‘Labour Party has learnt its lessons and evolved’
Former divorce campaigner Deborah Schembri is an ex-Nationalist. She tells Christian Peregin Labour has changed and has its own policies which it will release in its own time.
Name: Deborah Schembri
District: 11 and 12
Residence: St Paul’s Bay
You were the face of the pro-divorce campaign. What made you decide to join the political scene?
I never intended to become a candidate before the referendum campaign, but as I started campaigning I met many people who told me I had something to offer. I believe politics is about giving something back to the country.
So many months down the line, how has your life been affected by the divorce campaign?
It is a very different life. I’m much busier now. Not just in terms of politics but even my private life has been affected because people recognise me everywhere.
Your career as a lawyer has received a boost. You are reportedly among the most sought after divorce lawyers and you charge among the highest rates. Has the divorce campaign made you rich?
No, not really. Of course, people recognise me more, like anyone else who has been in the limelight for a while. In that sense, it has enhanced my professional career because people are used to me and what I represent. Regarding my fees, one has to distinguish between what is paid for the lawyer and what is paid for everything else. My fees include everything, from start to finish. So whoever comes to me is charged once and everything is included.
Why choose Labour?
Because it has a social conscience and it is doing its utmost to actually enhance everyday living.
Is it correct to say that you used to be a Nationalist?
Yes, very correct. I was always a Nationalist before.
So are you being an opportunist in joining Labour now when the polls are looking so rosy?
No. I have been unhappy with the situation in the PN for the past few years. I was always hoping it would fix its internal problems and start treating the country with the care it needs. This hasn’t happened. I still have the same beliefs, the same values I used to have, but it is not the same party.
You lived through certain episodes in Labour’s past. They said they wouldn’t touch the stipends and they did. They fought against EU membership, which I believe you were in favour of. How do you reconcile these facts?
There were things I didn’t like in the Labour Party. When there was an issue with the stipends, I fought very hard with other students to get it back to what it was before. The difference is that the Labour Party of the past is not the Labour Party presented to us today. It is different.
Don’t you think the changes are cosmetic? The party still retains some of the same key people. Even leader Joseph Muscat... he had fought against EU membership.
No, I don’t think it is just a cosmetic change. Nowadays, the policies have a clear social conscience and though Dr Muscat may have fought against [EU membership]... I think we have to look forward, not back. We look back just to learn lessons from the past.
Some people are the same, but people mature and grow. I was a different person 20 years ago. My ideas have changed. They have evolved. And the Labour Party has learnt its lessons and evolved.
If George Borg Olivier brought Independence, Dom Mintoff claimed freedom from the British, and Eddie Fenech Adami brought democracy and made us EU members, what is Dr Muscat’s vision?
I think it would be to have a united nation. I see him capable of doing it.
What do you think you can contribute to the party?
My area is anything that has to do with social policy... new pieces of legislation that enhance the everyday life of everyday people. That is what I like about politics.
Are you involved in the way these aspects are being transposed into the Labour Party’s manifesto? Are you included on a practical level?
Yes, I’ve had my say. But the policy of the Labour Party comes out of the Labour Party, not me.
Let’s take some social issues like IVF and the Cohabitation Bill. Does it concern you that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to have a stand on these issues?
It is not that the Labour Party doesn’t have stands. It just has its own timeframes to bring them to the fore, which is basically when we start talking about them again in Parliament after its very long summer holidays.
What is your stand on the IVF law?
IVF is a very important and long overdue law. We may not agree exactly on the nitty-gritty of it, but I think it is a positive way forward.
Could the Labour MPs vote against the IVF Bill?
The Labour Party has made it clear that an IVF law needs to be passed.
Do you think the cohabitation law is also a good first step?
I have a problem with the cohabitation law. When you are passing legislation you first need to see what problem you are trying to solve. I am in favour of having a cohabitation law for cohabitees who need their relationship to be regulated. But I think Government has put forward a cohabitation law to give us an alternative to civil partnerships.
Isn’t that a good first step?
It is absolutely not a good first step. Sometimes things are better done in steps but it has to be a step in the right direction.
What is the difference between cohabitation and civil unions?
With a civil union you have rights and obligations that are close to, if not matching, marriage. Cohabitation is for people who don’t want marriage or a civil partnership. That’s why the Bill cannot be a first step, because you are regulating a different sector altogether.
What is Labour proposing?
Labour is working on its policy on the cohabitation legislation. It is also clear on the matter that we are going for civil unions for gay couples.
Do you think gay couples should be allowed to get married?
If you ask me, personally, yes. Or if you want to call it a civil union, it should have the same rights as marriage.
So would you accept a civil union that doesn’t contain the same rights as marriage?
I would prefer civil unions to have the same rights as marriage. If you like, don’t call it marriage because marriage is traditionally male and female. My problem is not with words and fancy terms, my problem is with rights.
Are you convinced that a Labour Government will give gay couples the same rights as married couples?
Labour is a democratic party. A decision has to be taken with the whole group. When you are planning a piece of legislation in that context, in a democratic context, you might not get exactly what you wish for.
So if you don’t get exactly what you wish for, would you still feel comfortable being in the Labour Party?
Yes of course. The idea that you stamp your feet if you don’t get exactly what you want, is not my way of doing things.
So why shouldn’t the Labour Party accept the cohabitation Bill as the Government is proposing?
Because it is going in a different direction. Why have a cohabitation Bill giving the same rights as those already available through a notarial deed? It is just a cosmetic Bill. It doesn’t go down the path of giving gay couples rights that can be built upon to get close to marriage rights.