E&OE…

Greg Jennett

It’s been mixed. We’ve had Cabinet ministers in Simon Birmingham raising an eyebrow about the tone of it. Bill Shorten was somewhat stronger in his response. He’s described this as not an exercise of freedom of speech but an exercise of freedom to hurt. That was his criticism of it. What we essentially see in this advertisement, which is run by an offshoot branch of the “no” campaign – there’ll be several fronts, as we understand it, as the campaign gathers speed – four women arguing the knock -on effects of same-sex marriage or changes to the Marriage Act, rather than on the merits itself of changing the Marriage Act. Perhaps we’ll see further advertisements in time that go to the nub of the question. But it has struck some people that this was arguing the knock-on effects, not the nub of the issue. And we will, over the course of this campaign, also hear ads coming forward from the other side. For our part here, we are approaching it along the same lines as a proper election campaign, seeking at all times to bring a balance of views into the debate. And for that reason, we have, today, a “no” campaigner, or advocate at least, from the Federal Parliament, ACT Senator and Assistant Minister, Zed Seselja.

Senator welcome.  To start out with the TV advertisement, if we can, which is by the Coalition for Marriage, I think it’s under the umbrella of the Australian Christian Lobby. As we said there, it seemed to argue knock-on effects, not the actual merits of same-sex marriage. Why is that being employed as a tactic?

Senator Zed Seselja

Well, obviously, you know, the specific arguments that are being put are a matter for the individual organisations, but what I would say is the response, I think, from Bill Shorten in particular, and others, is just another indicator of the attempts to shut down free speech. Now, let’s have a look at this ad. This ad is from concerned mothers who are concerned, who are citing examples from overseas and they’re concerned that when you redefine marriage that of course there are knock-on effects and even those who argue strongly in favour of same-sex marriage, I think, have all acknowledged that there are other changes, there are other potential changes and these mothers are clearly putting the case that, you know, their ability to object to fairly radical sex education in schools and the like, will be much harder if you redefine marriage in the Marriage Act.

Greg Jennett

Is it factually correct? Because one of the women says when same-sex marriage passes as law overseas, these types of programs – let’s say gender fluidity programs – become widespread and compulsory.  To which countries would she be referring?

Senator Zed Seselja

There are a couple of examples that I’m aware of, there may well be others.  I know in Canada there have been a number of court cases. An individual parent who objected to some of this gender fluidity type teaching in the schools was told that while he had religious freedoms, those religious freedoms were trumped by the equality that was in Canadian law. There’s an example going on at the moment in the UK where a Jewish school is having, I understand, its registration threatened because it does not want to teach things like gender fluidity. So we’ve seen that in some pretty comparable countries, in places like Canada and the UK, where once you do redefine marriage, that there inevitably are other consequences and obviously these concerned mothers are raising those concerns and putting them forward. I think it’s pretty ordinary of Bill Shorten to be attacking mothers who are concerned about the teaching of their children and to call that hate speech. I don’t think that’s hate speech.

Greg Jennett

For your own part, do you expect this to be a campaign, as you engage in it, about religious freedoms and political correctness? These are the approaches that Tony Abbott has tried to define it as. Are you comfortable with arguing those aspects or do you want to go to the nub of the Marriage Act.

Senator Zed Seselja

I think you can’t… If you look at example after example overseas, you can’t but argue all of those things. Of course religious freedom is potentially affected. That’s why even advocates say that you need to put in place religious freedom protections. Now, we don’t know what they might look like if you were to change the Marriage Act.  So it’s not just those who are against redefining marriage who believe there are impacts on religious freedom.  Many who are arguing “yes” acknowledge that. There clearly is an effect on freedom of speech. We’ve seen that in a number of cases overseas and we are already seeing that here in Australia. There would be an argument that would get much worse. You have the example, of course, of Archbishop Porteous in Hobart who was hauled before an anti-discrimination tribunal. Now, he was defending the law of the land. Of course his position would be much weaker on freedom of speech grounds if the law of the land had changed. And of course things like parental rights, as expressed by those mothers, will be part of the debate.

