Transcript: ABC Radio National, Interview with Patricia Karvelas

8 August 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Drug Testing, Same sex marriage plebiscite
E&OE

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Alan Tudge is the Minister for Human Services and he joins us from our Parliament House studio. Alan Tudge, welcome.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You are a conservative. Will you actively campaign for a no vote?

ALAN TUDGE:
I would prefer for marriage to have the same definition as what it is now, and not to change the definition.

That is my view, however I strongly support the plebiscite because it gives every single Australian an opportunity to have their say on this important issue and we are going to go back to the Senate, try to get the plebiscite bill through, and if that does not work we will have a postal vote.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
It is not really a postal vote though, is it? It is a survey.

ALAN TUDGE:
No, it is a postal vote, but it is a voluntary postal vote. So it won't be compulsory, but…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Wait, I have to stop you. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will conduct it. That is not the Electoral Commission.

ALAN TUDGE:
That is right. They will conduct it, but for intents and purposes it will look and feel like an election which people are used to.

Many people apply for a postal vote, for example, in federal elections. It will be very similar to that process.

You will get a ballot paper which is put in the mail, you will get a bit of information with that ballot paper, and you get to make your vote known. And if people say that, yes, they want same-sex marriage, then they will get it. If they say no, then we will stick with the current definition.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
What percentage of voter turnout will give the result legitimacy?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think it will be legitimate regardless, because every single Australian will have the opportunity to vote. Now, whether or not they choose to exercise it is up to them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Let’s be clear. You think, what, 20% of the vote; that is legitimate?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think we will get a much higher proportion than that, but let's also be clear, Patricia; every single Australian will get the opportunity to vote through this process.

Of course, our preferred option is actually to have an ordinary vote i.e. similar to what you would do at a national election where you have to go to a polling booth and vote on that, and it is compulsory in nature.

That is our preferred option, but we need legislation to enable that, and Labor and the Greens have blocked it to date. We are going to try again, because we want that to be the preferred option and to go ahead in that way.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Eric Abetz has said he will vote no regardless of the outcome of this vote, of this postal census, survey, vote, whatever you want to describe it as, so he won't be bound, so what is the point of it if it won't bind MPs?

ALAN TUDGE:
I can guarantee, PK, that if there is a yes vote then we will get same-sex marriage. I can guarantee that, because there are…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
How can you guarantee that?

ALAN TUDGE:
I can guarantee that because there are so many people within the Coalition who have basically said that if the Australian public say yes, they want same-sex marriage, then they will vote for it, and that includes people like me who would otherwise vote against it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
So you will vote for it if it is a yes vote?

ALAN TUDGE:
Of course I would. That is the whole idea about having a plebiscite.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Eric Abetz has said he will vote no. Is he doing the wrong thing then?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think we are having a plebiscite for a reason, and that is to gauge what the views of the Australian public are on this very important institution, and my perspective - and I know many people share this within the Coalition party room - is that if the Australian people, through this process, say that they want same-sex marriage, then they will vote for it, even they personally are against it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You talk about everyone will get a chance, but we know lots of people are disenfranchised through the process.

We know there are homeless people, we know there are people who struggle with English, we know there are young people who move around all the time. Lots of people won't get a chance, will they?

ALAN TUDGE:
Every person will have the opportunity to vote.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
How does a homeless person exercise this opportunity of a survey?

ALAN TUDGE:
Those details will be worked out, but every single Australian will have the opportunity to vote.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Do you accept that this skews to older voters? People who look at the mail? I mean, I barely look at the mail.

I am sort of in midway, but I can tell you I am increasingly part of that younger behaviour where I really do not look at paper.

ALAN TUDGE:
I also know that younger people, many younger people at least are very engaged in this topic. There will obviously be a lot of news around this topic at the time, and they will be encouraged to go and apply for a postal vote, and I am sure that they will pay attention if they are interested in the topic.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Should there be online voting so that you can actually represent all Australians in the way that they participate in public debate? And we know young people are online, they are not using paper.

ALAN TUDGE:
It is a good question, PK, I just do not think the technology is there just yet, in order to do, validly, compellingly and with integrity, an online vote. I think we are quite close to that but just ensuring that you have got the right, that every individual has the right identification that they can authenticate themselves; I think those issues still need to be worked through. I am not sure that we are there yet.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Do you accept that months of campaigning could have a serious negative effect on gay and lesbian Australians and their families?

ALAN TUDGE:
I am not convinced of that, because the experience in Ireland - which had a very big public referendum on it - was that that did not occur, and that, obviously, a yes vote got up in Ireland. I think the gay and lesbian community broadly celebrated that outcome.

I think that we are a mature enough country to have a sensible, constructive debate over this important topic, and, at the end of it, to vote on it…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Okay, but there is already…

ALAN TUDGE:
…then for the Parliament to legislate accordingly.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
There is already material that is out. I have heard Sky News reporting on a pamphlet which says that the children of gays and lesbians are more likely to end up drug addicts, and dysfunctional, and jobless. Is that hurtful? And should that be part of the campaign?

