SUBJECT/S: Polls; Marriage Equality; Unemployment





KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, 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 somewhat of a turnaround as well.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well good morning Kieran. I’m confident that when we finally get to an election which is more than one year away and the public focus will hone in on the issues that matter and what matters most are issues around jobs and growth and this is a government that this year has created around 20,000 jobs per month, a government that is investing in record levels of infrastructure, whose invested in international relations with the delivery of free trade agreements that will help strengthen Australia’s position into 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.

GILBERT: But that hasn’t been the issue as you know over the last week. The big issue has been same sex marriage. This poll today had clear majority, 70 per cent, in every age group a majority in favour of legalising same sex marriage. Your side are all over the shop right now. It’s 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 publicly, essentially, over what you should do.

BIRMINGHAM: 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 would have liked but we took a step forward with the PM acknowledging this will be the last parliament in which Coalition members will be bound to support any position. 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 matter in the parliament, should it be a plebiscite, should it be a referendum? And obviously that is a matter being discussed publicly and internally because fundamentally it’s a largely a new debate that was not on the agenda until last Tuesday.

GILBERT: The Prime Minister is still not ruling out a referendum here and you’ve got the first law officer of the land saying on Sky News yesterday and last week that a referendum doesn’t make sense here. You’d need a negative question in order to change the Constitution which already allows the parliament to change this law.

BIRMINGHAM: 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 the issue and to resolve this issue without any need for a referendum, so 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 and in my opinion you need to have a vote that is as low cost as possible, and you want to keep the cost down because that’s one of the criticisms I’ve heard over the weekend from people. You want to make sure that it is as expeditious as possible and dealt with as quickly as possible.

GILBERT: Before the election?

BIRMINGHAM: I think there’s some merits to those discussions but let’s hear what the public has to say. 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 where everybody accepts 50 per cent plus one is the determining factor, and the issue rises or falls but is done and dusted once and for all on that date.

GILBERT: So you think a plebiscite and before the election? Because that would be the cheapest and the most simple.

BIRMINGHAM: I think 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, straightforward plebiscite. Anything else would be seen as tricky.

GILBERT: 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. The question to you though is, do you think that the government might be doing advocates of same sex marriage a favour here because if there was a vote in the 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 per cent of the population in support of it, that would deal with it once and for all.   

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: 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 they want the parliament to have a free vote on this matter, or whether they want Tony Abbott to keep throwing around ideas about 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 - because that’s what it is. They’re still fighting as you say about whether or not they should have a referendum, they’re smacking each other down in public. I’m not surprised that the poll results that we’ve seen today are reflecting the distaste for this government.

GILBERT: In terms of the 6 hour discussion that was had, the PM let everyone have their say, it was 2-1 against a free vote. Isn’t he doing what his party have decided?

ROWLAND: But he hasn’t resolved the issue yet. This is a government that is still fighting amongst its own Cabinet ministers and they’re not even narrowcasting 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 mentioned, “is this doing any side a favour because it may have been lost in the parliament.” Firstly, we don’t know. We don’t know because we aren’t 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. Who knows how it would have turned out Kieran, who knows how the vote would have turned out. I would say this, this government likes to talk about the people having their say. Well there’s 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 this is a matter for the parliament.

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 downstairs as opposed to going to 15 million voters.

BIRMINGHAM:  That would be the cheapest cost. Look, there is some public -

GILBERT: And you support a free vote as everyone does as well?

BIRMINGHAM: Well look, my views have been known for five years, so there is no secret around that. There is appeal in the community towards having some degree of say. Equally, there’s concern in the community about the cost and distraction and the overwhelmingly majority of people I speak to are certainly very clear that they don’t want to this as a dominant issue during an election campaign.

GILBERT: So this should be done beforehand?

BIRMINGHAM: They 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 Australians.

GILBERT: Sure. And I think, you know, that should be the political goal of the government to try and get it on its bread and butter issues. But to do that, you’d have to have this vote at the end of the year. Not by the election year. Would you concede that?


GILBERT: To achieve what you want to do?

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

GILBERT: On this poll it shows Malcolm Turnbull still the clear preferred 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,” even though that people might not like Malcolm Turnbull, he is still very much in option if the polls remain where they are.

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

GILBERT: Well, can Tony Abbott survive though if the polls continue at this level? Fifty four, forty six. And as you heard Mark Kenny say, if preferences were facted in as people were surveyed, it would be even worse than that.

BIRMINGHAM: Well as I said at the outset, I am confident that regardless of leadership questions or the like, I’m confident that if we can get the people focused 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. I want to make sure that people understand what we have done to bring down forward defecates to rain 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 this government has to stand on and I believe we can win the next election on the basis of those achievements.

GILBERT: Ok. And Michelle Rowland, I guess from feedback I have received via social media, emails and so on, that people do want our national leaders to be focusing first and foremost, on those matters. Economic issues always decide elections, don’t they?

ROWLAND: They do. And I can tell you -

GILBERT: Both sides need to move on from this. Is that the point?

ROWLAND: The thing is, I think that the people of Australia are focused 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’s job insecurity. It’s even people who are employed now, their level of job insecurity is extremely high and, you know, Simon wants to talk about the record. Well, this is the highest unemployment rate that we’ve had in decades under this government. Double the deficit. People who are worried about their own jobs now. No plan for the future, just looking at the past. Looking inwards within their own party, and not looking out for the people of Australia.

BIRMINGHAM: Triple the job growth last year compared with the last year of your last government.

ROWLAND: Mate, go speak to the members in Greenway and ask them what’s concerning them.

BIRMINGHAM: Job growth has been very strong. Twenty three thousand jobs a month -

ROWLAND: Let me tell you, you got out 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 for Labor’s forward-looking policy agenda. This is what people are concerned about, and I wouldn’t be going and resting on any laurels on how good your government’s been because quite clearly the people of Australia disagree with you.

BIRMINGHAM: No-ones resting on laurels, Michelle. What we are confident of is with job growths significantly higher than it was under your government, running a twenty three thousand per month with people giving a vote of confidence in the labour market by virtue of the fact that the participation rate has gone up so markedly, showing that people are actually entering the labour market, wanting to seek work. That is a sign that we have a government that there is confidence is growing.

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

BIRMINGHAM: Look, Kieran. The media coverage may not focus on it. But I can tell you that -

GILBERT: Six hours in the party room.

BIRMINGHAM: I can tell you that 99 percent of the government’s time and effort is spent focusing on real policies that are about delivering jobs and growth and national security for Australian families.

ROWLAND: And the manufacturing workers in South Australia disagree with you.

GILBERT: All right, we’re out of time. Michelle Rowland, Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.