MERYL SWANSON, MEMBER FOR PATERSON: Good morning everyone. It is absolutely magnificent to welcome Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen to Paterson and more importantly here to High Street, Maitland. Chris, thank you for being here.
The businesses in Maitland are growing, its a growing area but there are also lots of issues and questions that have been addressed this morning. Chris spoke at the Maitland Business Chamber meeting, met lots of great business people and Im absolutely delighted to have Australias alternative Treasurer here talking about business to business in Maitland.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Well thanks very much Meryl. Its great to be here with my friend Meryl Swanson accepting her invitation to come back to Maitland. Its a very important visit, talking to local councils yesterday, at the Maitland Business Chamber today.
Regional economies are vital to Labors economic agenda. We believe in continuing our economic growth and ensuring that economic growth occurs in our regions as well as in our big cities. Thats why I spend so much in the regions thinking about how we can make our regions more of a powerhouse.
Now Ive been very impressed with many of the stories Ive heard here this morning from the Maitland Business Chamber, businesses getting on creating jobs being very innovative, that's a great thing. We want to work with those businesses, we want to ensure that the Federal Government in Canberra is focused on making sure that that growth can occur in consultation and cooperation with those businesses.
So we discussed many ideas today, it strikes me that the Maitland economy is doing better than many other economies but of course we cant be complacent, we need to ensure that we are doing everything we can, that young people around the country who grow up in a regional town like Maitland can stay in that town if they want to and have good employment.
It's always good to see Meryl, my friend from Canberra and particularly in her home community where she is continuing to very strongly make a case for the people of Paterson.
Happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: Chris, just on the same-sex marriage survey. Your electorate had one of the lowest Yes votes in the country. Why dont you feel any obligation to reflect that vote in Parliament?
BOWEN: I made it very clear to the people of my electorate before the last election that I was a supporter of marriage equality. I did that deliberately. I knew it would be controversial in my electorate and that my electorate has a different view to many if not most other electorates around the country but I went to the people with a very clear view that I would vote Yes and got a mandate to do so by being re-elected and of course the people of my electorate know me very well.
They vote on my performance, on my record. They did so last time and I will be asking them to do the same next time but if you believe that two Australian citizens regardless of their gender should be able to marry each other and you believe that thats a human right then you shouldnt need an opinion poll to tell you that. Members of Parliament can vote on what they believe are fundamental human rights and weve never supported the plebiscite/postal vote concept. We believe that Members of Parliament should do their job for what they think is right and thats what we continue to believe.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think so many people voted No in your electorate?
BOWEN: Well of course it wasnt just my electorate, I think you saw a Western Sydney-wide No vote in many instances, not in every Western Sydney electorate but many instances. I think thats reflective of peoples views, thats reflective of different social backgrounds.
People are perfectly entitled to express those views. The Government made clear that if the postal vote was returning a Yes vote across the country, they would facilitate a private members bill, have a conscience vote and that it would pass. And thats now what I expect to happen, I expect it will pass before Christmas and I expect it to pass overwhelmingly.
JOURNALIST: Given that vote though in your electorate, how do you intend to bring your electorate along that path?
BOWEN: Well Ive made it clear to people in my community that, for example if marriage equality becomes reality under Australian law, it does not require any church or any religion to recognise a marriage which they dont currently recognise. It changes the civil law of Australia. Thats a very important distinction. Many people originally were concerned about that, thought that their church would automatically have to recognise same-sex marriages which of course has never been the case.
I pointed out to people for example weve had no fault divorce in Australia for 40 years, many churches were worried originally that that would force them to change whether they recognised divorce or not. Of course it hasnt. It has not. And marriage equality is a similar issue. Over time just as no fault divorce has been accepted and I dont think any sensible person would suggest winding back that clock, in time marriage equality will be seen in the same way.
And just to go to your point, sometimes politicians have to lead and make difficult decisions and explain to people why we are doing things that people disagree with. Sometimes we are accused of not doing enough of that and people say Why don't politicians lead more and take more unpopular decisions?. Well here you have a bunch of Labor MPs saying marriage equality is the right thing. We understand that is a difficult conversation for some in our community its the right thing.
JOURNALIST: Just on Susan Lamb, Chris, shes saying that British authorities cant be satisfied about her citizenship status because she cant access key documents. Shouldn't Labor allow her case to be dealt with by the High Court?
