Transcript - ABC 891 - 29 September 2010

Deputy Speakership; Same sex marriage

SUBJECTS: Deputy Speakership; Same sex marriage

Matthew Abraham: Now, Mark Butler; Peter Slipper, what happened there?  What went on there, poaching a deputy speaker, why was that so important to score a hit on Tony Abbott in the new paradigm. 

Mark Butler: I must say I think everyone's getting sick of the word's “new paradigm”, but we did negotiate, and Christopher was close to this, an agreement around new arrangements in the parliament which we are still very committed to implementing.  One of those arrangements was if the speaker of the house came from government ranks, which it does; Harry Jenkins was unanimously supported yesterday, if the speaker comes from the government, then the deputy speaker would come from the opposition. And there would be pairing arrangements. 

Abraham: The Government doesn't normally go scouring around for an opposition MP who's not the nomination of the Opposition Leader.  Is that how you're feeling the love? 

Butler: Well, that's right, we don't normally do that.  And if the Opposition had indicated they were willing to abide by that agreement that we entered into then we wouldn't have done that.  The point is that Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne indicated that they weren't going to continue to be bound by those arrangements by the speaker and the deputy speaker being from different parties and be paired.  So we were put in the position if we were going to see any agreement implemented we needed to find the most suitable candidate from the Opposition and supported him as the deputy speaker and we did that.  Our 71 votes did that, but it's important to note that seven other votes also did that. 

David Bevan: More than just the independents sided with Labor.  There's another person Tony Wright was saying in the Liberal ranks.  Who knows who that person might be, but he's helping the Labor Party out. 

Butler: I'm sure Christopher is scouring the ranks to find out who it was right now.  Well, not right now, after he hangs up. 

Abraham: Chris Pyne, is a witch hunt on the way? 

Christopher Pyne: C3′s statement, with great respect to him doesn't make any sense because the Government hasn't ended up pairing a vote from the Opposition at all.  Peter Slipper has become the deputy speaker and has indicted he'll continue to vote with the Coalition on all matters, including confidence matters.  In fact the Government has had a rather pyrrhic victory.  Certainly their nominee from our side was elected, and if that's what they want, and if they thought that was going to cause us embarrassment, well good luck to them.  But they haven't actually achieved what Mark Butler is claiming they've achieved which is to remove a vote from the Opposition.  They've done no such thing.  Peter Slipper will continue to vote with the Opposition on confidence and bills and motions. 

Abraham: Is he a Liberal rat? 

Pyne: Well, no he's not because he's going to continue to vote with the Opposition.  Peter Slipper has secured himself the role of deputy speaker, and it's rather unusual….

Abraham: But why would he want to do that? 

Pyne: Because it's a prestigious job and it's a good job to have in any parliament, let alone a hung parliament.  The Opposition now has the deputy speakership as well as the second deputy speakership and the Government only has the speakership.  The Government is down a vote because Harry Jenkins doesn't have a deliberative vote, so they're down to 75, but….

Bevan: (inaudible) looked a bit foolish didn't he? 

Pyne: Well, foolishness in politics is not a new aspect of the lives we lead, but the most important thing is the Opposition has not lost a vote.  The Government has given away the deputy speakership, its shafted Anna Burke, one of their own from the left which Mark Butler comes.  So Mark Butler has been part of the shafting of Anna Burke who was the previous deputy speaker.  The Coalition's maintained its votes on the floor, yet we have two out of the three positions.  So we are perfectly relaxed and comfortable with the way it's turned out. 

Abraham: Mark Butler? 

Butler: Actually, Anna Burke is in the Victorian Right and she would have been a fantastic deputy speaker.  And in response to Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott walking away from the pairing agreement, we could have well have walked away from the idea the Opposition ranks would be able to throw up the deputy speaker, but we decided not to do that.  Christopher's right as far as we understand from Peter Slipper's statements to us and publicly he will not be subjecting himself to the pairing agreement either.  But that didn't then mean that we would have to walk away from the agreement; two wrongs don't make a right.  We are committed as far as is possible within our powers to implement the agreement and the pairing arrangement was a very important part of it.  Anthony Albanese, Christopher's counterpart as Manager of Government Business in the House reported yesterday that in the negotiations the Opposition agreed to abide by the Solicitor General's opinion about the pairing arrangement; that is they would implement the arrangement if the Solicitor General, the highest non-judicial legal office in the land agreed it was possible to do that.  Now, he's done that.  The opinion was tabled in the parliament yesterday, but still Christopher and Tony Abbott have walked away from the pairing. 

Bevan: Let's talk about what you're going to do with those votes, gentlemen.  The Prime Minister has said she won't allow Labor Party MPs to have a conscience vote on same sex marriage.  Mark Butler, do you support this, are you happy with not being able to use your conscience on an issue like this. 

Butler: Well at a national level, we have a tradition about conscience votes that is relatively limited; that is that conscience votes that are granted in the Federal Labor Party on life and death issues.  In South Australia by contrast I think we're the only branch of the Labor Party where we've had a long tradition of a much more relaxed approach to conscience votes.  So conscience votes have been granted in relation to prostitution laws, drug laws and a range of other things as well. 

Bevan: Do you think it would have been a good idea though to allow a conscience for on same sex marriage? 

Butler: Well that is the gift of the leader and the Prime Minister has made her position and the Government's position on these issues very, very clear on a number of occasions.  So I've not actually seen those comments but they don't surprise me given the federal Labor Party's approach traditionally to conscience votes being really reserved for matters of life and death.

