darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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Subjects: Same-sex marriage, Cabinet.

KIERAN GILBERT:

One of those who was, of course, supporting the legalisation of marriage equality and same-sex marriage was Darren Chester, the Nationals Cabinet Minister who joins me now.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, but this has been something that you have suggested should happen for some time and quite a rarity within the Nationals as we have discussed before but historic scenes there last night.

DARREN CHESTER:

It was amazing. It was an amazing time to be in the Parliament when the Gallery erupted in applause. I know they are not meant to but the Speaker indulged the fact that it was an historic moment.  I stood on the floor and looked around and it is a great moment for our Parliament and it is a great moment for our nation. It is important now we unite. I know there is a lot of people who voted no as well, obviously the majority voted yes. It is important that we use this as a uniting moment and move forward now very comfortably and strongly as the great nation we are.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you feel that- well, obviously many of your constituents voted no, a majority voted yes, but there are still millions that voted no. How do you bring that portion of the population or the constituency with you given this was such an outpouring of joy in the Parliament?

DARREN CHESTER:

Look, I think it is with respect and understanding. Respect for each other’s view and an understanding that people may always hold different views on these issues. But we respect each other’s views; we are a very tolerant community. I mean, I was at the hotel last night – as you can probably tell with my scratchy voice – and there was a lot of jubilant scenes. I bumped in to members of the Greens, members of the Labor Party, members of the Liberal Party, staffers and it was a very uniting moment in the sense that everyone was pleased that this Parliament had got it done.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you feel like – as a Nationals Member and one of very few who supported legalisation of same-sex marriage – that you are on the right side of history?

DARREN CHESTER:

Look, no doubt. I mean, you can’t walk away from that fact. I was very determined to not be the person who was voting to entrench inequality in to the future.  I think the community – or the nation – had been on a journey on this issue for probably the best part of a decade and there were a lot of people who walked that journey for a long time and were very strong advocates for their position and they managed to bring the community with them. The one good thing about that postal ballot was it was an ultimate vindication that 80 per cent of people returned the ballot, more than 60 per cent said yes; there is no argument anymore about opinion polls or the silent majority, all that sort of stuff that was talked about in the past. Australians have spoken, the Parliament has acted and now we need to move forward confidently as a nation.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And it is fair to say that most people who voted no would be aware of that as well, that the majority were supportive. So that would help the healing process for them as well.

DARREN CHESTER:

There has been very little backlash for me in my community in terms of people who voted no and are annoyed about the issue. I mean, they have their opinion and they expressed it…

KIERAN GILBERT:

It’s done.

DARREN CHESTER:

…And they say: fair and square, we lost the ballot. The only issue is around let’s make sure there is proper protections for religious freedoms. I think the Bill that has gone through the House covers off on that very well.  Then the work we are doing with Philip Ruddock in terms of looking at the broader issue over the next few months, I think, will give them some comfort that their concerns are being properly addressed.

So, look, I have got to give credit to the Prime Minister. He has walked a very difficult line over the last 12 months in trying to manage this issue through the party room and through the public and he has got to the end of it.  I have just bumped into him in the lift and he is in a good mood. He is very, very happy that it has been done and he can move forward on a lot of these other really important issues we are working on to help the nation prosper into the future.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Because unlike the Labor Party, there are many within your party – at least half of them – don’t support or were not strong supporters of legalising same-sex marriage. You would think it was at least half, probably hard to know exactly, but certainly many more within the Coalition who were opposed than, say, with the Labor Party or the Greens. So, it is a difficult one politically internally to manage.

DARREN CHESTER:

Well, that is true, but, look, on the floor last night at the end of the debate there were large numbers of Labor, Liberal and Nationals MPs voting yes. I understand some abstained. I don’t know who abstained, there was a huge crowd on the yes side of the vote. That is the Parliament in action. I mean, it was a conscience vote, people had the right to vote however they wanted to and there was no ramifications to them in terms of the other executive positions they might have held. So, it was a great moment. I doubt in my parliamentary career I will ever see another moment like that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The only one that comes close that what I can remember was the apology from Kevin Rudd in 2007 or early ’08, but that apology was very much – it was a very emotional time. This was a very joyful time, by the look of it, in the House. They are comparable, though.

DARREN CHESTER:

I think they are comparable, and I wasn’t quite here for the apology, actually. I came in the 2008 byelection. What I would say about the same-sex marriage legislation change, it will actually change people’s lives. It is a change in direction as a nation, that they will be able to go and get married; there will be a boost in wedding reception venues around the country, that’s for sure. But in terms of the apology, the apology I thought was very important symbolism, but needs to be backed up with more practical reconciliation action into the future still. So, they are both very comparable in the sense they are meant to unite the nation and take us forward on difficult issues, but there is a lot of work still to be done in terms of the sentiment around the apology.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you think in terms of the Parliament and the way it operates, observers of the parliamentary process look at moments like this and think: well, why can’t you be more collegiate all the time?

DARREN CHESTER:

I am sure they do, I feel that myself as a Member of Parliament from time to time. It is an adversarial system of government, which has its strengths from time to time, to make sure it really provides a level of scrutiny for Ministers and for the issues of the day, but sometimes it can be unnecessarily combative and can be personal and doesn’t need to be. So, I think on those occasions where we see the Parliament at its finest, we all have hope for the future. End of the calendar year, new Parliamentary year next year, maybe we can be a little bit kinder to each other, maybe we can be a little bit more conciliatory and work together on some of these issues.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well, it doesn’t really hurt either side of politics when you do that. It reflects better on both, doesn’t it?

DARREN CHESTER:

Yeah, and I think that is a challenge for us all to reflect on over the summer break, is can we do a little bit better next year? Look, I love the job I have got, but sometimes it can be unnecessarily combative and you would love to see us working together on those bigger issues of which there is no political difference. It is really about what is in the best interests of the nation.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Finally, you had a win yesterday as well in terms of Bridget McKenzie becoming the Deputy Leader of the Nationals. I know you were supporting her, a fellow Victorian. She would go into the Cabinet; the Deputy Leader goes into the Cabinet. Would you expect another seat for the Nationals?

DARREN CHESTER:

You are about to say what happens to me, were you?

KIERAN GILBERT:

No, no. I wouldn’t expect that you would be demoted, but in relation to the broader numbers, you are at four now, with Fiona Nash out. Will you hope that stays at five?

DARREN CHESTER:

Of course. I mean, I would love that to happen, but this is not my role in the place. It is up to Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce to work out the Cabinet arrangements. Bridget is a personal friend of mine as well; we have known each other for the best part of 15 years and I have watched her career develop. She is a great champion of regional issues and it is good for us to have a strong voice from Victoria joining the Cabinet, but also her election.  She wasn’t put in the role because she is a woman, but her election as a strong National Party woman does send the message to young women in regional Australia that there is a career for them. If they want to get in public life, you can get to the very top.  Now she is Deputy Leader of the National Party at a federal level, it is a great achievement for her.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Darren Chester, thanks for your time.

[ENDS]

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