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Subjects: Same-sex marriage, citizenship.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Darren Chester, good morning. Thanks for joining us.

DARREN CHESTER:

Good morning, great to be here.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

We know that you are a supporter of same-sex marriage. Have the conservatives hijacked the issue even before we have a result from the postal survey?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, I don’t think so, Virginia. We have got the result coming through tomorrow.  Keep in mind, this is the Prime Minister keeping his promise to the Australian people. He indicated at the last election campaign that he wanted to have a plebiscite. Unfortunately, the Labor party voted against that so we had the postal vote. Despite the claims that people wouldn’t participate in that vote, we have had in the order of 80 per cent of Australians take the opportunity to express their view. So at 10 o’clock tomorrow we get the result. I think it is going to be an overwhelming yes vote, but let’s wait and see what happens then and then we go through a process within our party room of taking it forward. So if we do get a yes vote it is a question of then pursuing that reform in the Senate and the House of Reps. There’s a long way to go, I guess, in that debate and how that takes its final shape in the next few weeks.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Well, I guess that is the issue. You say there is a long way to go. If the overwhelming yes vote – if I could use that word – is what we get tomorrow and you say that is what you expect, why should it take a long time? Why should there be a long way to go? Why won’t the will of the people be quickly enacted?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well Virginia, that is democracy in action. I mean, you have members in the House of Reps and the Senate who will want to make speeches on this, or want to express their view one way or the other…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Excuse me, I’m just going to jump in there and forgive me for doing so, but they’ve had their say like everyone else. They got to vote. We all got to vote. That’s our say and now, as the Government has said, the move would be to quickly enact legislation to reflect the will of the people. So, I’ll just ask again, why should it take so long?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, when I say it is a long way to go, I’m saying the process will work through a couple of weeks of debate and there will be discussion within the Joint Party Room – just as I assume there will be discussion in the Labor Party room, and the Greens and independents.  People will come to a final position on the private members Bill, which is eventually brought forward. So, I think it is reasonable that there’ll be a full analysis of the position put forward. My position is I support the change. I changed my position several years ago and campaigned accordingly on that point. But what I campaigned perhaps more strongly on than anything else was encouraging people to have their say, to conduct themselves in a respectful and moderate manner and overwhelmingly I think people did. There were certainly some outliers at either end of the debate who I think probably did themselves no favours with their conduct during the debate, but overwhelmingly the Australian people conducted themselves in a way exactly as I thought they would – respectfully, moderately, calmly, got the job done and we will get the vote results tomorrow. I think it will be a strong yes vote and then we will move forward with the legislation. I would imagine it would start in the Senate and then come down to the House of Reps. It will take a bit of time, but I’m hopeful that we can get this resolved sooner rather than later, but I think there will be quite a process to go through yet.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Well that’s what my questions go to, because James Paterson of course introduced his own Bill, or revealed his own Bill yesterday. Is that a useful contribution? Do you, like he and others around him, believe that there do need to be many, many more protections on the basis of a so-called conscientious objection?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, I’m happy to wait until we see the result tomorrow and then go through that discussion within the Coalition party room. In my view…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Oh, I reckon you’d probably have a fair idea now.

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, I do have a fair idea now, but I want to be part of the discussion with my Coalition colleagues rather than canvas this in the media right now…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

George Brandis is happy to canvas now. He’s happy to say that as Attorney General, that the Bill that’s been outlined so far does have ample protection.

DARREN CHESTER:

Well George is allowed to say what he wants to say. I’m saying that I will work with my colleagues on this point. I understand there are strong views on the debate. My view is that we should be changing the legislation, if in fact we get a positive result tomorrow from the postal vote, and then I think there should be some protections for religious freedoms of speech, which I think is generally accepted as reasonable. But in terms of how much further you’d go, I think that’s really appropriate for that conversation to occur in the Coalition party room.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Okay look, just my final question on this and it just goes back to my first question. Do you believe though – given that we see these forces at war, if I can put it that way, within the Coalition – that this won’t actually tear the entire issue apart?

DARREN CHESTER:

No, I don’t. Look, the Prime Minister’s at the East Asia Summit right now focused on things like national security, regional security, opportunity for Australians for negotiating new trade deals. He has to deal with this issue of same-sex marriage – it is a domestic issue that needs to be dealt with – but the bigger issues, the more fundamental issues for Australia’s future, the Prime Minister’s working on overseas right now and doing a great job.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Sure I totally agree Darren Chester, but that wasn’t my question, it was whether this will tear you guys apart and you won’t get a result.

