Monday, June 16, 2008

Brandis Interview Transcript

Apologies for the delay in getting this transcribed, but as Glen Milne quoted from it in The Australian today, I thought I'd better post it now!!

An interview with Shadow Attorney General George Brandis

The Rainbow Report, Thursday June 5, 2008 – 7-8pm, Joy 94.9 Melbourne


DP: Doug Pollard: Executive Producer/Presenter, The Rainbow Report

PD: Pete Dillon, Producer, John Faine, ABC Radio

RW: Richard Watts, Editor, Melbourne Community Voice

GB: Senator George Brandis, Shadow Attorney General

DP: Why has the coalition decided, after originally saying they’d give bipartisan support to this, why has the coalition suddenly decided to throw on the brakes for a while?

GB: We haven’t decided to do that at all, and I really find it very offensive that the suggestion is being made that that is what we’re doing. Let’s remember what the coalition’s position is. First of all, the coalition supports the bill in principle. Secondly, last night the coalition voted for the bill in the House of Representatives. Thirdly, when the bill comes to the senate, it will be referred to a senate enquiry.

That is absolutely routine, particularly with a complex piece of legislation as this is. You know, people are, in a way that frankly I think is dishonest, are misrepresenting the coalitions position by saying even though the coalition is supporting the bill, even though the coalition voted in favour of the bill in the house of representatives last night, because the bill is going to a senate committee, an utterly commonplace procedure, the coalition is somehow seeking to delay the bill.

DP: Well, is this likely to take the process of approving the bill beyond the end of the financial year, or is it likely to be cleared in time to meet the governments timetable?

GB: I think it likely, because the bill we’re speaking of now is going to be considered in conjunction with the larger omnibus bill which hasn’t been introduced yet, that it will go beyond the first of July, yes.

DP: Can we look at some at some of the specific things raised by some members of your party during the debate. There’s some confusion I think in people’s minds about exactly what interdependency means . . .

GB: Well, could I ask, before we go to those specifics, and I’m very happy to answer those specifics, can I make a more general point.

DP: Sure

GB: There are many many people in the coalition, in both the Liberal party and the National party, who have been urging this course for years. For years and years and years. And I think if I may say so with respect, it’s a little unfair of you to play speeches like that from Mr Perrett which we heard with the very eloquent sentiments he expressed, but not play speeches by people like Petro Georgiou, extracts from speeches by people like Christopher Pyne, or indeed the speech of Dr Nelson himself, which were just as glowing and moving in their affirmation of the rights of gay people to equal treatment . . . .

PD: Senator, with all due respect, I want to take you up on that point. We’re very well aware, as second class citizens, from a government of eleven years, how we sit with people like Petro Georgiou, who have constantly displayed an understanding of social justice. When you’ve got somebody like Donna Vale, who is a member of your team, questioning the very idea that what this is going to do is create equality, I have to ask, clearly there’s not full support from your team for the fact that this is going to bring us a little closer to equality.

GB: Well so it should, I mean, for God’s sake, I’ve spent years of my political life advancing this very cause, and many many many people in the coalition have done the same and it’s a matter of regret to me that it wasn’t done years ago, in fact well before the time of the Howard government, why it wasn’t done at an earlier time, decades ago, at the time the anti-discrimination laws were put on the statute book. But that’s not the point, the point is that you well know that both in the coalition and for that matter in the Labor Party here are very conservative people who have a different view from you and me.

PD: But why, as elected members of our parliament, why should those views be expressed and not those of their constituents?

GB: Well I think that the views they express, views that I don’t share, are views that are held by many of their constituents. And that’s my point. Any group seeking to be treated. . .to be the beneficiary of a law reform which is overdue, as this is, has nevertheless got to confront the fact that in a democracy there is going to be a body of conservative opinion, and those people are entitled to the expression of their views as well.

DP: Senator, with the greatest of respect I entirely agree with you there, and it’s certainly true that many members of your party, including yourself, have fought for these kind of things for a long time, but the point is that your party as a whole is not going down the direction where you and Petro Georgiou are going, your party is going down a different route. Your party is going down the route of trying to equate our relationships with interdependent relationships rather than accepting them as the equivalent of de facto relationships.

GB: Can I tell you that when I was formulating the Opposition’s position in relation to this issue, I consulted widely, I consulted with conservative groups, I consulted with church groups, I consulted with family organizations and I also consulted with the gay community. I consulted with the gay and lesbian rights lobby, I consulted with the gay and lesbian business association in Sydney for example. And I specifically asked them, do you have a problem if the reach of this legislation is broadened to include other interdependency relationships, and they said to me no, we don’t!

DP: Senator, nobody minds if you extend the reach of the legislation to include interdependent relationships, I think what people worry about is, there seems to be a move afoot, in listening to the speeches that were made yesterday, to bundle up same-sex relationships in with interdependent relationships, rather than in with de facto relationships.

GB: Ah, I think, er, that might be what, that might be a fair interpretation of a couple of those speeches, I’m not saying it’s not, but you know, I’ve got the running of this in the senate, not anyone who spoke in that debate last night.

DP: Right. You mentioned that this is likely now to run on until September or beyond. . .

GB: Well I didn’t say September or beyond but I should say in all fairness and candour, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, because most of the law reform is going to be found in the omnibus bill because that apparently deals with, as I’m advised by the Attorney Generals office, about 60 or 70 different acts, the bill before the parliament now deals with nine.

DP: Well, OK, if I could just quote from John Challis of ComSuper, he said he was looking forward to these measures passing because then he could finally die knowing his partner was provided for. That could happen between now and September. Will you give a commitment on behalf of the coalition that if these changes take so long to go through you will backdate them to, say, June 30th?

