Peter Van Onselen Interview

09 September 2015





SUBJECTS: Republic; Gayby Baby; Same-sex marriage; Economic reform; Bipartisanship in Australian politics.

PETER VAN ONSELEN, HOST: Before we get into some of the policies in your portfolio area, on this republican furore - what is wrong with the Treasurer deciding to lend his name to the Friendship Society For A Republic. I would have thought that such a high profile individual being involved would be welcomed by all sides of the republic debate?

PETER VAN ONSELEN, HOST: Before we get into some of the policies in your portfolio area, on this republican furore - what is wrong with the Treasurer deciding to lend his name to the Friendship Society For A Republic. I would have thought that such a high profile individual being involved would be welcomed by all sides of the republic debate?

SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH, STEPHEN JONES: Yes, look absolutely nothing wrong with it and I congratulate Joe for taking a stand. It reminds us of two things - that the centrepiece of the monarchist argument is that there is nobody in Australia, not one Australian, who is good enough to be our head of state. Clearly that is wrong. But the position the Prime Minister is taking on this, taking a back-handed swipe at Joe, just reminds us that his arguments and all the things he stands for are in the past. We have got to look to the future, let's bring the debate on. The process that was laid out by the head of the Australian Republic Movement in Canberra at the Press Club yesterday is a sensible one. Let's have a non-binding plebiscite to see where the majority of Australians are at.

PVO: Well, hang out how can you be in favour of a non-binding plebiscite on this issue but be against a non-binding or in fact probably a binding plebiscite on the issue same-sex marriage?

JONES: That is a good question with a simple answer, we have got to change our Constitution to become a republic but we don't need to change our Constitution to introduce same-sex marriage and -

PVO: Then when have the plebiscite first though?

JONES: Because I think we need to bring Australians along with us, we know that we are going to have a referendum when it comes to changing the Constitution. The confusion that was caused last time saw a whole heap of people who supported the idea of a republic but not the model voting against the proposition that was put up. So let's take it in a two-step process, I think that is the right way to go.

PVO: Moving into your portfolio area, I guess in broad terms to start with. This documentaryGayby Babywhich Burwood Girls High School were looking to play during school hours but ultimately not doing so and now we've seen the Education Minister at the state level in New South Wales, Nationals Party Member of Parliament Andrew Piccoli, banning it being able to able to be played across all state schools in the state. What do you make of this in a broad sense as well as specifically with the reaction coming out of Burwood High?

JONES: Look, I scratch my head on this one. I thought some pretty atrocious things were written in some of the tabloids yesterday about this particular issue. It didn't send a very good message to kids of same-sex couples, basically that they were abnormal and didn't belong. But the second thing, I mean I thought Liberals supported the idea of school autonomy and -

PVO: So did I, so did I.

JONES: Principals and school communities making decisions about what was in the best interests of their students. There was not one complaint, there was broad support among the school community and yet they were knocked on the head from Macquarie Street. I don't think it is a good look, I think it was the wrong decision. It sets up a faux war and doesn't send a good message to kids of same-sex couples.

PVO: I thought the prefects of Burwood Girls High wrote an exceptionally good public letter on this, which I think you saw last night as well as I on Twitter. But just to play devil's advocate on this issue for one moment, would they perhaps have been better off to have offered it as a voluntary showing outside of school hours? Or is that the sort of exceptionalism, given the issue, that you would reject?

JONES: Look, I'm not in the best position to judge that Peter. I would have thought that the teachers, the principals, the students and the teachers are in the best position to judge that. Clearly they did and they made a decision that this was an appropriate thing to air as part of their curriculum. Also, I'll make this point mate, we've got one side of politics saying that this is such an important issue that we need to have a referendum on it, yet you've got that same side of politics saying it's not enough of an important issue for there to be a documentary shown during school time at a particular school that says it is relevant. It doesn't add up.

PVO: Yeah, it doesn't add up. Later this afternoon I'll be talking to the writer and director of that particular documentary,Gayby Baby, right here in the studio. The interesting thing about it, Stephen Jones, is - and I'm not sure how much of it you've seen - but as a documentary it is not some hagiographic, all-glorious telling of what children of same-sex couples go through. It talks about the highs and the lows, it isn't a propaganda film at all.

JONES: No look I haven't seen it, I've seen some outtakes of it. I look forward to seeing the whole documentary myself but I'm told that it is compelling viewing that tells a pretty balanced story about what it is like for children of same-sex couples. Look my view on this - I've seen some pretty functional and dysfunctional family arrangements with husband and wife couples and I've seen some functional and dysfunctional arrangements with same-sex couples. I think what matters is that the parents get on with each other and that they love their kids and I think that is what we should be focussing on.

PVO: To the extent that there is discrimination in society, the more that you can highlight where there is diversity you are less likely to have discrimination at the forefront of peoples minds. I'm interested to get our viewers thoughts on this, it's #pvonewsday. Let us know if you agree or disagree and we will look at that throughout the afternoon. Stephen Jones, can I just move to the summit from yesterday. A lot of coverage as you would expect in The Australian and The Australian Financial Review today, a lot of strong, powerful quotes and demands almost for consensus around serious policy reform coming from all quarters. My question to you though is - I'm a pessimist on this and I don't see the two major parties landing in a space which will fulfil the desires of those in attendance. I think that the partisan divide is too strong and too powerful at the moment, do you accept that?

JONES: Look we've gone through a period where that is definitely the case, but I'm in politics because I am a reformer and an optimist. I think that there is the possibility for change and there is a whole heap of areas within the government space where there are bipartisan views. Now, I'll stay two things about the possibility of bipartisan reform, particularly in the economic space. It is not helpful if politicians paint policy options as if they are like black and white, as if they are like two sporting teams packing down against each other, you are either for one proposition or against it. When you get some sections of the media reporting it in the same light it doesn't help for a sensible policy debate as well. Ive got to say over the last three or four years I've seen a bit of that and I don't think that that helps to find a sensible middle ground in policy debate. I welcome the summit, I think it does point to the fact that there has been a malaise. Anybody who has looked at Parliament over the last three or four months, even over the last fortnight, we saw two weeks of Parliament dedicated to an uncontested motion around ANZAC Day and Gallipoli - an important moment, but there was not one serious debate around serious economic bills or other matters. Now that speaks to a government which can't get its own agenda through its own cabinet let alone Parliament, so there is something wrong there. I congratulate the two major news outlets who tried to pull the parties together for some sensible, middle-ground debate.

PVO: Alright, Stephen Jones, appreciate you joining us on News Day.

JONES: Good to be with you.