PATRICIA KARVELAS: Senator Scott Ryan is the Special Minister of State and he joins us this evening. Scott Ryan, welcome to the program.
SENATOR SCOTT RYAN: Good evening Patricia, thanks for having me.
KARVELAS: I know you referred this issue to the Senate for investigation in February, but why was this ignored by the Government over a period of years? Because you weren’t the first that knew about this.
SENATOR RYAN: To be fair, I was sworn in as minister on August 2 last year and on August 4, I became aware of it because Bob Day approached me about it himself. Over the course of the following few months, seeking legal advice and investigating the matter, it became clear there was a potentially a breach in the Constitution here. So on October 28, I wrote to the President of the Senate and said the Government would be referring it, and several days after that, Bob Day resigned.
Prior to that, there were other people in the portfolio but they all sought and obtained guarantees that Mr Day’s interest in the building had been disposed. Those were checked with title searches, and it is important to emphasise my immediate predecessor, Mathias Cormann, he ensured that not a single dollar of rent was actually ever paid for the rent of that building. So not a dollar changed hands.
KARVELAS: Sure, but this was first raised, as you say, as an issue, in 2014, some time ago, then again in 2015 with Mathias Cormann. So the Government was told twice about this. Why did it take you, earlier this year, to take genuine action about it? Not just a guarantee from Bob Day given there was a genuine Constitutional issue.
SENATOR RYAN: Well, to be fair to my predecessors, when Senator Day said he had wanted his office in this building, it was explained to him he couldn’t own the building. The building was sold and a title search was done, even a stamp duty check was done, that all passed muster. And then Mathias Cormann became the acting special minister of state late in 2015 and he put in place a number of provisions to ensure no money was paid. It was only after a number of things that I became aware of after looking at this in August last year, and putting all the pieces together, and having further conversations, including further documents provided by Mr Day himself when I requested them, and it became apparent there was a potential breach of the Constitution.
I might say, however, that this is an area of the Constitution that has only ever been litigated once, I think in 1973 – the year I was born – so it was an unclear area of the Constitution.
At all times, when I asked for information from Mr Day, he willingly provided it.
KARVELAS: If you’re just tuning in, Scott Ryan, who is the Special Minister of State, is my guest and our number here on RN Drive if you’d like to contribute to the conversation – what do you make of today’s decision of the High Court and what will happen know with this position in the Senate – 0418 226 576 is the text line.
Lucy Geshuhi seems tipped to replace Bob Day, but if she had not renounced her Kenyan citizenship at the time of nomination then she could also be ruled invalid. Here she is talking to the ABC in Adelaide earlier today.
So as you can hear, this is still uncertain, she can’t clarify. Will you refer the matter, if she takes up the Senate spot, because you could see yourself in the same, or the Senate could see itself in the same trouble it was in, with Bob Day?
SENATOR RYAN: Well the issue of being a citizen of another country is relatively clear. What I will say is that I understand when Ms Deshuhi became an Australian citizen, Kenyan law automatically took away citizenship of Kenya, you ceased to be a citizen of Kenya and that was the law of that nation at the time. Because different countries have different rules about renouncing citizenship, some countries don’t let you, so the High Court has said ‘you must take all reasonable endeavours to do so’. Other countries, like the UK, you pay an amount of money and fill out a form and it takes place over a certain period of time.
Every candidate who runs for election in Australia signs a declaration that says they are eligible and outlines the eligibility. In this case, the only reason we referred Mr Day to the High Court was because we became aware, I became aware, of a particular clause in the Constitution that had really only been tested once or twice – if not a couple more times – over the course of the century whose meaning was not clear: an indirect pecuniary interest. But it appeared that, and our legal advice was, that it needed to be looked at.
KARVELAS: Ok, going back though to Lucy Geshuhi. She couldn’t clarify, or be clear today, about what that position was when she ran in the last election, should this case be referred, just to clear it up, because her answer was not clear?
SENATOR RYAN: I think that we need to actually go through the process that the court has outlined today first. The Government will be filing the necessary paperwork to commence the recount within days and that will hopefully see those orders issued next, which would allow a recount to happen. As I’ve just explained where I’m aware of Ms Geshuhi’s citizenship status...
