THURSDAY, 2 JULY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Selection of Bills Committee; Marriage equality.
MARIUS BENSON: Joel Fitzgibbon, you are a member of the Selection Committee, it’s not a widely understood body, it’s not an independent body, simply a government-controlled scheduling unit – is that fair?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: The Selection Committee was a feature of the 43rd Parliament – that is the hung parliament – and it was set up to determine which items of private members business would be debated and voted upon in the House. In those days, no one had the numbers, neither the Government or the Opposition; it was controlled effectively by the then-cross benchers, like Rob Oakeshott and Adam Bandt. These days it’s controlled by the Government and I welcome the fact that the Government retained the formality of the committee. But it’s the government of the day – and in this case the Abbott Government – that determines which Private Members Bills go forward and for Tony Abbott to now suggest that Private Members Bills historically don’t ever come before the Parliament is wrong. It is certainly something that he has absolute control of as the person who controls the numbers on that committee.
BENSON: I ’m not sure that he said that they don’t ever come before the Parliament, but he said very very rare. I think maybe two or three times in his 21 years was his suggestion.
FITZGIBBON: Well I think the implication was that people shouldn’t expect the bill to come forward because that’s not historically been the practice.
BENSON: So what is your expectation, on the basis of what the Prime Minister and other members of the government have been saying, about what will happen come the resitting of Parliament on 11th or 10th August?
FITZGIBBON: Well this has now become a debate that goes well beyond same-sex marriage. This is about a government prepared, or a Prime Minister prepared, to if you like, distort the democratic processes. What he is doing now is fighting against the will of the clear majority of the Federal Parliament, and in particular, the House of Representatives. It appears he will use any means, including deceptively talking about the way in which the Selection Committee works. I saw Andrew Nikolic, a Liberal backbencher and junior whip, say that that the Government is not prepared to put same sex marriage ahead of issues like national security. Well that’s just a silly and mischievous thing to say because it's government legislation which deals with national security, usually supported by the Opposition by the way, not private members business so there is no comparison whatsoever.
BENSON: Why do you say the Prime Minister is distorting the democratic process and defying a clear majority in the House of Representative? Are you saying that there is a clear majority in the House of Reps in favour of gay marriage?
FITZGIBBON: Well as you know and as your listeners know, this has become a debate now about whether the Coalition members should be allowed a free vote - a conscience vote – on this issue as is the case with the Labor Party and we are having that debate because people understand now that if Liberal Members of Parliament were given a free vote that this Bill would pass. But what Tony Abbott is doing is digging in on a binding vote in the party room so that a shrinking minority can exert its will over what is a growing majority.
BENSON: How confident can you be that were a free vote to be allowed by both Labor and the government that there would be a majority in the House of Reps? Is it that clear?
FITZGIBBON: Well I haven’t been one of those advocates for same sex marriage even though I’m voting for it this time around. But those who watch it much more closely than me are indicating that with a free vote they are very, very confident that this measure would pass the House of Representatives.
BENSON: And realistically, what is your reading of what will happen?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think it is fair to say that our Prime Minister is an unpredictable character and a real fundamentalist on this issue. So he will dig in as long as he can and some of the comments coming from both him and some of his party members today suggest that they are prepared to fight hard. But I think in the end, with the whole international community moving so quickly and so many more Australians coming to this view, that it is time to go with the international community. I think in the end he will have no choice but to let the democratic process run its course and on that basis to allow a same-sex bill through the House of Representatives.
BENSON: Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you very much.
FITZGIBBON: It’s a great pleasure.