KIERAN GILBERT: With me to discuss this and other issues, the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Mr. Ciobo, thanks very much for your time. At this stage Katy Gallagher is the one in focus, but after today, when we get all the details a bit later, there could be several more.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look. I mean, there's lots of rampant speculation, of course, but I think a lot of this has been shaken out over the past several months. But we'll have to wait and see in the fullness of time.
KIERAN GILBERT: And when it comes to this, though, so much rests on how many Liberals, versus, vis-a-vis Labor MPs are affected, doesn't it, in terms of the Government's stability?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, obviously that has an impact in terms of the numbers in the Lower House, but again I make the point, we know that a lot of this has been shaken out over the past several months. We know there are definitely question marks over a number of Labor MPs. This has been I think, part of the frustration that the Coalition has felt, which is that we've had people out there who've put information in the public domain on the Coalition side, but Labor has maintained this almost holier-than-thou silence about it all, and just said: "Oh, we're okay, we're okay, we're okay." Well, now the pressure's going to be on. Shorten is now going to have a situation where, we will start to see for sure, the situation with respect to Labor members.
KIERAN GILBERT: And it would be a much better scenario, obviously, if Labor were to refer them their own MPs, because it's not a great precedent, is it, to have the majority referring the minority, in this case?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, you know, Kieran, I think there's a few curveballs that have been thrown in this. The strict literal interpretation that the High Court adopted, rightly or wrongly, that's their judgment and so obviously, we're all bound to look at it. And we know that that potentially impacts on millions of Australians, in terms of if they wanted to run for politics, what the implications of that would be. But we've got to work through this. We will see today, as I've said, disclosures are all out. We've seen the Senate's now, and we'll see the Lower House later on today.
KIERAN GILBERT: One of the more difficult scenarios in this has been cases where, for example, Indigenous Members of Parliament, having to prove their eligibility. It does seem quite weird, doesn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know, and then you've also got the situation, I'm told, I've not researched this, but I'm told that, of course, if you go back through Australia's history, people were joint British-Australian, I mean, when this was actually implemented, if you actually look at section, the operation of Section 44, people were effectively dual citizens then, or certainly British nationals, then. So we have this sort of slightly bizarre thing where, up until the 80s, people were citizens of the UK. To be in Parliament and-
KIERAN GILBERT: You still swear allegiance to the Queen, don't you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the Queen of Australia-
KIERAN GILBERT: Which is a bizarre situation, isn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: The Queen of Australia. But as I said, that gets back to this whole issue about-
KIERAN GILBERT: But you can't be a dual citizen?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that gets back to this whole issue about, you know, we have had a very strict literal interpretation by the High Court. I think that that's, as I said, that's definitely thrown a spanner in the works, because it was not the outcome that I think anybody foresaw.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, you know, what do you pick up in your electorate talking to constituents and so on? Because, from what we saw in Tamworth and Armidale, and the rest of New England at the weekend, it looked like there was a bit of a sympathy vote there. And we might see the same in Bennelong. I guess John Alexander would be hoping that.
STEVEN CIOBO: I think that there are a lot of Aussies that, I mean, let's not forget, what is the Australian experience, Kieran. As you know I mean, 25 per cent of this country was born outside of Australia. One in four people. I mean, if you actually go back through the heritage, those who have, that might have parents or grandparents that were born overseas, the percentage is much, much higher. I mean, we're getting close to one in two. I mean Australians understand that this is a country that's been settled from all corners of the earth. Now, the impact of that is that, I think people recognise, "well, hang on, we're starting to get a bit crazy if we're saying, well, what was the situation with someone's grandfather or their grandmother?" I mean, I think that a lot of Australians go, "what we know is that we want our representatives to be Australian, to share our values." They know that they have that in terms of representatives that they've elected. So I think that starts to build in, too.
