Transcript – News Day with Peter Van Onselen – Sky News

Topics: Member for Higgins, superannuation reforms, merging of Australian Conservatives with Family First, staffing allocation for crossbenchers

 

E&OE…

 

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Andrew Bolt is accusing you of leaking a story in relation to Kelly O’Dwyer, who, of course is a close colleague and friend of yours, in some sort of reverse squirrel where you are somehow trying to out the superannuation ginger group etc. I don’t quite understand it myself, but let’s get to the nub of this. Are you the leaker?

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Absolutely not. Kelly is one of my closest friends, we were at uni together. What happened to her was, I think, appalling, but I am not going to engage with crazed conspiracy theories. They are not going to distract me from my work.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

You say that, but they’ve distracted others. They’ve dominated the papers. I see The Financial Review today has referred to it. I’ve offered an opinion piece about it. Peta Credlin’s had a lot to say about it, both here on Sky and in print. There is no truth to it, but clearly there is something going on in your home state factionally. What is it?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well, I’ll tell you what Peter no one expects me, as an elected official, as a minister in the Government, to spend my time on internal issues like that. I’ve got more than enough work to do. We are looking at reforming foreign donations, I’m cleaning up the long delayed clean-up of parliamentarians’ expenses, which have been on the agenda for years. That’s what I’m spending my time on. I’m very happy for Kelly on the safe arrival of her son. As I said, she is one of my closest friends and I think what happened was appalling. But I am not going to engage with those who seek to throw mud without foundation. I think it says more about those making accusations than me.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

What do you think about the QC who – it would appear to be deliberate – used the phraseology where he referred to Kelly O’Dwyer as having ‘given birth to an appalling policy’ when talking about superannuation only one week after the birth of her second child?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I think Kelly has maintained a perfectly dignified silence in response to the events of last week and the weekend. She was responsible, with the whole Government, for a very difficult set of policies that brought equity back to the treatment of superannuation and that ensured we can bring the budget back to balance. Now politics is – you should measure politicians by how they take difficult decisions. I think that policy was right. I also think the way Kelly handled it was exceptional given its difficulty. I’m not going to make observations about the behaviour of commentators or voters, but I will make one on my colleague and in this case, I think Kelly and the Government did the right thing. They handled it well, they argued the case, but it was difficult.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

It’s now a consensus decision? Or are there people within the parliamentary party who are as upset as this ginger group that have been expressing themselves through the media?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think where the Government landed and where the Coalition landed on superannuation has achieved a balance between ensuring where superannuation needs to have a tax treatment that encourages savings, but is also equitable in that tax treatment, and helps bring the budget back to balance, which after all, is an absolutely critical objective for the Government and of critical national interest. I haven’t heard anyone in the Coalition raise a concern with superannuation since we landed on that policy.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

Can I ask you, is it true, what I’ve been told when the policy was adjusted post-election – because there was some tinkering everyone acknowledges that – is it true that there was a standing ovation for changes in the Party Room?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think there – I can’t remember if there was a standing ovation Peter – but everyone was very happy with the fact that, yes, we had done a little bit of tinkering, but we had landed on a policy that balanced fairness, as well as the need to encourage and reward those who were saving for their retirement. That’s why no one has raised it since.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

Just one final one on this issue around the accusations at you about leaking. I appreciate that you’ve rejected them categorically, but just to play devil’s advocate on that from my perspective. How would one, when orchestrating such a scenario, manage to convince opponents of yourself to be commenting publically, if you were behind the orchestration of this because it would quite a Houdini act? I would have thought, to be able to leak and then to also be able to convince the QC to start talking about it, including on the 7.30 Report, convincing other people to weigh in and do all sorts of things. It would be quite a puppeteering manoeuvre.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

It’s a conspiracy theory Peter. That’s the best way I can describe it and I think it should be treated as such.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

All right, let’s move on.

