ABC Breakfast: Marriage Equality; National Security

27 May 2015





SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality; National Security.


VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Marriage equality has now been firmly placed on Australia's political agenda following the overwhelming yes vote in Ireland, Federal Labor will introduce a Private Member's Bill next week to legalise same-sex marriage.


MICHAEL ROWLAND: Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek says Labor MPs will be free to vote with their conscience and she's challenging the Coalition to do the same. But the Government is accusing Labor of attempting to hijack the issue. Well joining us now in the studio is Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten good morning to you.




ROWLAND: Is the Labor Party trying to hijack this very sensitive issue?


SHORTEN: Not at all. I just think the time is right for marriage equality to be legalised in Australia. That's why I will move next Monday that we amend the Marriage Act to allow marriage equality because the time's right. The arguments against marriage equality just don't stack up in my opinion.


ROWLAND: The debate has been going on for some time now, why the sudden sense of urgency here in Australia?


SHORTEN: Well I voted for the legislation back in 2012 and last year I advised the Australian Christian Lobby at their forum that I believe it was entirely possible for someone of Christian views to also support marriage equality. There's no doubt, though, that the Irish referendum on the weekend has again renewed debate in Australia and my view is that we should grab the opportunity to have the Parliament introduce marriage equality and legalise it in Australia.


ROWLAND: Are the numbers there on the floor of the House to get this Bill, this Private Member's Bill through?


SHORTEN: I don't know. If Tony Abbott doesn't allow a free vote for the Liberal Party I think it's a lot harder, but I think the argument is there, the case is there for marriage equality. I have friends who can't get married in this country and I have other friends who can and I don't think that people's ability to get married should be determined based upon their sexual preference.


ROWLAND: You have Labor MPs of course who still firmly oppose same-sex marriage. Are you prepared for some of your colleagues to cross the floor on this issue?


SHORTEN: Yes, I am. I understand that some people of deep religious conviction don't support marriage equality, so I think it should be a free vote. But what I would also ask is that all parliamentarians are allowed to have a free vote. So I will introduce the Bill on Monday, it will be seconded by my Deputy, Tanya Plibersek and then we will have a debate in the Parliament and I would like to see the Liberal Party allow a free vote for their MPs.


ROWLAND: Of course the Labor Party was in Government not too long ago. You had a Prime Minister in Julia Gillard who was firmly against same-sex marriage. If your views were so strong then and that of your colleagues why didn't you try to force the issue when you had the power to do so on the Treasury benches?


SHORTEN: Well we did have a vote and I did vote for it.


ROWLAND: But why didn't you push for it in a stronger sense?


SHORTEN: Because there weren't enough votes for it. But I supported marriage equality when it first came to the Parliament and I support it now and now I'm in the fortunate privileged position to be the leader of the Labor Party. So I believe that we should have the debate. I understand that I'm the first Labor leader to propose this into the Parliament, but I think it's important that I do it because I believe that couples who love each other should be able to get married regardless of their sexual preference.


ROWLAND: How much of this is an attempt by you to avoid a potentially damaging, bitter debate on the floor of the ALP national conference in July on the same-sex marriage issue ?


SHORTEN: I believe in a free vote but I also fundamentally believe in marriage equality. Our party will keep discussing these issues, it is party policy. What I'm interested in is that because of the Irish referendum, because of my views, which I've held over a number of years, because of the strong support within the Labor Party for marriage equality, that we now need to move forward. For me the issue isn't just about political tactics and, you know, the day to day. What is the argument against marriage equality? If we genuinely believe that people in this country - that being gay is not wrong, and it is not wrong, then what is the argument against excluding people from the ability to marry someone they love?


ROWLAND: To another issue now, The Age this morning on its front page is reporting the wife and children of terrorist Khaled Sharrouf want to return to Australia and reclaim their residency in this country, should they be allowed back?


SHORTEN: I'm very concerned about the children of this terrorist Sharrouf. I think we've all seen some of the shocking images or many of us, I should say, have seen some of the shocking images. These children are in a war zone seeing terrible things. I frankly think it is child abuse to put children into that situation. Obviously we need to be briefed. We've seen some of the headlines in the newspapers but making those children safe is important.


ROWLAND: So should they be allowed back in Australia based on that argument?


SHORTEN: I don't think any of us can understand someone who is a parent putting their children in that position. I just think it defies belief. Now I need to get briefed about all the ins and the outs and what's happening. I also need to make it very clear that whilst I'm concerned about the fate of these children, and I don’t understand how a parent could do this to their children, anyone who’s become a foreign fighter, anyone who has gone overseas has broken the law and they should feel the full force of the law, but I do wonder if the children are actually in a different category.


ROWLAND: Okay as you know the Government wants to strip terror suspects of their Australian citizenship if they are dual terrorists, do you support that?


SHORTEN: We haven't seen the Government -


ROWLAND: Dual citizens, rather.


SHORTEN: Sorry, I appreciate your question. Again, we will take a consistent and constructive approach when it comes to national security and fighting terror. The Government has sent out a range of messages in the last few weeks and days and indeed as late as last night it appears that the Government is split about the best way to handle some of these measures. What we will do is we will talk to the Government. We will talk to the security agencies, we will read the discussion paper, but what I can confidently submit to Australian people is that when it's come to national security, the Labor Party that I lead, we've got the balance right and we are making sure we do everything we can to keep Australians safe.


ROWLAND: Do you support that concept though in principle, if you're a terrorist or suspected terrorist you do not deserve to be an Australian citizen?


SHORTEN: Under both governments we've revoked passports of people. The law currently says that if you're a citizen who fights for a foreign power you could have your citizenship revoked. I don't believe that if you're a dual citizen and you're fighting for a terrorist organisation you should automatically assume that you can have the rights of Australian citizenship. But let's work through the detail. What people want from their Parliament is steady, long-term sensible propositions but we do so from the principle that the national security of Australians is paramount, and we will do as we've done for the last two years, we will work with the Government in the best interests of Australian people.


ROWLAND: And just finally and quickly, if you are a sole Australian citizen fighting for IS should you also be stripped of your citizenship?


SHORTEN: Well this is a hypothetical question at this point, we'll have to see what the Government says. But my principle position is that the Parliaments make the law but I think there's a role for courts to determine the answer to some of the questions you're asking, not just politicians. As a parliamentarian we should make the laws, that's what we're elected to do. But when it comes to interpreting the laws and handing out penalties and punishments, there's also a role for the courts in this. But as you know Michael, we're sort of seeing what did they argue about in the Liberal government last night or the night before, what are they actually proposing? Again I just want to say to Australians, for us it's about being consistent, constructive, prioritising national security, that's the approach we've taken and we'll work this issue through with the Government and the security agencies.


ROWLAND: Okay, Bill Shorten, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning.


SHORTEN: Lovely, Michael.