KIERAN GILBERT: On the same-sex marriage issue, the amendments that will be put forward by some of your more conservative counterparts, would you be open to those-
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm certainly-
KIERAN GILBERT: -Or do you think the Dean Smith Bill should go through as is?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm certainly, those have just been circulated yesterday afternoon, so I haven't had a chance to look at some of the amendments that were circulated by Andrew Hastie and others. I have said all along that I do believe there needs to be protections for religious freedoms. That is firmly my view. I think that a lot of that is satisfied in the Dean Smith Bill. But I'm going to exercise my due diligence, like I would encourage every member of the Lower House to do, exercise a lot of due diligence, make sure-
KIERAN GILBERT: But it's a conscience vote. You don't feel-
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct. It's a conscience vote.
KIERAN GILBERT: You don't feel bound to vote the way the Prime Minister's going to vote?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, like I've said all along, there is absolutely no point in holding a referendum and then ignoring the outcome of your electorate. I've said now for many, many months, I would vote in accordance with the wishes of my electorate. My electorate voted overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage. I will vote in support of same-sex marriage. What I'm going to look at, though, is whether or not I think that the Smith safeguards, so to speak, are adequate. I'm pretty satisfied that they are, but I'm just going to do the right thing, have a close look at all the amendments that are put forward, all of the amendments, and I'll make an informed decision about each of those amendments as they're brought to light.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr. Turnbull yesterday said that he will support some amendments due to the anxiety in certain quarters about impact on religious protection, but he doesn't necessarily think it's... they're needed. Is that just a sop to the Conservatives?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, there's 150 of us, 148 right at this point in time, in the Lower House. I think everyone's got to exercise due diligence about what they do. The thing about a conscience vote is that it comes down to you examining what you ultimately believe is good for our country, the right way forward. I think each of us brings to that our unique experiences, the views of our electorate, the views of people that have an impact on us, and make a decision on that basis. That's what I intend to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: The impact was pretty quick, though, in terms of the human face of that, with Tim Wilson yesterday and the proposal. It was quite a moment for the Parliament, wasn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I mean, I completely understand that. And, you know, it's no wonder that people had tears in their eyes, because this is a major point for, especially if you're someone who's struggled with homosexuality, or at least, when I say struggled with, the ability to feel that you can confidently say, "look, I'm homosexual and that's who I am." Of course this is a massive turning point. So, you know, I can certainly understand why that has such an impact.
KIERAN GILBERT: On to the management of Parliament itself. Obviously, the numbers are quite tight. Yesterday you missed the vote. What happened there?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, as I said all along, Kieran, I wanted to apologise to the Parliament, and especially apologise to my Parliamentary colleagues in the Coalition. Unfortunately, I was detained. As you know, we only have four minutes to get to the chamber, which, four minutes seems like a lifetime, but unfortunately, yes, I didn't quite get there. But that notwithstanding, I was sincerely and, I still am, deeply apologetic to the Parliament and especially to my Coalition colleagues.
KIERAN GILBERT: The substance, though, you were able to reverse the vote. It's more just a look, isn't it, that sort of stuff?
STEVEN CIOBO: As I've said, I've been doing this job for quite a number of years now, and I think that's only the second division I've ever missed. Unfortunately, with the numbers being as tight as they are, that obviously had a big impact yesterday. But anyway, what more can I say, other than I apologised very sincerely to the Parliament and of course, to my colleagues.
KIERAN GILBERT: Last question goes to this broader issue of freedom of speech, and there's violence at the protests outside Milo Yiannopoulos's address in Melbourne last night. He's at Parliament today. What are your thoughts on that?
STEVEN CIOBO: I mean, this guy is someone who holds a number of controversial views. Like people who hold controversial views, he galvanizes people one way or another. Some people love him, some people clearly, rampantly dislike him. That is part of living in a democracy. The fact is, that is part of living in a democracy. I think, I do believe, it's important that people feel that they can express a point of view, that they can hold a point of view which they're able to articulate, you know, some people agree, some people disagree. There's never a justification for violence. Never a justification for violence. But I think it's good that we have people who air different points of view.
KIERAN GILBERT: Trade Minister, as always, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
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