29 August 2015
Transcript - #2015049, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Interview with David McCarthy, Tass Mousaferiades and Kirstie Marshall, Saturday Magazine, Joy FM

SUBJECTS: Higgins; same sex marriage; plebiscites and referendums

MACCA:

This is Sat Mag with Macca, Tass and Kirsty. It is my great pleasure to welcome the Federal Member for Higgins and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer?

O'DWYER:

Yes, that's right Macca.

MACCA:

Kelly. Kelly O'Dwyer welcome. Really great to have you here. Higgins is going to be a pretty hot battle – you've got two gay candidates against you. All three of you agree on marriage equality, perhaps how it will be delivered is a different discussion but Higgins has been a Liberal seat for 66 years.

O'DWYER:

It's been a Liberal seat since its inception.

MACCA:

Since inception.

O'DWYER:

But we don't take it for granted.

MACCA:

No and the vote's always been around – I actually have some stats. I'm going to read you some stats.

O'DWYER:

I love people with stats. I'm actually responsible, as Parliamentary Secretary, for the Australian Bureau of Statistics so I love a man with stats.

MACCA:

Ok. In 1954, I'll read you the highest primary vote for the winning candidates for Higgins since 1949. 1954, Harold Holt, 75.4; 1969, John Gorton, 67.8; Roger Shipton, 66 per cent in 1977; Peter Costello 61.8 in 1990 and you 60.23 per cent in 2009. So it's always been, and the electoral office categorise – I love this – if it's less than 60 per cent it's fairly safe; if it's more than 60 per cent it's safe. So do you feel safe?

O'DWYER:

I frankly Macca actually don't really pay attention to that. What I pay attention to is the fact that you've got to work incredibly hard for your community. You've got to be active in your local community, you've got to represent their concerns – both big and small – and you have to, not only be doing that on a day to day basis, but also when you travel to Parliament, you have to be representing them in the nation's Parliament. So I don't think about it in those terms. I live in my local community and because of that I think I'm very able to represent their local concerns. And as you quite rightly point out, the electorate has changed over time. The electorate is not, as a lot of people consider it to be, only the suburbs of Toorak and Armadale – they are wonderful suburbs of course in the electorate of Higgins but we've got Carnegie, we've got Murrumbeena, we've got Ashburton, Glen Iris, Windsor, I mean it's a really diverse electorate. Because of that, I think it makes it such a wonderful electorate to represent.

MARSHALL:

And when I was, I came in as a candidate in 2002 and there was a 6.5 per cent needed to take the seat that had only ever been held by the Liberal Party and of course I subsequently got it because there was a huge state-wide swing – I don't lay claim that it was me in particular – but I was aware that the media had a very different type of discussion at subsequent elections because what they considered to be a safe seat, it doesn't cut the same situation now, do you have that view that politics isn't what it was even 10 years ago?

O'DWYER:

I've always taken the view that you have to start as you intend to continue which is, if you're somebody who works hard, you've got to demonstrate that from day one. I know I saw Tass at one of the local community forums that we held in Higgins only the other day – an Arts forum – it's one of more than 40 local community forums or gatherings that I have actually hosted in the electorate to talk about policy issues to make sure that I'm hearing from people in the local community around issues that concern them. I've done that since day one and I think, to be a good representative, you actually have to be a good listener, but you also have to be a very strong advocate as well. And those issues that I've been a particular strong advocate on, which I know is relevant to your listeners here, is the issue of, for instance, same sex marriage. It's not always easy to be a strong voice particularly where there are differences of view from within your own Party on this but it's something that I have strong views on. I stood up on and advocated strongly on same sex marriage and believe that's part of my role and job.

MARSHALL:

Do you think that the voters are as loyal as they were in previous elections or are they able to be swayed so quickly on one or two issues?

O'DWYER:

I think people quite rightly know that their vote is important. They know that their vote is incredibly important and there is great power in their vote and I think they're right to say 'you shouldn't take me for granted' to anyone. Any political party – whether it's the Greens, whether it's Labor, whether it's Liberal, and I think people do very seriously think about their vote when they go into the election booth on election day. Whether they postal vote or not, they think about it seriously before casting that vote. I don't have any problem with that. I think they should think very seriously about it.

MACCA:

So Kelly what are the top two or three top issues in the electorate? You've talked about equal marriage, 'cos as you may or may not know, we're not interested in saying same sex marriage, we're interested in equal marriage, but what are the other top two or three hot issues that you're hearing from your electorate?

O'DWYER:

It depends where you are in the electorate as to what the issues are that mostly concern people. For instance, down in Carnegie and Murrumbeena, people are really concerned about the level crossings that divide their community. It's an issue that hadn't been talked about in the Parliament by anybody – at a State or Federal level – until I was elected. It was because I'd been having community forums down there, it was because I was talking to people, it was because I was surveying people, because I was having mobile office meetings. That people said this is actually the number one issue for us in this area and we need to see it fixed. And then I really lobbied hard. I lobbied the previous State Government to say we need to put some money into getting upgrades here and they committed more than two billion dollars to actually doing that along the Dandenong railway line. Unfortunately that's all now been ripped up and we're starting again but that won't stop my very strong advocacy on making sure that we can have it delivered.

