The man who lost the leadership of his party on a matter of principle has ruled out crossing the floor on same-sex marriage, despite his electorate having the highest rate of LGBTI couples in the country. With his support for marriage equality now being joined by a growing number of his Liberal colleagues, however, Turnbull is optimistic he can push for change from the inside if the Coalition takes back power in Canberra this weekend.
Why did the Coalition oppose the Sex Discrimination Amendment Act earlier this year?
We were supporting the bill, but we opposed the last minute amendment by the government to remove existing exemptions for religious organisations. This exemption has been a core part of our anti-discrimination laws for a long time and it’s really an issue of principle. Having said that, the religious organisations that are providing aged-care all assert that they do not discriminate. It’s really a question, I guess, of respecting these religious organisations’ right to manage their own affairs and not allow an undue intrusion by the government. I don’t think, in substance, there are going to be any significant consequences.*
If the Coalition is elected, what are the chances of a same-sex marriage bill being introduced in the first 100 days of a new parliament?
We’re not committing to that. We’ve got a lot of stuff to get through in the first three months, even the first year – I don’t think same-sex marriage will be the first order of business but I think that it is very likely that there will be a private member’s bill moved in the course of the next parliament.
How the parliament votes on it depends. Even if we had a free vote in the last parliament it wouldn’t have carried. Obviously I can’t be sure about the next parliament but you’ve got to recognise that public opinion has moved enormously. The legislation in the UK, in New Zealand, in France, the changes in the United States – there are now 100 million Americans who live in states where same-sex marriage is lawful – Australia is increasingly looking like an odd man out in the traditional, English-speaking, developed countries.
I’m in favour of same-sex marriage. I will certainly advocate for a free vote for the Coalition, and I think a free vote is likely. I think opinion within the Liberal Party has moved enormously in the last year and if there is a free vote I will vote for it. We want to ensure there is a free vote that will enable me and a lot of other members of the Coalition to vote for it. I’m quietly confident that we will have a free vote after the election.
Given the Coalition’s current opposition to same-sex marriage, how can LGBTI people be sure a Liberal government will look out for LGBTI health issues?
We have a completely non-discriminatory approach to these issues. The only issues relating to LGBTI people that are controversial in our party – of which I’m aware anyway – is the issue of marriage. There is definitely a difference of opinion there among different people, but all the health issues, all the discrimination issues, I’m not aware of any controversies at all. There are always competing resources but the issue of greatest importance to the LGBTI community, I would have thought, would be “is there going to be any discrimination,” and the answer is “no”. That I assure you. If there is any evidence of that I’m sure it would be something I could tackle. But I can’t see any evidence.
We’ve got a very proud record in terms of investing in mental health – when Tony was Health Minister we committed nearly $2 billion to mental health and established headspace, which is probably the most successful public mental health initiative. Sick people need help whether they are gay, straight, transgender or whatever – where there’s a need you’ve got to meet it.
Do you support any proposed marriage equality bill allowing transgender and intersex people to marry?
I haven’t given any thought to that but I can’t see why we wouldn’t. I haven’t heard any arguments against that. I can’t imagine why not.
Many in the community are concerned about LGBTI refugees being sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG), where homosexuality is illegal.
You’ve raised a very good point there. It’s yet another example of how the PNG solution was so poorly thought out. In diplomacy you’re dealing in the realm of the possible – it’s a bit like politics. Lecturing other countries about what their morality laws should be is unlikely to be particularly effective. People know where I stand but am I going to be effective in persuading the Malaysians, or the Saudi Arabians, or the Pakistanis, or the Iranians to change their laws? I would suspect not. I think the most compelling thing we can do is to provide the example of a free and tolerant society. Stand up for your values, but don’t delude yourself that lectures from Australia are going to be particularly persuasive.
*NOTE: During the interview, the Star Observer was assured by Turnbull that the LNP would clarify its position on whether recently overturned exemptions for religious aged care service providers would be re-introduced, as well as whether the LNP was committed to ensuring the family home does not come into cost considerations when applying for aged care services. These clarifications were not forthcoming by time of publication – however, an internal Liberal Party document suggests the LNP is planning to move the aged care industry to more of a ‘user pays’ system with less regulation.