DARREN CHESTER:

I don’t think it will tear anyone apart. I think the point I was trying to make, Virginia, is there are tiers of issues that you have to deal with as a government and those major issues around national security and providing new job opportunities and 500,000 new jobs over the past two years is a good result. I think people can see that within the party room. They are good achievements and we need to keep working very hard on those achievements, and this is another issue we need to resolve. We need to work our way through it calmly, methodically, responsibly, keep our heads about us as we go through this process. And I think the Prime Minister has shown himself very capable of working his way through tough issues. He has been dealt up a lot of tough issues in recent times and he’s kept a cool head as he’s dealt with them.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Now, will the deal done with Labor to sort the citizenship mess revive the Government’s fortunes as the Prime Minister seems to believe?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, I think this is a great example of my last comment that the Prime Minister has been dealt some pretty tough issues and he has calmly and coolly working his way through them. Now, this is a legacy issue that could have been dealt up to any Prime Minister in the last couple of decades. I mean, some of these individual senators and members we are talking about made declarations the best part of a decade ago about their citizenship, unbeknownst to them perhaps, that they would fall foul of Section 44. So the Prime Minister is dealing with the issue. He has worked with the leader of the opposition in this regard to have a declaration process in the House of Reps and the Senate. I’m hopeful we can deal with it because I’ll tell you one thing, Virginia, when I get out in regional Australia talking to people, they make a joke about it first of all. Just checking, mate, you’re not a dual citizen are you? and then they just move onto another issue as quickly as they possibly can. They want to talk about jobs; they want to talk about roads and rail and airport infrastructure. They don’t want to talk about where my mum and dad were born.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Darren Chester, to be fair, that is pretty much a reflection of my views too on the whole thing. But anyway, I’m not up there in the big house. Now look, these days though, let’s be realistic about the nature of politics these days and the moment we start hearing rumblings around the Prime Minister has my full support and rumblings around the leadership discussion and just how the Government might go with Malcolm Turnbull as leader. It is impossible to stop that runaway train, isn’t it, potentially down the track of a leadership spill?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, I think it is a demonstration where those of us who work in politics and those people in the media who are paid to commentate on politics are somewhat inside a bubble compared to what people are talking about out in the community. When I get out in the community they are not talking to me about a Newspoll…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Darren Chester, I’m going to jump in again, my apologies. The question doesn’t go to what people care about – I think we’re pretty clear on that – it’s what happens in politics now. And we’ve seen it again and again on both sides of politics and that is once you start hearing these rumblings, it’s almost like you can’t stop it. Do you feel you are inevitably moving towards yet another leadership change?

DARREN CHESTER:

Well no I don’t, Virginia, because the point I’m trying to make is if my colleagues who I regard with a great deal of respect get out and listen to people in their community and hear what they are saying, they want us focused on them. They want us focused on their communities. So, they want to know what I’m doing as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to get better, safer roads…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Sure, but they don’t seem to want you as a government according to the polls.

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, I’d rather our Newspoll figures were higher, but we have been through a pretty tough 12 months, we are dealing with the issues as they come forward. But we are still in government; we are still in a position to implement our agenda. Our scoreboard looks pretty good when you look at; we are working hard to make sure Australians feel safe. So we’ve worked on national security, been able to stop the boats and regain border control. In terms of jobs and prosperity, we have been able to secure an additional 500,000 jobs over two years. We need to get out there and explain to people what our agenda is and how we are delivering in our communities and then I think we’ll get credit for that at some future poll. But right now it’s about delivering everything we said we’d deliver at the last election campaign. I mean, keep in mind, Virginia, no one has ever accused this Prime Minister of breaking any promises. He has delivered everything he said he’d deliver at the last election campaign. I think he is doing a bloody good job in tough circumstances.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

I’ve just got to ask you finally before I let you go. You are Federal Transport Minister, are you with dull, boring, humourless team Michael Rowland, this morning, in disliking Ferry McFerryface for a new ferry on the Sydney Harbour, or are you with fun, exciting team Trioli in thinking that it’s a great name?

DARREN CHESTER:

I think I should stick within my sphere of influence and stay clear of your internal…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Oh you coward. Come on.

DARREN CHESTER:

I’m going to sit on the fence like every true politician, is that what you are trying to say? I think I shall stay clear of your internal debate here. I can’t win either way.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

I’m disappointed the Transport Minister doesn’t have a view on that. Let me ask you this: stepping on board, would you frown or would you smile if you saw that?

DARREN CHESTER:

I would smile.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

There you go, Darren Chester, good to talk to you. Thank you.

DARREN CHESTER:

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