MARSHALL:

So does that also change the way you campaign knowing that within the one electorate, and obviously the inner city electorates which are a lot smaller logistically, same number of people, proportionate representation, but does that change the way that you campaign with that knowledge and the speed at which the knowledge can come back to you as to what matters in different areas?

O'DWYER:

I think everybody's an individual and what changes their vote is different for every single person no matter where they are in the electorate – so I think you need to be able to respond to people on an individual level. People are not one big homogenous group and what concerns one person is going to be very different to what concerns somebody else. So a women with small children who's looking to get back into work is often pretty concerned about whether she's got good childcare available to her and whether it's flexible, whether it's affordable. That's why the Government's really focused on this issue right now. Somebody else who, for instance, is paying a lot of tax is concerned about whether or not people are going to be putting up tax or whether people are in fact going to be reducing tax, which is again one of the reasons why we've been talking in our tax reform process about how important it is to reduce the personal income tax rates.

MOUSAFERIADES:

Before Macca asks you a question, we've just had a query from one of our listeners who says and I quote "will you cross the floor if marriage equality bill comes up?"

O'DWYER:

It's a really tough question. And I think, I don't know if all of your listeners know this, but in the Liberal Party, backbenchers are able to cross the floor without there being any sanction – that's one of the great strengths of the Liberal Party…

MOUSAFERIADES:

Parl Secs?

O'DWYER:

Parl Secs, anybody who's a Member of the Executive is different. So you aren't able to cross the floor if a Bill comes before the Parliament where you have decided it's a policy question. I stood up in the Liberal Party Room – that six hour long Liberal Party Room meeting that we had – and I advocated very strongly both for a conscience vote on this issue because the Liberal Party has always had a conscience or a free vote on issues to do with marriage from time immortal since Robert Menzies. And I said it was going against our traditions in not actually having that free vote. Unfortunately I did not win that argument. I also strongly stood up in the Party Room and advocated for same sex marriage because I believe it actually builds stronger families. So on the issue of whether I would cross the floor, if it comes before the Parliament and a vote is to be taken I'm going to have to very seriously think about my position in the executive. So ask me that question again if that situation comes up.

MACCA:

I'm puzzled by this whole referendum-plebiscite question. We didn't have a referendum on abortion, the Parliament decided that they would not allow the Territory law on euthanasia – these are matters of life and death. So why if the community can't be trusted to vote on that, Parliamentarians have that job, why is it that the Parliament, or sorry the Prime Minister, and others believe this should be a vote of the Community? Why is…?

O'DWYER:

It's a really good question. So let me try…

MACCA:

… you can abort a foetus, you can have a managed death but you can't get married. The community can't decide those first two but they have to decide this one.

O'DWYER:

It's a really good question and as I said to you, I thought that the best way of resolving this issue was a conscience vote because everybody, no matter what their view, could be respected for their view and they could vote accordingly. Whether they were for same sex marriage or whether they were against it because of their religious beliefs – they were able to have their view respected. I think a referendum is a ridiculous idea. I agree with our Nation's First Law Officer…

MACCA:

Thank you.

O'DWYER:

…George Brandis when he said you only need referendums in circumstances where you are changing the constitution. And we're not changing the constitution here. It's very clear. The Parliament has got the power to be able to legislate on marriage. The Parliament can do that and that has recently been reinforced by the High Court no less than two years ago so there's no need for a referendum. On the issue of a plebiscite, while my favourite option was to all have a conscience vote in the Parliament, I can accept a plebiscite. I think a plebiscite where everybody in the community, because there are a diverse range of views, gets a vote – I'm comfortable with that. But I do think it is important that we have a date for that plebiscite. I think we need to know it sooner rather than later. In fact I think the plebiscite should be held sooner rather than later and I also think we need a very clear question, and to my mind, that question ought to be 'do people want to see a change to the Marriage Act so that same sex couples can marry – with protections for religious institutions who, according to their doctrinal beliefs should determine who it is that they marry'. I think a question along those lines would be the right sort of question to put and I think it could be put very quickly and should be.

MACCA:

I'm really glad that you put that view. It's great to hear it clarified and on Joy. We've run out of time Kelly.

O'DWYER:

Oh.

MACCA:

You are welcome any time. I want to thank Tass and Pete Dillon for helping us organise that. You are welcome any time.

O'DWYER:

Terrific.

MARSHALL:

Lovely to have a strong female voice on this matter.

MACCA:

Absolutely.

MARSHALL:

From any party.

MACCA:

Absolutely.

O'DWYER:

It was great to be with you and I'd love to be back – that was very short!

MARSHALL:

Thanks Kelly.

MACCA:

Thanks for your time; I know Saturdays are very precious – particularly with little ones. Really appreciate it. Love to see you back again. You are on Sat Mag with Macca, Tass and Kirsty. Stay tuned there is more.