TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH ABC News 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 15 NOVEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Uranium to India, Same sex marriage.
The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has changed her mind and is now backing a push to end the ban on uranium exports to India. The issue will be debated at next month's ALP conference. Ms Gillard argues the move would strengthen Australia's relations with India. Pressure has been mounting to change the policy.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd both support selling uranium to India.
We'll cross live now to political correspondent Melissa Clarke in Canberra. Melissa what's the likely outcome at the ALP National Conference next month?
REPORTER: Well it does now seem inevitable that there will be a change in Labor Party policy when it comes to exporting uranium to India. We have had over recent years a gradual loosening of that ALP policy when it comes to nuclear issues. We've seen a change in the past with the three dams policy being expanded. We now have some very influential figures including the Prime Minister herself saying that we should be exporting uranium to India. That does seem the most likely outcome in December is that we will have a change in policy.
But someone with the real inside word who will know with more certainty than I is an influential figure in the Labor Party from Victoria Senator David Feeney who's joining me now. Thanks very much for joining us.
DAVID FEENEY: Thanks very much Melissa.
REPORTER: So what is the likelihood now that the Prime Minister's thrown her weight behind uranium exports to India, is it now inevitable that that will be the outcome?
DAVID FEENEY: Well it's not inevitable, I think what the Prime Minister has clearly said is that she wants this conversation to be had at ALP National Conference and if a change is accomplished there then the Government would change its policy.
The issue is now before the Labor Party and it will take place with rambunctious conversation and lots of different view points put, that's the way it is and we've literally got hundreds of delegates representing thousands of party members coming together at our national conference early next month and I'm sure it will be a very important debate there.
REPORTER: It is, no doubt it will be a rambunctious debate but is there really much possibility of there being an outcome where the party decides on a different position to that of the sitting prime minister because that would leave you in a terribly awkward situation.
DAVID FEENEY: Well I certainly hope not because what the Prime Minister has said today is really a very common sense approach. It is that India is a very important trading partner for Australia, it is a stable and democratic country, it's been a mature nuclear power for many decades and it doesn't make sense for Australia to have a policy of selling uranium to the United States or to China and not to India. India is not a second class citizen. So I think the Prime Minister's proposition is a very simple and straight forward one, a very logical one. One that's good for Australia. I hope it gets backed.
REPORTER: Would circumventing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [sic] though give it less credence in international circles? Aren't you undoing the good work that the non-proliferation treaty has done and that Australia has been heavily involved in promoting by just working around it when it doesn't suit Australia?
DAVID FEENEY: Well I think the non-proliferation treaty you're talking about has unfortunately been a dead letter treaty since at least 2007, since the United States and India resumed nuclear relations and United States started working with India on a nuclear industry. So I think that the non-proliferation treaty in so far as India is concerned has kind of been - reached its used by date some time ago.
And the proposition that Australia would stand alone in not selling uranium to India and its nuclear industry, which as I say is a mature one, would really just start to look silly. Why should we embark on a policy which treats India any differently to a country like China for instance?
REPORTER: Well moving on to another element that Julia Gillard has indicated – changed position on, she's also indicated that she would support a conscience vote when it comes to same sex marriage even though she herself doesn't support a change. Now I understand initially you were against changes to the Marriage Act but you've since changed your mind. Can you tell us what your thoughts have been on this issue?
DAVID FEENEY: Well I guess my thoughts on this issue are that there are very strongly held views on both sides of this debate inside the Labor Party. This is a controversial issue and we're dealing with issues here which include people's religious convictions as well as very strongly held views from long time activists and I think it just makes sense for the Labor Party to consider when thinking about how it handles itself to say let's have a conscience vote, let's have a situation where Labor Party MPs can consult with their communities and with their own consciences and make their own independent decision.
REPORTER: Conscience votes have previously been limited to issues of life and death matters though, is that now no longer a restriction, will that open the gamut for more conscience votes to take place?
DAVID FEENEY: Well perhaps, but I don't think it's true to say that the Labor Party hasn't adopted this approach before. In South Australia for instance Premier Don Dunstan used the conscience vote on several occasions inside the Labor Party as he advanced gay law reform in that state. This is I guess a device the Labor Party has used on issues like this in different parts of the country. It's in the toolkit if you will and it just makes sense for us to reach for it on this occasion and say listen this is an issue where every individual Labor Party MP can search their own conscience and make their own decision.
REPORTER: I understand that you would like provisions that would allow churches or celebrants who don't want to conduct same sex marriages to not be compelled to, I would ask - if you come to the conclusion that it's discriminatory not to allow same sex marriage, how can you then allow an exception which allows that discrimination to continue. We don't allow that where we recognise other forms of discrimination.
DAVID FEENEY: Listen this is where common sense comes in very handy I think. I mean churches have long enjoyed certain exemptions to discrimination law because churches obviously have beliefs. There are church doctrines where they do have a sense, a religious sense of right and wrong and good and bad and it makes sense for us to respect those churches and those institutions and their right to their own beliefs. We're not making homosexuality compulsory here in this bill. We're obviously talking here about respecting different rights and different ways across the community and so I don't see the contradiction you're searching for.
REPORTER: And just finally do you agree that by allowing a conscience vote for the ALP but with the likelihood that the Coalition would vote as a block against any moves to allow same sex marriage, that it's inevitable that any effort in the near term to legislate same sex marriage would inevitably fall over?
DAVID FEENEY: No I really don't and I think this is an interesting question commentators need to start asking again. I mean why are you letting the Liberal Party off the hook here? The Liberal Party has long maintained with, you know, its hand on its heart, that it disapproves of the Labour Party's caucus system and that every member of the Liberal Party is free to vote their own conscience. Well the rubber just hit the road, let's see how they do.
COMPERE: But the Labor Party could force the outcome by making it its policy, making MPs tow the party line and working with the cross-benches, they too could make it happen.
DAVID FEENEY: Sure but I guess I'm saying I think that's a silly way to go. I think it's silly for us to advance this cause or for anyone to think this cause would be advanced by us coercing people into taking a view point. But why isn't that true for the Liberal Party as well? Why can't you put to Malcolm Turnbull or to Senator Brandis or any of the other so-called Liberal moderates, that they've got consciences and what are they doing?
I don't agree with you that the Labor Party's decision to have a conscience vote here pre-determines the result. The Liberal Party have to come up with something a bit more nuanced than just ‘NO’ in order to advance this proposition. They can't be let off the hook Melissa.
REPORTER: Senator that's all we've got time for. Thanks very much for joining us.
DAVID FEENEY: No worries, thank you very much.
REPORTER: And Joe you can be assured that there will indeed be a rambunctious debate on the floor of the ALP National Conference but we should remind everyone that of course that is what the Prime Minister Julia Gillard herself has called for in her reforms to the ALP. She says she wants debate and she doesn't always want to be a winner but I'm sure on these two issues she would like to be.
COMPERE: And we'll have extensive coverage of that on ABC News 24. Melissa Clarke in Canberra, thanks very much.