Cory Bernardi’s party is growing now that it has the organisational assistance of the Family First party. Is this a good thing, in your opinion, for Australian politics? I think it is. The reason I say that is because it is an opportunity for One Nation to be gobbled up on the right of centre across the crossbenches if this Australian Conservative Party can be successful. Whatever people think about Cory Bernardi, he is far less offensive – I don’t necessarily think he is offensive at all – he is far less offensive than Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and he is more ideologically pure.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Peter, you wouldn’t expect me to make those sort of observations that really are for people like you. As the person who brought the Bob Day matter to the attention of Parliament after I discovered it, Family First in South Australia was, in recent years, very much the product of Bob’s work and his particular efforts, contributions and role in the Senate. It has always been very South Australian in its focus, apart from the fluke election of Steve Fielding in Victoria in 2004 from Labor preferences when their preference deal went wrong. I’m not particularly surprised, but at the same time, it doesn’t really affect what I need to do. What I need to do is implement the promises we set at the election, deal with the problems that arise in between and then convince people, or ask people, to vote for us for another three years. We are more than two years from another election so the movement of political parties or senators is not what is occupying my mind or the minds of my ministerial colleagues.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

But as the electoral affairs minister, what about the difficulties of a new party trying to take root in Australian politics? It is a highly two-party system, as you well know and we’ve long talked about that even though there is a growing vote for crossbenchers, in terms of primary votes, the system is stacked against minor parties by and large, more so in the Senate after those changes that have been made via Senate reform ahead of the last election.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I wouldn’t describe it as stacked against. Any party that receives four per cent of the vote receives public funding and I think that actually enables people to start up new, competitive parties. While I’m a member of the Liberal Party and very proud of that, I have no problem with competition either. I don’t think it is stacked against. The Senate changes simply say that who you vote for is where that vote goes to. If anything, that will help major parties, but also generate trust in minor parties because essentially where a ballot paper is marked number one, that’s where the vote goes. Where it is marked number two, that’s where the vote goes. It will stop preference whispering that I think was destroying trust in wider Australian politics in the Senate.

Look, Cory has got a political agenda, he has set up his own party. I was disappointed when he left the Liberal Party, but it is not going to distract me from what I’m going to do.

I think new senator Gichuhi is in a unique circumstance. She has come to the Senate in a unique circumstance given the High Court case and now, given the political party she was elected on has merged with another party, I’m more than happy to cut her some slack. It is a circumstance that has never occurred before in 116, 117 years of Australian history.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

It’s definitely an unusual one.

Is your view on Cory Bernardi that it is appropriate that he has now got an enlarged electorate allowance (sic) through staffing, which is what crossbenchers get?

He was elected as a Liberal, yet your Government has offered him – he didn’t ask for it is my understanding – they offered him the extra staff? Is that appropriate? He was elected a Liberal and taxpayers are now paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year more, not because he asked, but because your Government offered it to him.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

When this matter was under consideration by myself – I provided some advice to the Prime Minister’s Office – I went back and looked at what had happened in similar circumstances in the past. When Labor senator Shayne Murphy left the Labor Party and became an independent, he was given the same staffing allocation as then independent Brian Harradine …

 

VAN ONSELEN:

… But it was a lot less then Senator, than it is now?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think that partly reflects the workload. It wasn’t about the number of staff, it was were you treated the same as the other crossbenchers?

When Meg Lees left The Democrats to join her own party that she set up, the Progressive Alliance, she was also treated the same way as the other crossbenchers.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

But she was already a crossbencher when she was a member of The Democrats so there wasn’t much of a change there.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

No it was because The Democrats had party status and party staff. So minor parties, once they have five members, are treated as political parties and are given extra staff. So Meg went from that to the crossbench and was treated the same as other crossbenchers.

All the Government has done with Cory is to ensure that he is treated the same as every other crossbench Senator and Member of the House. When that has happened in the past, the same thing has happened. This is a precedent that goes back to the 90s.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

It’s not unprecedented what you’ve done, far from it, you’ve made that point. The response to that is that two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right. My question is do you think it is fair that taxpayers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more in entitlements off the back of a decision of the Government to – in a lot of people’s views – go with the theory that two wrongs make a right.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I wouldn’t say two wrongs make a right Peter. I think the crossbenchers have a unique workload, particularly in the Senate. Keeping up with every single procedural motion, procedural vote, notice of motion and amendment to a piece of legislation in the Senate. When you’re in a party – whether it be a major party or a minor party, like the Greens with 10 senators – you have a whip and you can seek guidance from them on what is before the chamber. Having been in the Senate, for example, for as long as Nick Xenophon has, when he was a sole Senator, I do remember how difficult it is for independent members of the crossbench, whether it be him, whether it be Bob Day, whether it be David Leyonhjelm, keeping up with every single issue before the Senate. The extra staffing allowance given to crossbenchers in the House and the Senate reflects the fact that they have an additional workload that, in the major parties, is accommodated for by ministers, shadow ministers and whips. I think it is fair.

 

VAN ONSELEN:

All right, Senator Scott Ryan, appreciate your time.

 

[ENDS]

 

Author: senatorryan

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