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TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 3 November 2017

TITLE: Transcript – Drive with Patricia Karvelas – Radio National

TOPIC(S): High Court decision on parliamentarians’ ineligibility, Tony Abbott’s speech, foreign donations ban


PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Minister Scott Ryan is with me. He is the Special Minister of State and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet. Welcome.

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:
Good evening Patricia, thanks for having me.

KARVELAS:
Did Senator Parry raise this with you?

SENATOR RYAN:
No. As you might know, I was on medical leave for quite a period over July, August and September so, no, it wasn’t raised with me.

KARVELAS:
Who did he speak with?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well there is a report out there and I don’t want to be drawn into commenting on a report because I haven’t heard from Senator Parry or any of my colleagues. There’s a report there, I don’t know.

KARVELAS:
If he did confide in a colleague, as it has been reported, a Cabinet colleague, what is the obligation of the Cabinet colleague?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I don’t really want to be drawn into hypotheticals.

KARVELAS:
It’s not a hypothetical.

SENATOR RYAN:
It is a hypothetical here.

KARVELAS:
No, if he tells a Cabinet colleague, what should the Cabinet colleague do?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well ‘if’ is a hypothetical Patricia. ‘If’ means it’s a hypothetical question. I don’t know if he did, so I am not going to be drawn into conversation around what may or may not happen about something we don’t know to be true.

KARVELAS:
OK. The ABC is reporting that Senator Parry told a Cabinet colleague – and senior colleagues – that he is a dual citizen, as far back as August. He was told to keep quiet. Should he have been told to keep quiet?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I don’t know if that is true Patricia. I’m not going to be drawn into a conversation around a report that I have not heard from Senator Parry on and if Senator Parry said that, then that might be time to have the conversation, but it’s a report.

KARVELAS:
What advice would you have given if someone had asked you?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I was on my back quite unwell at the time.

KARVELAS:
If you were asked? Someone texted you, I think I’m a dual citizen, Scott Ryan, what do I do?

SENATOR RYAN:
The way I acted with respect to former senator Day was that as I became aware – and I read all of this out to the Senate – I conducted an investigation over a couple of months and then I announced it to the Senate. But it did take some time to do that and I went day-by-day, when I spoke to the Senate, about why I had learnt something in August and was bringing it to them in October.

KARVELAS:
So are there obligations on Cabinet ministers to, I don’t know, in all workforces in Australia I’m sure people listening will relate to this, you manage it up, you don’t sort of say ‘keep quiet’, you manage it up.

SENATOR RYAN:
No, as a general rule I actually try to manage problems myself so I don’t have to manage them up. People more senior than me are usually even busier, and I’m fairly busy, so a successful person in business, politics or whatever actually tries to solve problems themselves.

KARVELAS:
Staying quiet isn’t solving a problem though, is it?

SENATOR RYAN:
That’s what I’m saying, I don’t think we should be managing a problem up, I think we should be solving it and addressing it. There is an obligation upon each Member of Parliament and each candidate, when they sign the forms, to ensure they comply with section 44 of the Constitution.

The meaning of that was substantially clarified last Friday where the High Court said ‘it doesn’t matter if you don’t know, you are still in breach of section 44 if you hold foreign citizenship’. That wasn’t the same as has been the case for the previous couple of decades.

KARVELAS:
Kevin Andrews has come out today and said that he wants an audit too of all MPs to see if they’re dual citizens. Will this be debated in the Joint Party Room, because there are now growing numbers of Coalition MPs who want this to happen?

SENATOR RYAN:
Any backbench member is free to raise any issue they want in the meeting of the Coalition Party Room, so I can’t speak on behalf of any of my colleagues.

I’m not sure what people mean when they say ‘audit’. Firstly, it’s not an issue …

KARVELAS:
To check out if people are dual citizens.

SENATOR RYAN:
The only competent authority that can make a ruling and a determination is the High Court of Australia sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. Unlike other countries, we don’t let politicians judge each other. If someone has a doubt, a question, about a Member of Parliament they can raise it. There is a legal action that citizens can take as well. But in every case where this has become apparent, the Parliament has referred the person to the court. The system is working.

KARVELAS:
Kevin Andrews says Australians are looking for strong and decisive leadership. Is the Prime Minister delivering it on this, because he won’t allow an audit and there are question marks around the rest of the Parliament?