Bevan: Chris Pyne, what should we read in to this, if anything? 

Pyne: Well just very briefly to exercise a right of reply on Mark butler's statement before about the agreement.  The Government is today walking away from the agreement by not requiring a suspension of the standing orders before a recommittal of votes.  So it's a rather cute claim to make that the Labor Party is standing by the agreement when just today, in about an hour and a half, they are proposing to actually depart from the agreement in a material respect.  I wouldn't expect consistency from the Labor Party… (inaudible)

Abraham: Now Chris Pyne it is an interesting insight because this will be the grist of a minority government.  These matters loom large.

Pyne: Well they do loom large early on but I think basically by the end of this week those things will be over. 

Abraham: OK, and you'll get down to voting on things.  Now do you agree with the Prime Minister that there shouldn't be a conscience vote on the issue of same-sex marriage, it should be voted along party lines.

Pyne: Well as far as I'm aware the Coalition hasn't made a determination about whether there would be a conscience vote within our side of politics.  So I can't indicate what we would do with respect to that. 

Bevan: And what do you think we should do?

Pyne: Well I think the position in the past has been that we do not support same-sex marriage.  I support civil unions but believe that marriage is a matter defined in every respect as being between a man and a woman and therefore it should remain that way.  And intruding into marriage, other ideas of what that should be, is not appropriate. 

Bevan: How is your relationship with your wife any less than Penny Wong's relationship with her partner?

Pyne: Well that's a matter perhaps you should put to Penny Wong  

Bevan: No that I would put to you because you just said you won't give her the right, and people like her the right, to marriage but you want that.  So how are you better than same-sex marriage?

Pyne: Well that is a very unfortunate slant David that you have put on people who believe that marriage is between a man and woman.  I'm not saying for one moment that a relationship that I have is any better or different or worse than that between two people of the same sex.  What I am saying -

Bevan: - if its not different why do you differentiate in what people can do?

Pyne: Because in every respect over the millennia and in every civilization, marriage has been defined as being between a man and a woman.  It is a religious construct and therefore construct and therefore intruding other notions into it I don't think is appropriate.  But what I do, and I'm sure Mark Butler would agree, civil unions between people of the same sex are entirely appropriate and there should be no discrimination between two people of the same sex.  In terms of the act of making that union formal, I think a formal union should be a civil union not trying to appropriate the clothes of a religious notion which is what marriage is. 

Abraham: Mark Butler do you agree?  Is that your personal position?

Butler: Well I think there are two levels at which we deal with this issue.  One is in legal discrimination which is traditionally been in play here and only in the last couple of years when we came to government did we amend literally dozens of pieces of commonwealth legislation that in quite significant ways discriminated against same-sex couples which were about superannuation-

Pyne: -we supported. 

Butler: Yes you did support but equally you didn't do anything about it for twelve years in spite of the former Prime Minister he had -

Abraham: - And you stopped short of same-sex marriage.  The question was Mark Butler what's your personal opinion on it?

Butler: The second point, and I think this is a point of significant debate in the community, is the status afforded by the community to a same-sex relationship.  And I think there is an emerging consensus, an emerging consensus as Christopher said around civil unions.  There is not yet a consensus I don't think around the use of the term marriage which would require an amendment to the Marriage Act and the policy of the Labor Party is that the Marriage Act retain its current definition, that it be a relationship between a man and a woman.

Bevan: Yes but that hasn't told us what you personally think.

Butler: Well I'm a member of the Labor caucus.  I participate in national conferences that determine the policy of the Labor Party and I was actually involved in this debate myself.  

Abraham: You don't take your personal brain out and leave it and the door when you walk into the ALP Convention.

Butler: Yes but I do get elected on the basis of being a candidate of the Labor Party with the Labor Party platform in mind.

Pyne: Well I've answered in a very forward way, what do you personally think? 

Butler: Well I very much support civil unions and I see a need to recognise same-sex couples as an incredibly legitimately part of diverse communities.

Abraham: OK now we know you both have to legitimately go as well in this new Parliament but just quickly David from Belair has a question and we might let you both wrap up with this.  David from Belair, good morning.

Caller: Yes good morning fellas.  Christopher Pyne said their not losing a vote so this Deputy Speaker business is a bit meaningless but won't Harry Jenkins just strategically disappear occasionally when they want to force the Liberal man into the Speaker's seat?

Bevan: Christopher Pyne, just quickly and wrapping up.

Pyne: Look no I don't believe so.  Harry will act as an independent speaker, he is not going to attend Labor caucus meetings.  He is a man of honour and integrity.  I don't think he will act in a Machiavellian way.  And, of course, if Harry decides to as you put it ‘strategically vacate the chair' there is no requirement on either Peter Slipper or Bruce Scott to take over the Chair.  That is a responsibility of the Government to provide a Chair and there is a Speaker's Panel which will be made up of Labor members of Parliament.  So if Harry was so (inaudible)… as to vacate the Speaker's chair which I don't think he would be, there would be a Labor member who would have to fill it.

Bevan: And just quickly, Mark Butler.

Butler: I agree with both points.  I mean Harry would just not do that.  He has enormous respect for the office of Speaker and frankly if he did, it probably wouldn't have much impact.

Bevan: You two better get your skates on.  Thank you very much though for bringing us up to date after the first day of this strange new Parliament.


Written and authorised by Hon Christopher Pyne MP, 429 Magill Road, St Morris SA 5068

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