Transcript – Ben Fordham – 2GB

Topics: parliamentarians’ work expenses

 

E&OE …

 

BEN FORDHAM:

Let’s talk about this dominant purpose test, the aim of this is to say, ‘ok, what’s the real reason you’re travelling interstate? Is it for that official meeting or are you going there because you want to go to the grand final next weekend?’ Can you just tell us how this is going to work?

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Well exactly as you said in your intro.

Ben, I get confronted with questions like this. I’m from Melbourne, if I flew to Sydney just to have a half an hour coffee with you and then go to the grand final that’s not within the rules. It isn’t now and it wouldn’t be in the future, definitely not. But if I had a four or five hour committee meeting as a senator, or if I had a ministry meeting, and I decided to stay overnight at my own expense and go to the footy, that’s different.

What is the dominant purpose, the real reason you travelled, and the important point is that this authority – I note what you said there, that it will only look at things after the fact – but there are a couple of extra kickers that it has.

Firstly, an MP can go to them and get a ruling: is this legit or is it not? And that can be relied upon. Secondly, this authority has the power to demand information so it can actually police these rules.

 

FORDHAM:

We’ve seen politicians previously fly interstate, or in some cases – I remember with the former prime minister Julia Gillard, take the private jet to some remote location, she met with the local member so that covers off the official business, but then attends a wedding for one of her staff members over that weekend and the taxpayer picks up the bill – that’s what we’re talking about here isn’t it? When people blend business with pleasure, then they charge it all back to the taxpayer.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

That’s why we’ve introduced for the first time, after all the – honestly – scandals over the last few years, this isn’t the easiest job to be able to explain all these, we’ve set up an independent authority with the power to get information, with the power to make legally binding rulings and set up this dominant purpose test and a value for money test.

I noticed you asked earlier on the program about funerals, for example. I can’t get on the plane under these rules and go interstate for a funeral. But I think it is fair that with, say, the prime minister and leader of the opposition might be able to do that to go to a funeral of a former prime minister. It is partly about context here.

 

FORDHAM:

All right, well let’s focus on the funerals for a moment. So you’re saying MPs will not be able to fly interstate to attend a funeral?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

If it was an official, state funeral they can go to this authority and seek a ruling. If it is the grand final, for example, should the minister for sport be able to go to the grand final? I shouldn’t be able to, it’s not my portfolio, but I think Australians do expect to see very senior figures and people with direct portfolio responsibility at those events.

 

FORDHAM:

We have seen in the past, MPs attending weddings and then putting in an expense claim and then being forced to repay it. What happens with weddings?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

That’s not allowed. Not allowed then, not allowed now.

 

FORDHAM:

Even though some of those MPs say ‘hey, look, to be honest with you, it was kind of work’?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look I don’t think it passes the community standards test.

 

FORDHAM:

I don’t think so either.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I don’t think it passes this test either. And the fact that it was repaid I think says so. More important than even that, in the old days, this stuff took six, even eight months, to come out. We’re moving with this independent authority, which will control the authority, not politicians – so not me, an independent group of people – to monthly reporting in the long-term, and in the short-term, quarterly reporting. So you’ll get to ask politicians, you’ll get to ring me and say, ‘Scott, was that legit when you travelled?’ And that sort of transparency, that sort of constant disclosure and the watchful eyes of the media and citizens who can download this stuff, is very important.

 

FORDHAM:

Let me give you an example, let’s say there is a shadow minister in Victoria. So a federal member of parliament who is based in Victoria, he is a shadow minister. He flies to Sydney for lunch with me, a radio host, and that’s within his job because he says, ‘look, I’m having a lunch with Ben Fordham at 2GB because I want to be able to talk to him about a few things we’re doing’ and as you know …

 

SENATOR RYAN:

You might have had an interest in his portfolio and been talking about it for a while.

 

FORDHAM:

Yeah, right, so he flies off to Sydney. He then goes off to watch the Swans take on Geelong at the SCG. Is his travel to the SCG legitimate?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

In my view – and this is a matter for the independent authority because it is important that these people are going to make these rulings, not me – in my view, coming to Sydney to do portfolio work like that, often at someone else’s request, is entirely legit and should be within the rules because people expect their politicians to be accessible and not just stuck in Canberra. What I’ll say is, when I’ve been in a similar circumstance, I’ve paid for my own taxi or train.

 

FORDHAM:

So the politician flies to Sydney on the public dime, he has a lunch meeting with me …

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Look Ben I don’t want to get into this. It’s important here that I don’t get into doling out different scenarios.

 

FORDHAM:

But see, how are the politicians in Canberra going to know what they can do and can’t do unless there are black and white rules?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well there are black and white rules and there is a person to ask, independent of other politicians, so you’re not coming to me or another politician and asking ‘can I do this?’ You’re going to people who can set down a legally binding ruling that can …

 

FORDHAM:

You would acknowledge, surely, that there is a lot of grey area here. This is 50 shades of grey.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

No, not at all. Let’s be honest, we want our MPs, – when people come from Melbourne like me, the inner suburbs of Sydney, far north Queensland, the Northern Territory – we expect our MPs to be accessible. We do not want them living in Canberra like they do in America, where they all live in Washington. We want them to come to and from Canberra so they are at our school fetes, at our community events, that actually involves a great deal of travel and when something goes wrong – whether it be the fires we had in Melbourne down the coast the summer before last or the catastrophe of the cyclone in North Queensland – we expect the politicians and their staff to be able to get on a plane and to go and assist.

It is very hard to create a single, three-sentence set of rules that apply to everyone. So what we’ve done is we’ve got a page-long definition of what constitutes parliamentary, official and electorate business, and we’ve got a group of people, independent from politicians, who will give you rules.

 

FORDHAM:

You don’t think some will just look for ways around it where they think ‘ok, AC/DC’s playing in Brisbane, I better organise a bit of a meeting with some lobby groups or colleagues in Brisbane on the Friday night and then all of a sudden, I’m off to AC/DC’?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’ve been in Parliament nine years Ben, and I can tell you, with monthly reporting and with all this stuff being put on the internet, I think the overwhelming number of politicians will behave. We get the occasional scandal, but you’ll be able to find out, you’ll be able to ask the questions. And the media are vigilant on this.

 

FORDHAM:

OK, well we will wait for some more detail because, as you say at the moment that detail isn’t there as such, I guess that will be put together by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

In all the years this has happened, this is the biggest reform in decades, we are changing some laws that go back to 20 years before I was born, a lot of them are from before I could vote, and I’m 43.

 

FORDHAM:

You do realise at some point though, I know I’m not telling you anything we don’t know and maybe we are just getting ahead of ourselves, but at some point you are going to need black and white, these are the rules, everyone knows them, because at the moment, there is a lot of grey in there, but you’re going to have to turn that into black and white.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Can I just say, because I come from inner suburbs of Melbourne and some people come from Cairns, there is always going to have be some flexibility in the rules. What we’ve put in place is transparency so our behaviour can be judged almost instantly.

 

FORDHAM:

Good on you, thanks for your time.

 

[ENDS]

Author: senatorryan

Share This Post On