Bruce Billson is the Federal Member for Dunkley, located around Frankston. He is the Minister, in Tony Abbott’s Government, for Small Business. Mr Billson, good morning to you.
Good morning to you Jon and to your listeners.
How do you think the people in your electorate would vote on a plebiscite on gay marriage?
Look, it is a hard one to call and I guess the issue is what the actual question that is being put forward.
I know from my point of view attending a number of community forums where I have been expressly asked about what my position was.
The outcome from the party room meeting accurately reflects exactly what I said to my electorate. At that level, I know what my undertakings were and I have been faithful to those.
But, what also came out of yesterday’s meeting was that- that is fine and that is a policy position we took to the last election - we now have an opportunity to examine the situation and see what the proposition should be that we put to them next - and that was the outcome from the discussions last night.
The question put to the people of Ireland recently, and overwhelmingly supported even in such a fiercely Catholic country was word for word as follows: ‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex’. And that received somewhere around 65% support in Ireland.
If that question was put to the people of Australia, do you not accept that it would be overwhelmingly supported?
It may well Jon, and I guess that is the issue that we discussed yesterday, is that there are some deeply held and quite disparate views by people of good will and who feel very strongly about their opinion.
The discussion in the party room was really one about how do we best reflect that given that there are strongly held views for a whole range of reasons. There is a concern that currently, same sex couples are not afforded the recognition and the presence in our social infrastructure that same sex couples are looking for.
There is also a strongly held view by those who hold marriage as a solemn undertaking that goes deep into their religious, cultural and tradition beliefs and that…
The real politics though is that this could, for instance, an issue like this could cost someone in a marginal electorate, like you; it could cost you your career.
Well it may, and going by the campaign that is being run against me and the suggestions that because I want to respect the views of all interests in this debate I am somehow a bigot and a homophobe which is completely false and spectacularly offensive… and really odd when we are talking about this being about love.
There is not a whole lot of love in that sort of discourse.
But going to a process that puts it to the people enables individuals to reflect their own deeply held views. There are strongly held views on both sides of the argument.
The institution of marriage is a key tenant of our society and I guess the thinking from the Party room yesterday is let the people chaperone in whatever kind of outcome that reflects those strongly held views of individuals, not just those that have been elected to Parliament.
Alright, I have lots of people wanting to speak, and I am keen to hear their voices, but one more question. I have had it put to me, by several of your colleagues, both front and back benchers from the Liberal Party this morning, that this has left a lot of very unhappy people and it has been handled in a way that is corrosive to morale and the Prime Minister’s own standing as the Leader of the Liberal Party.
Look, I do not think that is right. What we were faced with was backbenchers exercising their rights as backbenchers to bring forward a bill that at this stage no one has seen. There was no opportunity for any other process to handle it.
This was dropped on the party room and the Prime Minister handled it in a very responsive way that was very inclusive and very engaging. Now, people might have liked the circumstances to be different.
It would have been nice to have actually seen the bill, so that that could be focused upon. But we are yet to see that.
Yet, there was a need to understand how we would go about the handling of it if it came to the parliament. We wanted everyone to have their opportunity to help shape our response and that is exactly what occurred.
Thank you indeed for your time this morning and I am grateful to you.
Thank you Jon.
Bruce Billson, Federal Member for Dunkley, Minister for Small Business.