SENATOR RYAN:
No, there aren’t.

KARVELAS:
There are. Stephen Parry came out just this week, we thought it was settled on Friday and it wasn’t.

SENATOR RYAN:
That is proof they system is working. The idea that we don’t have a presumption that people have acted in good faith – effectively a presumption of innocence …

KARVELAS:
But he didn’t act in good faith.

SENATOR RYAN:
Well some people may say that, others may say that as soon as the High Court ruled, he came out publicly.

KARVELAS:
You’ve given me two scenarios: what do you say?

SENATOR RYAN:
I think it could be interpreted either way. I don’t like to judge my colleagues. I imagine it’s been a very difficult couple of days for Stephen, he is a colleague and friend, and I’ve lost a couple of colleagues over the past week who I count as friends, in Fiona Nash. But the system is working because in this Parliament, we’ve had more referrals, including one I made for [former] senator Day, more new rulings from the High Court on the meanings of this clause of the Constitution, than we’ve had ever before.

KARVELAS:
If you’re just tuning in, we’ve got the Special Minister of State Scott Ryan as my guest. And my number if you want to text in, you’re already busy doing it, but come on, I know there’s more of you, 0418 226 576.

Someone says, ‘what on earth is managing up?’ Well you know, telling your boss basically, telling them there’s an issue, that’s what I was referring to.

Wesfarmers chief executive says Stephen Parry’s citizenship drama will impact consumer confidence. That’s pretty serious.

SENATOR RYAN:
He also said that there shouldn’t be an audit and that Parliament should focus on issues of national importance.

KARVELAS:
I’m asking you about the consumer confidence part.

SENATOR RYAN:
I’m just putting it in context. Look, he is in a better position than I am to judge consumer confidence because he employs more than 100,000 Australians and actually leads a large consumer business. His comments sort of speak for themselves. There is no point in me making an observation on that, it’s not my area of expertise.

KARVELAS:
Kevin Andrews says the AEC should do this audit, one of the reasons is he says is that it will stop the further erosion of confidence in Parliament. Do you accept it has taken the sheen off the Parliament?

SENATOR RYAN:
I don’t know how much sheen Parliament has, to be honest.

Look, the AEC has no legal authority to conduct the audit, and they’ve got something on their website that outlines exactly why they can’t. They are constrained by the Electoral Act, they can’t knock out nominees when they nominate for election on these grounds. They can’t conduct an audit of Members of Parliament, it simply lacks the legal authority or the competence to do so.

KARVELAS:
Let me ask some things that are very specific to your portfolio, not just political questions.

SENATOR RYAN:
Sure.

KARVELAS:
Five Senators now ineligible, who is liable for the costs of their offices, staff and so on? Are they required to pay it back?

SENATOR RYAN:
So under the financial management acts we had – we learnt this with former senators Day and Culleton – officials in the Department of Finance will make an assessment whether there is a debt, if so, how much, and whether it should be pursued for things like office costs, travel costs and travel allowance, printing costs—those sort of things. It is the Department of the Senate or the Department of the House of Representatives, they are responsible for payment of salaries and electoral allowance each Member of Parliament gets, they will make the same assessment.

In the case of Mr Day and Mr Culleton, they both received letters from both of those departments, and it had an amount, we didn’t disclose that amount. Officials make that decision. In the case of former senator Day, he then applied for a waiver of that debt, that came to me as Special Minister of State, I granted it and I explained why to the Senate in May.

KARVELAS:
So that’s your precedent?

SENATOR RYAN:
No, well I have to consider legally every application on its merits, I have not received an application.

KARVELAS:
So we shouldn’t assume that if people apply for waivers, including Senator Parry, others that you …

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I can’t make an observation on an application I haven’t received, and I have been given very strict advice when I took on that responsibility, because I do that for Centrelink, Medicare, tax, a whole of range of government programs.

KARVELAS:
Yeah, and a few people have made this point, and I actually think  it’s a really good one, you know, with Centrelink for instance, if you get overpaid, you’ve got to pay it back—why aren’t politicians having to do the same thing, why is there two sort of categories of people?

SENATOR RYAN:
I get applications for people to have debts waived right across government, including Centrelink and Medicare and the tax office, and they are all treated on their merits as individual applications.

KARVELAS:
So you’re saying you waive others as well?

SENATOR RYAN:
I’m saying, I have to treat every application on the basis of the unique circumstances of that application.