GB: I’m not in a position to give that commitment because no such decision has been made by the coalition, but to give you some comfort though, can I point out that that suggestion was made in the house of representatives last night by Malcolm Turnbull, and it is an issue which we have in contemplation, but we haven’t actually made a decision along those lines. And I know that Malcolm had a talk to the Attorney General Robert McClelland about that after he spoke.

RW: Given that you’ve said you’ll have the running of this in the senate . . . .

GB:….from the Opposition point of view….

RW: ….can we have a commitment from you that you do recognize and equate same-sex couples with de facto couples rather than lumping us in with interdependency?

GB: Well, I approach this in the basis that same-sex couples and de facto heterosexual couples ought to be treated equivalently. Now, having said that, I’m not going to give a commitment to a particular linguistic usage, because one of the purpose we’re going to have the senate enquiry is to see what the appropriate way is of dealing with the entitlements of these different groups, so that we can also extend the entitlements to interdependent relationships of a different character. But my own approach to this has always been not to regard there as being a moral or ethical distinction between a same-sex couple and a heterosexual de facto couple.

DP: Senator, we’ve had quite a few SMS messages in from listeners, I wonder if I could put a couple of those questions to you. This one’s from Matthew, “I’ve been working in the federal public service for three years now, I joined coming from the South Australian public service where they recognize same-sex couples for public sector superannuation, and so I’ve lost out and so has my partner I making the move to the federal public service, that’s among the reasons why I’m going back to South Australia. Why is the coalition refusing to fix this anomaly, or is it because really deep down you think the federal pubic service shouldn’t include gay employees?”

GB: Well, that’s a silly observation, and I don’t doubt that the person who sent you that text message feels very hurt about unequal treatment and they should feel hurt because it’s unfair that people should be treated unequally, but can I tell you, this is merely a question of timing. If the government had produced this legislation three months ago then it would probably be through by now.

PD: Senator, again with all due respect, your government had eleven years to produce a similar piece of legislation.

GB: …and can I tell you I think we should have, just as I think the Labor government before the Howard government should have, or the Liberal government before that government should have done, se we are in the closing weeks and months of this very very long campaign, that has been run by people on both sides of politics, and I think it is, with all due respect, a little mean spirited to suggest ill-intention on the part of the coalition in wanting to get this right.

DP: Well this is certainly the perception of quite a lot of our listeners.

GB: I think it is probably the perception of quite a lot of your listeners, because they’ve only heard one side of the story, the side of the story that suggests this is a delaying tactic.

PD: So you’re now accusing our community of being ignorant as well?

GB: Did I say that?

PD: You’re saying that we don’t read the Age, that we don’t listen to Parliament, that none of us can pick up Hansard and read it…

GB: Did I say that your community is ignorant?

PD: Well you’ve said that we’re only hearing one side of the argument – that’s an unfair comment senator.

GB: I think only one side of the argument has dominated this. It’s a very simple point! A really simple point. Is referring a complex piece of legislation to a senate committee, an utterly commonplace thing to do, a delaying tactic?

DP: But isn’t it true, senator, that’s there’s already a house standing committee on family, community, housing and youth that’s looking into some of these issues, particularly support for carers?

GB: Well with all due respect to house of representatives committees, these sorts of bills are always bills that are looked at by senate committees, that’s what senate committees do, that’s the great thing about the senate, its committee system, and I think most of your listeners would be aware of that.


DP: One question from a listener here : “Perhaps one way forward to financial equality would be to remove partner benefits altogether for all relationships and in that fashion everybody would be in the same boat that same sex couples have been rowing all these years.”

GB: Well I don’t think anybody’s suggesting that. I think the way to go forward and what I would like to see is people in same sex relationships face no form of discrimination in relation to their financial, taxation, superannuation affairs whatever, and that’s our objective, and I accept in good faith that it’s the government’s objective too.

PD: Senator, I’d just like to draw your attention to the amendment put by Brendan Nelson, the leader of the opposition, which amongst other things said, “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House affirms its commitment to the central importance of the institution of marriage to Australian society.” Could you answer me and our listeners really really simply how a change in a piece of legislation regarding superannuation will in any way question or challenge of chip away at the institution of marriage?

GB: I don’t think it will, But you’ve got to understand why an amendment like that was moved.

PD: No, I don’t understand, that’s why I’m asking you.

GB: Well I’ve already given you a direct answer. But can I explain why an amendment like that was moved? Because there are many people in the community who do have that concern, who d have a concern that legislation like this will erode the status of marriage. Now I am not one of those people. I don’t think it will. But I think people who do have that concern are entitled to be reassured about what the oppositions position is.

DP: What it seems to say to us is, we want to continue to enshrine, as a pinnacle of Australian society, a discriminatory institution, marriage.

GB: Well this gets into a different argument, and that is the argument about whether or not same-sex relationships should be treated as the equivalent of marriages, and I don’t believe they should, that’s not the oppositions position, you’ve got to . . . well you don’t have to . . . but I would think that the traditional and cultural centrality of marriage in all human civilization has been recognized to be a relationship between a man and a woman, that’s not a discriminatory thing to say, it’s not a particularly radical thing to say, far from it, it’s been the situation with marriage in one form or another throughout the entire recorded human history. And can I say this, to you as well. If you want to lose this argument, if you want to get the more conservative elements of the community right offside, then elaborate this into an argument about gay marriage.

DP: Oh yes. And it was very clear from what everyone said yesterday – no gay marriage, no gay IVF, no gay surrogacy – was very firmly placed off limits, at least for now.

GB: Yes.

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