Greg Jennett

That would be contested. What are the tangible signs or evidence that you think they would be infringed by this change?

Senator Zed Seselja

I’ve cited a couple of examples there. There’s a number of examples from the United States. In Ireland when they changed the law, there was a number of other legal changes that flowed from that that impacted on religious freedoms.

Greg Jennett

It’s quite a different constitutional regime and legislation regime…

Senator Zed Seselja

But in each of those cases. If you look at Ireland, the UK, Canada, the US, there have been other consequences and that is absolutely the point that is being made. I think one of the really good things about having this plebiscite, Greg, is that we can have a fair dinkum debate. I think in many cases there has been a lot of glib one-liners on this issue but there’s also been shouting down of those who say that they don’t support change or who have concerns. There are some people who remain to be convinced. But I would say that there’s been a pretty wholesale shouting down. I think there’s been some pretty biased media coverage. We saw Channel Ten just the other day with some fabricated posters and the like. That’s been there. I would hope, and what I’m seeing signs of, is that hopefully, notwithstanding, you know, Bill Shorten’s claims about hate speech every time someone details agrees with him, I’m seeing signs that we can actually have an argument about these things. Let’s hear the rebuttal. Let’s hear about why those many, many cases that have been cited from overseas aren’t real or won’t occur here in Australia and let’s get those assurances.

Greg Jennett

Not on your part but there does appear to be some hesitation on the part of “no” voters in the Federal Parliament about going out and advocating a “no” vote. How is that explained by what you just said? Do you think there is a timidity within the ranks of the “no” campaign within this building?

Senator Zed Seselja

I think there’s no doubt that most of the media has made up their mind about this issue and they are very much supporting the “yes” campaign. So to that extent, of course, those who argue the “no” case are the underdogs and they’re going to be threatened. I mean, you know, we’ve seen here on the ABC, dare I mention, some questions suggesting that, you know, you can’t support Australian Olympians who are gay if you don’t support same-sex marriage. Those kind of questions probably aren’t going to encourage people on the “no” side. But I would just say that whether it’s the ABC, whether it’s other parts of the media, let’s have a fair dinkum, honest, reasonable discussion about it. Let’s not call it hate speech every time someone disagrees with us and we can draw out some of these issues, have a mature debate, the Australian people can have their say and of course we’ll abide by the result.

Greg Jennett

Just for your own part, why do you vote “no”, principally? There are a range of reasons. For some people it’s religious, for it’s the thin edge of the wedge argument or a general conservative disposition. Your own base position on this comes from what?

Senator Zed Seselja

A number of things. Certainly the conservative position generally when you look at institutions is you need a very good reason to change long-standing institutions and of course marriage is an institution that pre-dates our constitution, it predates the foundation of Australia. So to change it, the case has to be very, very strong. The argument in favour, of course, is equality. I’ve looked at the laws where, you know, we’ve given equal rights to couples whether they be same-sex couples or whether they be heterosexual couples and we’ve done that and I think that has pretty broad support in the community. Now we’re being asked to redefine what marriage means, something that’s had a long-standing meaning. I take the view that we should be very, very cautious before going down that path. I then look at a lot of the experience around the world where there are other flow-on consequences and I say, well, yes, I absolutely want to see people in same-sex relationships not have any unjust discrimination. But in my case, that doesn’t mean you redefine the institution of marriage. This might seem like a very controversial position now but it was only a short number of years ago that we had, you know, the likes of Penny Wong and Julia Gillard arguing this very thing.

Greg Jennett

If not controversial or a minority position?

Senator Zed Seselja

I guess we’ll see. That’s what we’ll find out at the end of it. We’re told it’s overwhelming support in the community, over 70% some have claimed. I guess we will see as we see the votes being tallied.

Greg Jennett

Zed Seselja, for your thoughts, thanks so much.

Senator Zed Seselja

Thanks very much, Greg.

[ENDS]