Talking to ABC's Melinda James About Marriage Equality

MELINDA JAMES: Joining me now is Stephen Jones. Good morning.

SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH, STEPHEN JONES: Good morning, good to be with you.

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JAMES: Now, you of course attempted your own private member’s bill a couple of years ago that was unsuccessful and you copped a bit of political flak for it. What are your thoughts on this new strategy? For the first time ever, a cross-party supported bill might make it before Parliament House.

JONES: I think community views have changed and they have changed considerably. What we have seen going on in other countries around the world reflects the same change in the views of the community here in Australia. For a long time politicians have been behind the views of the community. What I read in the attempt by a couple of Liberal MPs to put a private member’s bill into Parliament is an attempt by those MPS to drag their party into line to where community expectations are. I welcome the initiative. 

JAMES: This has been described as an ambush by Senator Fierravanti-Wells, would it have taken people in Parliament by surprise? We had heard that one of these Coalition backbenchers who has joined the group, Warren Entsch, was quite openly talking about being in discussions about this very issue a month or go?

JONES: Well, I was going to say if it is an ambush it is an ambush with a three month notice period on it. Warren has been talking about this for several months now; he approached me, he approached several other members of the Labor opposition quite openly on the floor of Parliament several weeks ago. So nobody could be surprised, nobody is surprised about him announcing yesterday and Terri Butler announcing yesterday that they intended to move a bill in the first week of the new sitting of Parliament. Nobody could be surprised by that.

JAMES: Now, you might move a bill but we've been told this morning that private member’s bills rarely get voted on. What is the process from here? 

JONES: My bill got voted on because the Prime Minister of the day allowed it to be voted on and the Government allowed it to be on. It is entirely within Tony Abbott's gift to do the same. Let's not forget, Julia Gillard voted against my bill but she thought - this is an important thing for Parliament to consider. Tony Abbott can do the same thing, he can allow his Caucus a free vote, all of his MPs a free vote. If he wants to vote against it, he can. But what he shouldn't be doing is standing in the way of Parliament having a say on this issue.

JAMES: So two things really need to happen. First, the Government needs to allow the private member’s bill to be voted on. Second, for it to have any chance of it getting up the Prime Minister has to allow a conscience vote in the Liberal Party room –

JONES: I call it a free vote because I think every vote in Parliament is a conscience vote –

JAMES: Well you would hope so but it doesn't seem that way!

JONES: I think it should be a free vote; that is, people shouldn't be bound by the position that is held by their Prime Minister on the issue. They should be allowed to vote in accordance with their own beliefs, some will vote for, some will vote against but they should be allowed to exercise that free vote.

JAMES: Given that Tony Abbott isn't showing any signs of yielding at all, what do you think about this being doomed to fail and what that might do to the campaign for same-sex marriage for those people who are fighting for it?

JONES: I think it will add to the frustration that Australian politicians are out of step with community views. I don't think Tony Abbott would be well advised to do this; the issue is not going away. You are going to have people continuing to agitate on this and many other issues by the way. This will continue to be an issue, we are better off dealing with it. Even those who oppose it say - yes, I oppose it but I know that it is inevitable. So I would have thought it was in Tony Abbott's interests to actually get this dealt with, so that we can move on and focus on other issues that we should be focussed on such as how we deal with youth unemployment and the economy. 

JAMES: Or in the words of Ewen Jones, let's not rip off one hair at a time let's just rip off the entire Band-Aid and get the pain over and done with?

JONES: Well, I don't see it as a painful thing myself; I support it as you know – 

JAMES: I think he was dealing with the pain of the Liberal party room! 

JONES: It doesn't matter where you come from on this issue, I would have thought it was in everyone's interests to say let's just get this one.

JAMES: Thanks for your time this morning. 

JONES: Good to be with you. 

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