcolm Turnbull getting the Prime Ministership. Doing a deal, getting the numbers to become Prime Minister. And let's be clear about this, there is no way that we can have confidence in Malcolm Turnbull being able to prosecute this case in a plebiscite.


He's got poor form on this, let's face it, with the Republic, and going into the last election. We know how much money this will cost as well and with the Government talking about Budget repair that's a bit rich for them. But look, Malcolm Turnbull does not believe in this. He went to the Australian people actually saying something that he doesn't believe in.

GILBERT: But if you look at it from a different perspective, him trying to bring his party with him to a difficult issue for them, he would look at that and think this was resolved under Tony Abbott, why am I going to relegate this, I'll use that policy, the plebiscite, and argue the case for it. He said yesterday he'll vote yes, his wife will vote yes. Isn't it time for those advocating change to get on board and start making the case otherwise it will be split and then lose again.

ROWLAND: To the contrary, this is about Malcolm Turnbull being led by the extremists in his own party. He has indicated, allegedly, that he will go out and support this case. I have no confidence in him doing that. He's asking the Australian people to now support something that he doesn't believe in and let's face it, parliamentarians are there to do their jobs. If we want to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a public opinion poll then that is for this Government to answer for, but we know that we have the capacity to actually be able to resolve this issue today, there's been other chances for us to do it, and he's ignored all those.

GILBERT: The reality is they won the election as well as Labor didn't win, so surely they have a right to deliver the policy they took to the people?

ROWLAND: This is a good point though, what is the policy that they took to the people?

GILBERT: The plebiscite, it's very clear.

ROWLAND: But how is that going to be reflected in legislation? What is the question going to be? This Government is now urging Labor and everyone else this parliament to go ahead and support a policy of theirs for which they actually have a question, we don't actually know what the question is going to be.

GILBERT: But can I ask you, if this is in the situation of either supporting a plebiscite and having the chance of legalising same sex marriage by early next year, or not, and therefore having a potential delay of three years, Labor is willing to do that?

ROWLAND: I'm not going to cop Labor being accused of delaying bringing in marriage equality.

GILBERT: But that's what you'd be doing.

ROWLAND: This is what the Government alleges will be done, but the reality is that they have had the capacity to be able to let this be decided by the parliament once and for all on several occasions. They've got the capacity to do that again in this parliament. They should put it to a vote and see where the cards fall.

GILBERT: Even though their own partyroom decided one way and even though they've taken it to the Australian people along those lines?

ROWLAND: And even though the Prime Minister, in his heart of hearts, he does not back this option.

GILBERT: I want to ask you about the savings measures. More than $6 billion, it's part of more than 25 reforms the Prime Minister and the Government are going to put to Parliament this week. Where's Labor standing on this, in particular in terms of the savings measures right now?

ROWLAND: Well we'll support the savings that we said we would support as we went into the election, but again Kieran, we remain waiting for the legislation. The Government says it’s going to introduce it, we will examine that legislation and make sure that it aligns not only with our commitments but also with the principles that we have very clearly articulated and don't forget, it's been two months since the election. Labor hasn't been sitting around, we have been going around into the community, Bill Shorten has been very active going around listening to people and their concerns. So we will take into account not only our commitments that we took to the Australian people but also what people's concerns are for the future.

GILBERT: That includes the cut to the Newstart supplement, is there much angst within Labor about that particular cut because that was obviously the clean energy supplement as its described. The Government scrapped it, you said you were going to support that cut in the election campaign but obviously not all of your colleagues agree with that.

ROWLAND: Well again, we've committed ourselves to certain savings and we will honour those commitments. We need to see what is actually in the Bill, what the impact of all the measures will end up being on the Australian people and we'll make our decisions based on that. But don't forget too Kieran, we have gone into this period after the election actually formulating a substantial package of savings. They include over $80 billion of savings that we took into the election as part of our comprehensive suite of policies and it remains for the government to be serious about whether it wants to take those up and commit itself to Budget repair. 

GILBERT: As we start this next parliament, do you believe that your leadership, your team, understand the responsibility right now to have some sort of co-operation with the government in order to get the Budget back on track because if we have the same hyper-partisan politics we've had in recent times, there'll be no progress.

ROWLAND: There's no question that Labor understands its role here is not only to be an effective opposition but to be an effective and credible alternative government. That is not lost on anyone in the Labor team. We've been united under Bill Shorten, that is the very clear direction in which he's taking us so I can assure you that's not lost on anyone. We will continue listening to the Australian people as well. Even as we saw in the Territory result over the weekend, you stop listening to people, one term governments will fall and this government very nearly fell itself under Malcolm Turnbull two months ago.

GILBERT: I want to ask you, just finally, changes to the media ownership laws. As Shadow Communications Minister, is Labor going to support those measures which are going to be put to Parliament as part of those series of reforms the Prime Minister is going to seek to have passed this week?

ROWLAND: Well the Government has indicated it will reintroduce a Bill that lapsed as a result of the election and that contains two primary parts. Firstly, the 75 per cent audience reach rule which Labor has indicated we would support, in fact we were going to do that in government. The other measure on which we said we would remain to be convinced and we kept an open mind before the election is the 2 out of 3 rule. So our position is that we will form our position based on the evidence before us, we made sure that we've gone out and we're continuing to listen to the licensees in the sector, we're listening to other people who have particular concerns about it.

GILBERT: But you're inclined to support it, the change to the 2 out of 3 rule?

ROWLAND: We'll make a decision based on the evidence, and the government is going to reintroduce its Bill which will probably be in substantially the same form, although Malcolm Turnbull had said previously, he indicated some openness to splitting it, they've now said it's a package, that's what the government intends to do - present it as a package, but we'll consider it based on the evidence. One of the primary arguments in favour of removing this rule is that the internet has basically made all of these diversity rules redundant. The counter argument to that is when you look at 7 out of the top 10 media sites in Australia, they're still owned by the traditional media companies so it's really the same voices on different platforms. So we will weigh up all those issues and we'll see when this is being reintroduced what's in the Bill.

GILBERT: Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Appreciate your time, thank you.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.