BOWEN: Well, we had very clear advice that Susan Lamb is very clearly Constitutionally allowed to sit in the House of Parliament, the House of Representatives. Now if the Government wants to play games and rip up precedents and conventions that these votes are not occurring on party lines, well they can start that process if they want to and if that precedent is broken then it applies both ways.
They have very serious questions to answer about Nola Marino, a whole bunch of others and the Labor Party has had very robust processes in place and why would we take any advice from good old Mr The-High-Court-will-so-hold.
Why would we take any advice from him who so authoritatively told the Parliament what the High Court would do and in this, like so many other areas, has been shown to be completely without foundation.
We don't take legal advice from Malcolm Turnbull who has shown he has utterly no judgement on this matter.
JOURNALIST: Just on another local issue which is also a pretty major national issue, the contamination of defence force bases obviously here in Williamtown, a major issue. As Shadow Treasurer what is Labor planning to do in terms of compensation, buybacks etc? We are hearing the Federal Government is about to drop its plan on the region. Have you got a plan?
BOWEN: Let me just say this. Firstly, there is no local Member of Parliament who has been more fastidious in representing her community on an issue like this than Meryl Swanson. She has been in my office, in the office of my senior colleagues very much strongly bringing this to our attention and making the case for action. But more importantly than that, she hasnt been engaging in stunts. I mean she could have been engaging in sort of Green/One Nation-type stands and moving motions. She has been getting on with the job.
Now, what we want to see is a result for the people affected, which is a sensible one and Meryl has been carefully working through the issues with us, with stakeholders across the board and we hope to see progress on this matter soon but that progress will in no small part, if it occurs, be due to Meryl Swansons advocacy and calm and careful deliberation on the matter not engaging in stunts but engaging in careful deliberation and forceful representation.
So we will see what the Government has to say, we will respond accordingly and if the result isnt satisfactory then of course well consider the matter further but I very much understand the issue, I have been fully briefed by Meryl. Ive been fully across the issue, all our relevant Shadows, the defence portfolio, the economic portfolios are completely across the issues involved. Of course we are not in Government so we dont have the ability to talk to Government departments about it, so we have that disadvantage but with all the resources available to us, we are aware of the issues and aware of how it might be dealt with and that is in no small part, in very large part due to Meryl Swansons advocacy.
It is very easy in politics to go out and hold a stunt protest and move a motion, that gets you nowhere, that does nothing. The sort of work that Meryl has been doing behind the scenes has been absolutely essential to the works and consideration and progresses made thus far and will be absolutely essential to an eventual result.
JOURNALIST: Can you say that you think about knowing what you know about residents and businesses are going through that there would be a case for compensation and buybacks?
BOWEN: Look, as I said Im not here to make a policy announcement today, we don't have access to the resources of Government and the advice other than to say I think this is a very, very real issue, people have legitimate concerns. Meryl has shown me, for example, was it the Newcastle Herald video that was so pointedly put? So we are very, very aware of the issue, Im not here today to make a determination or deliberation other than to say weve been looking at it closely. I welcome the fact that the Government has been looking at it closely and this community can be very pleased that a Member of the calibre and substance of Meryl Swanson is dealing with the issue and not engaging in headline-seeking stunts that would be so easy on this matter.
JOURNALIST: Youve met with some of the newly elected Councillors from Maitland, Port Stephens and Newcastle I understand. Are you pleased to see that Labor seems to be getting a bit more of a stranglehold on Local Government in this region?
BOWEN: Well, its always great to see Labor candidates doing well in any level of Government. As someone who started in Local Government in 1991 as a first-time candidate, in 1995 as the first time I won, Local Government is an important level of Government, not only an important place to learn about Government but an important way to get things done so we had a great meeting yesterday. We met with an independent Councillor as well so we worked across the board but its good to see the Labor Party do well anywhere and particularly pleased to see Meryl that we have a female Federal Member, State Member and Mayor as well.
SWANSON: Here in Maitland, yes.
BOWEN: Here in Maitland. It doesnt happen everywhere.
SWANSON: No, first female Member for Paterson and indeed first female Mayor of Maitland so that', and of course weve got our terrific Member in Jenny Richardson for State, so yes weve got it across the board.
BOWEN: All done? Thank you.