12 August 2015
Transcript - #2015165, 2015

Interview with Fran Kelly, RN Breakfast

FRAN KELLY:

Joe Hockey, thanks for your time.

TREASURER:

Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Is this just a delaying tactic?

TREASURER:

No, not at all. Look Fran, you’ve got to understand the history of this in the Liberal Party Room. In 2004, John Howard took it to the Liberal Party Room that it should be locked in legislation that a marriage is between a man and woman. And that follows on from various High Court decisions saying it was a matter for the Parliament to determine that. Now, when he locked in the Party Room, there wasn’t any free flowing vote discussion in the Party Room, and the policy basically locked in all Liberal MPs. Last night the Liberal Party and National Party Room, the Coalition Joint Party Room, as it was back then, 2004, again on this occasion had a fulsome discussion, very fulsome, almost everyone spoke. The overwhelming decision was to stay with the policy that marriage is between a man and woman and that there should be no free vote. That was the overwhelming decision. But the Prime Minister noted at the end of the discussion that this would be the last Parliament where the Liberal Party and the Coalition Party Room was bound by policy, that is, that this would be the last Parliament where there is no free vote. And he would consider in consultation with others, being the Cabinet and so on, that we go to the next election looking at a popular vote so that the people, rather than the Parliament, can make a decision about whether marriage should be between a man and woman or be extended in definition.

FRAN KELLY:

So is that the Coalition’s firm policy now? Because, in the press conference last night, Penny Wong said the Prime Minister said several positions, but there certainly was wriggle room in the words. He said, this is the last term in which MPs could be bound on this issue, but he said I suppose we could have a plebiscite or constitutional referendum. Is this the Coalition’s policy to go to the next election, as far as you understand at the end of last night’s six hour debate, the Coalition will put this to the people?

TREASURER:

Well, my understanding, and I think everyone’s understanding, is what the Prime Minister actually said afterwards and again said this morning. This will be the last Parliament where the Coalition is bound by the policy. After the next election there will either be the opportunity for people to have a free vote, for there to be a plebiscite, where there is a question put to the Australian people, or that there will be a referendum to change the constitution, section 51 (xxi), where it’s defined as the Commonwealth having power over marriage. Now they’re the three options going forward. What this does illustrate is that the Party is sticking with its policy, that a marriage is between a man and woman, as was promised by many Members of Parliament before the last election to their communities. But, at the end of this Parliament, the Liberal Party and National Party, I assume both but in our case the Liberal Party, will take to the next election a policy that recognises either a free vote, a plebiscite, or a referendum, and we’ll have more to say about that in I’m sure the not too distant future.

FRAN KELLY:

Would you support the idea of a plebiscite being held in tandem with the next election? Because that’s what marriage equality campaigners are now suggesting should happen.

TREASURER:

No, because I think the next election has to be about issues that are of much broader interest to the Australian people. We have a plan…

FRAN KELLY:

This is of broad interest to a lot of people…

TREASURER:

It’s certainly an issue for many people, and people feel strongly about it and rightly so, rightly so. But the next election will be about many, many issues, and it is about a plan for the next three years. Fundamentally we have a plan. We are implementing our plan from the last election. At the next election we’ll offer the Australian people a plan for the next three years and beyond, and that will include a policy in relation to marriage.

FRAN KELLY:

Penny Wong has just told us - she says the next election there will be a vote on this and it will be the next election, and polls would suggest that there is general, large quite broad support for this issue in the electorate. Are you worried that at the next election you will get punished for not supporting or not allowing a free vote, and not supporting gay marriage?

TREASURER:

Hang on, as the Prime Minister said, last night, if you were starting from scratch this would have been a free vote. Because it’s not something that you would normally have a party position on. It would be a matter of conscience. So if you were starting from scratch it would have been a free vote. But we’re not starting from scratch because of the legacy of the Party Room, Joint Coalition Party Room decision in 2004. So we’re not starting from scratch. Either we overturn the Coalition Party Room position, which many MPs took to the last election, or we recognise that the Party is going to have a new policy going forward, which involves going to the Australian people in one form or another. Now Penny Wong, let’s be frank, and I respect her views, but Penny Wong and Julia Gillard were defending an entrenchment in legislation, of marriage between a man and woman just two or three years ago. So please, I’m not going to get a lecture on hypocrisy from Penny Wong or anyone else, because they were in fact arguing that it should be in the legislation and retained in legislation that marriage be between a man and a woman. So please don’t judge me by their standards in relation to marriage equality.

FRAN KELLY:

Feelings in your Party Room are deeply held. I understand, I’ve heard from others, Arthur Sinodinos for instance, gave an impassionate speech, said he can’t look gay people in the eye and say you are the son or daughter of a lesser god. I understand that Josh Frydenberg, who’s the Member for Kooyong, Robert Menzies’ old seat, reminded everybody that the founder of the Party allowed members a free vote on questions of marriage and divorce back in 1958. Is this a sign the Liberal Party’s become much more conservative?

TREASURER:

Not at all Fran. Not at all. Can I say to you, there was no one in that Party Room that was being bullied by a union, or being bullied by someone else to express a view. It was a powerful and incredibly successful Joint Party Room meeting, where individuals were able to stand up and say what they really thought without fear or favour. And you don’t get that on the other side of politics…

FRAN KELLY:

Should individuals be allowed to keep doing that? I know there was some acrimony around the thought that Ministers who have put their positions in support of gay marriage on the public record up until now, that they be urged not to do that and if they do still say that they support gay marriage or come out in support of that, that they be removed from the frontbench. What’s your view?

TREASURER:

No, no, no Fran. There is a Party Room policy and there is a process. And it’s long been part of the Liberal Party and National Party and the Joint Party Room, and that is, if there is a matter of conscience then there is a free vote. Now, the thing is that in 2004, this went from being a matter of conscience to party policy. There was a vote in favour of defining it in legislation. So that was it, it took it away from a free vote in 2004. Now, going forward, yes, unlike the Labor Party, in the Liberal Party and in the National Party you are entitled as a backbencher to cross the floor. And a number of our backbench have. If you’re on the frontbench, you’re expected to stick with party policy and that’s the way it is. But moving forward, we have now decided that it is important to give the Australian people a greater voice in this debate, unlike the Labor Party. Let’s just compare the two. The Labor Party is saying they will have a free vote. It is not their emphatic policy in the Labor Party to change the definition of marriage. They’re just saying they’re going to have a free vote. It is very rare for the Labor Party to have a free vote, that’s because they can’t work out what their definite policy position is. So please, no more lectures from the Labor Party or critics about how this process has gone. This has been a well-defined process. We have gone down a proper path that respects everyone’s views. The views expressed in the Party Room yesterday were extraordinary. Everyone was very civil, everyone was measured, everyone was thoughtful. Importantly, every community that we represent was given a view in the Party Room, and now we are moving on.

FRAN KELLY:

Joe Hockey, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.

TREASURER:

Thanks Fran.