Transcript – AM with Sabra Lane – ABC radio

Topics: Senate Presidency, Senate

 

E&O …

 

SABRA LANE:

Presiding over it all was Scott Ryan in his new job and he joins us now, Scott Ryan, good morning and welcome. Congratulations.

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Good morning Sabra, thanks for having me.

 

LANE:

What a day to become President. Maintaining your independence through a very heated Question Time, witnessing three new senators sworn in – one of them quitting his party instantly – that was a big first day.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

It was a busy first day, there is always a bit more attention on the Senate than most Senators realise when the House of Representatives is not sitting. So yesterday was no exception to that general rule.

 

LANE:

Many people would wonder, why give up a Cabinet ministry to take on this job?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well firstly, it is an incredible honour and position of trust that my colleagues in the Government and across the Senate have placed in me in giving me this role and it is one I take very seriously.

 

I might also say that these are very important roles. These are roles that oversee the operation of our Parliament – everything from the committee system, to debate in the chamber, to maintaining order in a robust democracy, and so it is more often in Canberra I get asked why I would move into a position like this than outside because I think people outside also understand that the Parliament is an important institution. These positions have an important role to play and I take them very seriously.

 

LANE:

What will you bring to the role?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think, honestly, I’ll bring a sense of humility, but I will let others judge that. My performance and my position is entirely dependent on the trust of my 75 fellow Senators.

 

I believe in the institution of the Senate, I said so in my maiden speech. I believe in a deliberative democracy that allows for a second chamber to have a lengthy debate and to consider what propositions government puts forward. I am now the servant of the entire Senate, not just my party, which is very different to being a minister in a government.

 

LANE:

Now having a more independent role, within the party you’re known as a straight talker, someone who is across all the detail, the numbers, you were instrumental in helping build support for Malcolm Turnbull before Tony Abbott was ousted. Are you also going to step away from that internal politicking?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I will remain in the Party Room. Unlike the Speaker, the President of the Senate has a vote on every issue, but no casting vote in the Senate. But my role will be very different. It is not a role now that is putting forward the Government’s legislation or taking part in partisan media debates, my role now is as a representative of the Senate and my workload will reflect that and I will step away from the previous role I had as a minister.

 

LANE:

So this interview might be the last one that we hear from you for a long time?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well that depends if there is any interest in what I’m doing.

 

LANE:

Now the Senate committee system is one of Parliament’s jewels but it has come under a lot of strain recently given the numbers on the opposition. The Greens and crossbenchers are using their numbers to trigger a number of inquiries and that’s really put the Department under a lot of strain to make sure they are staffed well, that they can investigate issues well. Are you mindful and worried about that strain?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well the number of referrals to committee is entirely a matter for the Senate, it is not something I will comment on. I will say the workload has dramatically increased and I will be, in my first days, turning my attention to understanding how that has increased, particularly since for the last few years I’ve been a minister and haven’t been as engaged in it.

 

But you’re right to say the committee system is a jewel in the crown of the Parliament. What the committee system does is it goes around the country and whether it is an inquiry into something I did, like native vegetation, or an inquiry underway at the moment into the funding for research into rare cancers, it allows citizens to actually present directly to politicians, not just their local member, but to maybe a group of experts or Senators who have had a long experience in the health system, or in regional affairs. It allows people to come together through shared experience, not just through the geography of where they live, which is how the House of Representatives is constituted.

 

That really does add value to how our Parliament deliberates. Whether in opposition – you might be building a case to oppose something or to understand something – in government, you might be trying to work with stakeholders to build support. It’s a very important part of our democracy and it’s one, I think, everyone who gets involved in generally values.

 

LANE:

Not everyone values the Senate as it is. Your colleague Tony Abbott earlier this year said the Senate wasn’t a house of review anymore, it was a house of rejection. He also put forward the idea that there should be a referendum on changing the nature of that so that joint sittings of parliament could be held more easily without triggering a double-dissolution election. Are you sympathetic to that idea?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well look, in my past life, before I was made president, I sort of made clear that I was a strong supporter of the Senate. I don’t think there would be strong public support for a change to the Constitutional provisions. Everyone who looks at referenda and their history knows that Australia is quite a conservative constitutional country and doesn’t lightly change the Constitution so I don’t think there is a realistic prospect of that happening. But whether people want to make judgements on the behaviour or otherwise of the Senate, that is not for me to make in my current role.

 

LANE:

You’ve spoken about how much respect you have for the institution, how worried are you about the erosion of public trust and faith in Parliament and politicians at the moment, especially given the citizenship saga we’ve seen at the moment?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I don’t think anyone would ever say that – at least in my lifetime and I’m 44 – that you go into politics to be particularly put on a pedestal. One of the great things about Australia is that we do treat everyone equally. There is a healthy scepticism I would say, of people with status and authority, I’ve always liked that. I will let other people make judgements on public trust, what I will say though is on the citizenship issue, I do think the way to build trust – and the way to maintain it, if necessary – is that we apply the law. There was a resolution passed by the Senate yesterday that will involve the disclosure of all Senators over the coming weeks with respect to their citizenship details and I think that will help build public trust.

 

LANE:

Just before we go, your last job as Special Minister of State, you were working on a foreign donations reform package, how close is that now to being delivered to Parliament under Mathias Cormann, who is now going to take on that role?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well look, I don’t want to speak on behalf of the person now acting in the ministry. I said prior, when I was in that role, that it would be brought forward before the end of the year and I have every expectation that will be completed.

 

LANE:

All right, thank you very for talking to AM. Good luck in the new role.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Thanks Sabra.

 

[ENDS]

Author: senatorryan

Share This Post On