Transcript – AM Agenda – Sky News

Topics: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, commentary about possible department of homeland security, Racial Discrimination Act, WA election

 

E&OE …

 

KIEREN GILBERT:

We’re joined now by the Special Minister of State Scott Ryan. Before we get onto other issues of the day, I want to ask you about this matter because it has been a relationship that’s on our doorstep, a major, major nation in terms of its size and rising economic clout, it just tends to be derailed from time-to-time with transactional issues, short-term issues, rather than an established strong economic partnership. That’s what, I guess, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are hoping to try and achieve here?

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Well Kieren, I think you saw with the President’s visit very recently, this relationship is at the top of two governments. This is a critical and important relationship for Australia, it is one that the Government is dedicated to constantly working to deepen, broaden and improve, but it has a very strong base. Friends can occasionally have disagreements, but it is a high priority for the country and I think that is shown by the Prime Minister returning the recent visit of the Indonesian President.

 

GILBERT:

Very soon after, just a week or so after Jokowi’s visit here.

I want to ask you about a report in the Fairfax press, this idea has been around for a number of years, a mega department of homeland security bringing together half a dozen agencies from within the Attorney General’s Department and the Immigration Department under one umbrella. At the time in 2014, Julie Bishop rejected the idea. When asked about it by Denis Shanahan, she said for this to happen, if there were such a proposal, it would have to demonstrate any current failures in terms of cooperation between intelligence agencies. She said at the time, ‘I’m not aware of any such failures’. I guess the same benchmark, the same test would have to be met this time if it were to be pursued?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well Kieren, without adding to the speculation, the first thing to note is how effectively our agencies – both across the Commonwealth Government and between Commonwealth and state governments – work at the moment. There is constant information sharing, constant cooperation and we saw that as recently as last week, with the events in NSW.

 

Now I understand the Prime Minister has commissioned a wide-ranging review into our security agencies, which is the first since late 2011 or 2012, and the Government is awaiting that report and the Government will consider the report.

 

GILBERT:

There is some opposition to this, as you heard from Julie Bishop back in 2014, George Brandis has expressed a similar sentiment at the time I remember, and also, within the public service I’ve had similar concerns expressed to me about this idea, and one quote in Peter Hartcher’s report along those lines today suggesting those who wanted to militarise customs now want to take over the whole national security apparatus.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Kieren, as I said, I’m not going to add to the speculation that’s in this morning’s press. The Prime Minister has commissioned a review. That review will come forward when it is complete but it is important to emphasise to everyone how effective our security and intelligence arrangements are at the moment. Yes it’s a matter of constant vigilance, but we do have good cooperation and I think it is important that the specific portfolio ministers speak to further details on those issues. They are quite sensitive, obviously.

 

GILBERT:

Indeed they are.

Let’s ask you then about another matter, this is the front page of The Australian today, a proposal by Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, one of your Senate colleagues and ministerial colleagues, trying to find a middle ground on this issue of 18C and the Racial Discrimination Act. She wants, effectively, a pub test within the legislation. What do you think of this?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look Kieren, my views on this particular issue are well known, I often describe myself as a ‘First Amendment man’ with respect to free speech.

I honestly think, you talk about a path forward, but there is something more important to note here and that is, the Labor Party, in an effort to trawl votes around certain parts of Australia, now have a focus on restricting speech. Whether it be refusing to countenance change in this regard, or even with respect to the plebiscite, which I handled last year, and the reason offered that we can’t trust Australians not to offend people and not to be homophobic – that’s essentially the message the Labor Party have sent. I think that is deeply offensive to liberal democracy and deeply offensive to the majority of Australians.

Now with respect to this proposal, the Government has said it will work through the recommendations of the committee report that came down last week. There is some agreement on procedural issues, there wasn’t agreement on some of the substantive issues. But the Government will consider all of those as it works forward with a proposal to take to the Party Room.