ALAN TUDGE:
I hope that the campaign, and I expect the campaign to be run in a respectful manner…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Do you think what I just described is respectful?

ALAN TUDGE:
I have not seen the pamphlet…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
I have just described it to you. Telling people that the children of gays and lesbians will end up jobless and drug addicts.

ALAN TUDGE:
It does not sound like a respectful pamphlet from what you have described. The other point that I would make is that even if we had a Parliamentary vote, which I know that the Labor Party are pushing for, despite Bill Shorten having said that he would prefer a plebiscite in the past, you are still going to have a big public debate.

Because, inevitably, we know when that vote is going to occur. There is going to be a lot of campaigning and lobbying and public discussion about the topic leading up to a Parliamentary vote. Just because we are proposing a plebiscite, does not mean that you do not have a big public debate about it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
A Gallup poll taken in May showed that 64% of people support same sex marriage. An Essential poll last month showed support at 63%.

The HILDA report, out last week, showed 63% support. These are statistically robust national polls with small margins of error. Why do we need a postal survey to tell us what we already know?

Particularly if you look at that HILDA report, which is regarded by, you know, your Department as well, as the most robust place to look for evidence?

ALAN TUDGE:
I suppose two things, one being if you are looking at polling, most of the polls also say that the Australian public would like to have their say on this important matter.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
But when they are asked, I need to correct you there- when they are told that it is not binding on the Parliament, they take a different view.

ALAN TUDGE:
I can promise you though, and I can promise your listeners, that if the outcome of the plebiscite is a yes vote, which the polls would indicate that it would be, then we will get same sex marriage. Then we will get same sex marriage.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You say you can guarantee it. But actually, it is not binding. Well, you can guarantee it because you think it is the vibe. But you have no evidence to guarantee it.

ALAN TUDGE:
I know so many Members of Parliament have indicated that way. I will just get back to the second point, though, as to why we are still supporting a plebiscite, even though those published polls may say that there is an overwhelming majority support for same sex marriage.

That is because we made this an election commitment. Malcolm Turnbull has been absolutely fastidious about living up to our election promises. If we did not have this plebiscite, I think that many journalists, perhaps yourself, would be one of the first that would say that you have broken an election promise.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
But you tried. You tried and the Senate blocked it. That is what people would say, and that is what people have been saying.

ALAN TUDGE:
I do not believe that is the case. I think that we would be accused of breaking an election promise almost immediately if we went down that path.

We have a mechanism here. We still want, by the way, to do a proper, full plebiscite vote in the normal way that we conduct a normal election.

If that does not work, we'll have a plebiscite through a postal vote to live up to our election commitment and to give every single Australian an opportunity to have their say.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Okay. Just something on your portfolio, on the drug testing trials for welfare recipients. Labor has now said they won't support this. Have you convinced enough of the crossbench to get this through the Senate? This is the drug testing trials that were announced in the Budget.

ALAN TUDGE:
I am confident that we will be able to get this through the Parliament. This is a trial of drug testing welfare recipients, of 5,000 people, and we are doing this because we know that so many jobs these days require you to be drug free and, in fact, have regular testing to ensure that you are drug free.

If you are a welfare recipient with a drug habit, you are excluding yourselves from all of those jobs. Now, I cannot understand why Labor is opposed to this policy.

They seem quite happy for drug testing to occur on construction sites, in the transportation industry, in emergency services, in the Defence Force, in Border Protection - you name it, where there is regular drug testing.

But apparently it is not appropriate for some welfare recipients. Well they can explain what their position is. Our view is that it is a good policy, we want to trial it, see if it works…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Do you have the votes?

ALAN TUDGE:
You never know with the Senate until the vote is counted.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
So you don’t have the votes yet?

ALAN TUDGE:
But I would like to think the cross benchers are sensible enough to support a trial, which is what this is. And it is a trial in a similar way, PK – we have discussed this on your program before - to the cashless welfare card trials.

You trial it, you see if it works, if it does work you expand it, if it does not work you close it down.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You have only got 30 seconds for this, I am in trouble with my producer - but are you going to get your gambling reforms, clamped down on lines of credit through the Senate this week?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think it will, and I think it will go through the Senate tomorrow. These are important reforms that crackdown on the illegal offshore gambling providers, and importantly that ban the online gambling companies from offering lines of credit to their customers, and that gets people into so much trouble; having already depleted their savings account, they then get offered lines of credit with which they rack up huge amounts of debt.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
You think you are going to get it passed, you’ve got the support?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think we will. I think we will.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Alan Tudge, thank you so much for coming on.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks so much PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
That was Alan Tudge, he is the Minister for Human Services, also a leading conservative in Victoria.