KARVELAS:
The recount for Fiona Nash’s senate spot is on Monday. Holly Hughes is next on the ticket, will she likely take the spot?

SENATOR RYAN:
Look, best guess at 10am Monday when the counts are conducted in Queensland, NSW and Western Australia, the only real change will be the next on the parties’ tickets, in NSW there is a joint Liberal/National ticket, and so it would likely be Holly Hughes.

KARVELAS:
Could she be sitting in the Senate when it next sits in a couple of weeks’ time, that quickly?

SENATOR RYAN:
It’s possible. So what will happen on Monday is the AEC will conduct the count, after that they will file papers with the High Court. They won’t make an announcement about the result, but scrutineers will be there so I imagine the Twitter news service will probably be active, and I understand the High Court will sit again next Friday. If it issues a ruling to effectively put those people into the Senate in place of the vacancies, then they would, in the normal course of events, be sworn in the following Monday.

KARVELAS:
Nationals’ Senator, John Williams says he’d like to be the next Senate president, are you going to back him? Give him a go? He only wants to do it for 19 months or something.

SENATOR RYAN:
Traditionally the position of President of the Senate has gone to the Liberal Party when the Coalition is in government.

KARVELAS:
Do you have to go with traditions?

SENATOR RYAN:
It’s a long standing practice and I doubt it will change.

KARVELAS:
Just on another issue, Tony Abbott will deliver a speech and he is going to say lots of things and he’ll say that the same-sex marriage debate has activated the beginnings of a conservative activist group to rival GetUp! — is that’s what’s happened?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I think it would be a bit premature to say that. I’m a GetUp! sceptic and their attacks on the independence of the Electoral Commission last week were unprecedented. I’ve never seen a union, a political party, do what they have last week. So I don’t know if I’d use that as the measure of what I would like our movement to be. That said, anyone that wants to get involved in politics, I encourage on any side, and anyone who wants to get involved in liberal or conservative politics—get involved in the Liberal Party, because that’s how you deliver government.

KAREVELAS:
But has this been what this has all been about for some people? To try and set up, a sort of right-wing activist groups around same-sex marriage?

SENATOR RYAN:
Look, I think some people have used it for trying to build, whether its information and data, or campaigns, people use campaigns for different things, GetUp! and the left use other issues.

KARVELAS:
So you think there have been conservatives that have tried to use this issue of same-sex marriage to galvanise a bigger movement?

SENATOR RYAN:
It’s always hard to assign motive. I think one could say “is there a consequence of getting people involved in a political campaign? They might get involved in more campaigns?” Yes. But I don’t necessarily want to assign a motive to it.

KARVELAS:
He says that if the ‘no’ vote reaches 40% then it would be a moral victory for conservatives and marriage, traditional marriage. What do you think?

SENTOR RYAN:
I’ve heard the case about moral victories when you might win more votes or more seats, but the other side ends up in government. Look, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to politics, whether it’s a referendum, a plebiscite, or an election, there’s a winner and there’s a loser and it’s decided by the simple result.

KARVELAS:
So it wouldn’t be a moral victory if the ‘no’ case got 40%?

SENATOR RYAN:
I don’t know how it would be a moral victory, no, I just don’t see the argument there.

KARVELAS:
Just finally, you’re working on a foreign donations bill.

SENATOR RYAN:
Yes.

KARVELAS:
Is this going to be ready for debate?

SENATOR RYAN:
This will be in Parliament by the end of the year. I made that commitment earlier, and it is a target we will meet. The reason it is a complex bill is that we’ve committed to ensuring that there’s no foreign money in Australian politics, not just political parties, but other foreign campaigning. We can’t have a situation where one TV ad is paid for by foreign money just because it is not paid for by political party. And so, balancing that with the legitimate right of those who get involved in politics in other ways, is very technical. But it will be in Parliament in the last sitting fortnight, if not released earlier.

KAREVELAS:
Will charities, unions and other groups be included in this kind of, foreign donation?

SENATOR RYAN:
All political expenditure, and there are categories of this in the Electoral Act, we will prevent foreign donations funding political expenditure in Australia, as covered by the Electoral Act.

KAREVELAS:
Scott Ryan we’ve ran out of time, but thanks for coming in.

SENATOR RYAN:
Thanks Patricia, lovely to be here.

[ENDS]

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