 

GILBERT:

Do you think this, as a compromise, would be compelling to people who want change here? There are those opposed to changing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, your colleagues within the party, but also outside of the Liberal Party, significant cohorts within the community. I spoke to Colin Rubenstein of the Jewish and Australian affairs council (sic) late last week and he was powerful in his support for the status quo.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’ve had lots of arguments with Colin myself over many, many years.

Kieren, I’m one of these people who believes politics is the art of argument and the art of the possible. When John Howard took the GST to an election – to use a big picture, economic example – he legislated what he could afterwards. It wasn’t everything the government wanted, but we legislated what we could. That’s my personal philosophy about what we can legislate, and particularly what we can get through the Senate. But the particular point here is that yes, I have some colleagues who disagree and I heard Connie, who I sit next to in the Senate, on the radio this morning and I take in good faith those who disagree with me. But when I had the Labor Party running around, basically saying this is about permission to be a racist, or the plebiscite was about permission to be a homophobe: that is deeply offensive to democracy. That is deeply offensive to Australians who want to be able to express a view and don’t necessarily want someone always looking over their shoulder. That’s not acting in good faith, as far as I’m concerned.

 

GILBERT:

But you know the Prime Minister has got to find a middle ground here. I can’t see him simply taking the IPA view on this and simply scrapping 18C altogether.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

And the likelihood is, the reality of the Senate numbers would be – even if that were to happen – it would face a very difficult passage through the Parliament, if at all. Now, I think what the Government and the Prime Minister have made clear, and the Prime Minister has made this clear for several years now, is that free speech is an important value in any liberal democracy and it’s particularly important to Australia. Rather than not have debate on this, he directed the Attorney General to have this report come forward from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights through the Cabinet process. That report has come down and now the Government will consider it. That is the way good government process works.

 

GILBERT:

Indeed. Just finally on this issue though, there are many within the Parliament – also outside of the Parliament, the commentariat and elsewhere – suggesting this is a crucial issue in terms of the party’s base. Do you agree with this assessment?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

This is an issue upon which people have very strong feelings. I myself have very strong feelings. And Kieren, there are different audiences to which politicians deal – whether it is in particular portfolios or just as representatives of the people. There are strong views on this held from within the Liberal Party, there are strong views on this held within the community, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily what I’m stopped about when I’m walking down the street because it might not be the issue of the day. But governments and politicians are always capable of focussing on more than one issue at any given time.

 

GILBERT:

On the WA election, just a few days out now and Fairfax reporting that their polling, the internal polling, is worse than the published polling. The number that’s been reported this morning in the Fairfax publications, 57-43 to Labor, is what internal polling is suggesting. If there is such a major wipe out of the Barnett Government, that would have flow on effects to sentiment federally, wouldn’t it?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look Kieren, I’ve always been of the view that federal and state politics should be treated relatively separately. I remember when the Kennett government lost, in what was the biggest surprise of its time, it didn’t have an impact on federal politics. I think the Australian electors, particularly those in Western Australia, where there has always been a stronger flavour of localism in politics, can actually separate the two.

Look, the Barnett Government is a government that has been in place for quite a while and getting re-elected in Australian politics to a third term is always a challenge. I wish them all the best. I haven’t spent a great deal of time following it – being a Victorian Senator and Minister in Federal Government – but I know that if Labor wins over there and rips up contracts, the way Daniel Andrews did in Victoria, that the people of Western Australia will suffer for that.

 

GILBERT:

You’re right in terms of voters often differentiating between federal and state issues, but sometimes you’d agree, that a by-election here or a state election there, can have an impact in terms of sentiment or mood within federal parties?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’ve never seen it have an impact on the mood of voters, Kieren. I’ve seen lots of commentary and that’s part of our job, when I come to Canberra it’s the sort of thing that might get talked about with yourself or others more often. But I don’t think it impacts what most of us do in the Federal Government or Federal Parliament on a day-to-day basis. My colleagues who are Members of Parliament are still going to be coming to me with the challenges from their constituents on policy issues or policy ideas they have and I’m still going to be doing my day-to-day job.

 

GILBERT:

All right. Scott Ryan, appreciate your time this morning. We’ll talk to you soon.

 

[ENDS]

 

Author: senatorryan

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