KARVELAS: Let me be clear, after that recount, and let’s presume, and a lot of the analysts who know a lot more about recounts say she is likely to be the person who wins this Senate position – would you then refer it? I know you say ...
SENATOR RYAN: I can tell you Patricia, I get letters all the time saying unkind things about various MPs and making particular claims. I take at face value what Members of Parliament sign and swear. It is a formal document they sign when they nominate for Parliament. Until there are obvious and apparent facts otherwise, that is taken at face value.
That is a legal issue that should more correctly be directed to the Attorney-General.
KARVELAS: So at this stage, you don’t think she is invalid to have run based on the fact that you say that Kenyan citizenship is automatically renounced?
SENATOR RYAN: There is no process in place. It’s an Electoral Commission issue because these things are run independently of government, they are not run by the government: our elections, printing of ballot papers and the like. I take at face value, the declarations signed by every candidate and every successful candidate that becomes elected to Parliament. One must do that because that is the way in which the system works.
KARVELAS: Do we know what she signed in this declaration?
SENATOR RYAN: There is a nomination form and in that you attest to be eligible to be a member of parliament.
KARVELAS: Are you disappointed then, or concerned, that she wasn’t clear when she was asked today? Because she wasn’t clear.
SENATOR RYAN: I’m not going to comment on someone who probably had a pretty big day. It was probably fairly overwhelming. I haven’t met Ms Geshuhi and I haven’t heard the full interview.
KARVELAS: Bob Day often voted with the Government in the Senate, do you expect the same support from Lucy Geshuhi?
SENATOR RYAN: I don’t take any of the crossbenchers’ – or indeed my own colleagues’ – support for granted.
We had a very successful period in the Senate, even since Senator Day, or Mr Day as he is now, resigned from the Senate, I think it was on Cup Day last year.
We’ve had a very successful period without him there: we’ve legislated the Building and Construction Commission, the Registered Organisations Commission, the childcare reforms, substantial budget savings and last week, our corporate tax cuts.
KARVELAS: Just moving to another issue Scott Ryan. New evidence has been given to the ABC, which further indicates property developer Bill McNee did, in fact, buy the light plane which Pauline Hanson used to campaign in at the last federal election. Is that giving you more information and more evidence to refer this new evidence to the Australian Electoral Commission?
SENATOR RYAN: Well I’ve spoken to the Commissioner on a number of occasions, about a couple of matters, as you might imagine over the past couple of days. The Electoral Commissioner has issued a statement. He is looking into the claims that were made. I saw that story go up about 45 minutes ago, I’m sure that will be folded in to the inquiries the Commission is making and that they will make a statement at the conclusion of that.
These things, again, our disclosure regime, the policing of that, ensuring that all political parties and candidates and donors meet their requirements under the law, are matters for the independent Electoral Commission. I don’t think we want ministers from one side of politics or the other being directly in charge of policing that.
KARVELAS: No you certainly don’t, I don’t want you to interfere in that process, but you do make a reference – and only Labor made a reference – you say you’ve had conversations.
SENATOR RYAN: No, one doesn’t need to make a reference; the Electoral Commissioner is looking at it. The reference is a stunt from the Labor Party to try and get it some attention on Twitter.
KARVELAS: Which worked, there was some attention.
There has been some attention on you too. You’ve said you’ve had conversations and you think this new revelation, this new evidence the ABC has now revealed, will be folded in to that ongoing investigation.
The Commissioner looks at anything and everything that is in the public domain, as well as what they can access privately. And I should say, the Electoral Commission also has a regular and ongoing series of compliance reviews that look at those involved in politics and whether they are meeting their disclosure requirements.
KARVELAS: Should you accept One Nation’s vote in the Senate while their conduct is under a cloud?
SENATOR RYAN: Bill Shorten voted with the Labor Party for three years when he hadn’t declared a donation to his 2007 campaign. I think that was a more substantial issue; someone who is seeking to be prime minister.
Here we have some claims made, some of which have already been in the public domain, being looked at by the independent Electoral Commission. They will make a statement, there will be substantial opportunity for that to be pursued either in the Senate, in the Parliament or in parliamentary committees. I think we need to give the Commissioner time to conduct the inquiries.
KARVELAS: Senator Scott Ryan, thank you so much for joining us this evening.