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DATE: 3 May 2017

TITLE: Transcript Pollie-Graph – ABC Melbourne

TOPIC(S): Fairfax job losses, school funding, higher education reforms, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation donation disclosure, Australian Electoral Commission, Westpac’s climate change policy

RAF EPSTEIN: Malcolm Turnbull’s Special Minister of State, he is also a Liberal Senator here in Victoria, Scott Ryan joins us from Canberra. Good afternoon Scott.

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN: Thanks for having me Raf.

EPSTEIN: And with him, in our Canberra studio, is our Shadow Minister for National Security, he is part of Bill Shorten’s Shadow Cabinet, he is the ALP Member for Isaacs, the Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus. Hello Mark.

MARK DREYFUS: Good to be with you Raf and hello Scott.


ESPTEIN: Can I just start both of you on a ... I actually wanted to ask you about the Fairfax strike. One in four jobs are going to go and they’ve sprung a strike on management for a week. So Scott Ryan, they’re not going to cover your Budget at The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald. I’m not going to ask you to comment on that, but a general question Scott Ryan, are you confident about the media in this country going into the future?

SENATOR RYAN Jeez, that’s a dangerous question to ask a politician and for a politician to answer, Raf. Firstly, I’m always sad when I hear about people losing jobs. It’s difficult, and journalism and media, in the private sector, are going through a period of change akin to what happened in manufacturing in Australia in the 1980s. It looks like there will be less jobs.

I occasionally criticise the media, they criticise me. I don’t know if politicians are the best people to ask about the media. We have very different jobs, and competitive tension between the two of us is important to a democracy.

EPSTEIN: But are there going to be enough of us?

SENATOR RYAN: Look, it’s still pretty healthy in Canberra. There are still a lot of working journalists here. It is something I’ve wondered about at a state level. I have worked at the state level before in government and opposition and I have wondered that those press galleries are smaller and they don’t have the same degree of scrutiny, just by sheer weight of numbers. But I can tell you, in my portfolio, which can occasionally attract public attention – and Mark held it in government too so he has probably had this experience to – when something about MPs’ travel expenses arises, you feel the full force of the media and the scrutiny they are capable of, as you should.

EPSTEIN: I think your point about state politics, city beats, all those things, they’re very well made.

SENATOR RYAN: Yeah, I think it applies to a lot of things.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus, what do you make of the strike and the future of journalism?

DREYFUS: Well, it’s terribly sad for the Fairfax organisation, and everyone in Australia who cares about trusted sources of news will be worried about the future of Fairfax, as well as worrying for those 120 or more people at Fairfax, who it seems are about to lose their jobs.

We live in an age of disruption, Raf, for the media. Old certainties about the daily paper being delivered, or sources of news that we’ve grown to trust, they are no longer certainties and I’m concerned about the loss of diversity in Australian media. I’m concerned about the loss of large news gathering organisations, who simply are not going to be replaced by bloggers. They are not going to be replaced by people tweeting.

EPSTEIN: A quick question to you both – four or five word answers. Do you get the papers delivered at home, the hard copies? Scott Ryan?

SENATOR RYAN:I download the PDF dailies. I am a subscriber, but I get the electronic, PDF version of the hard copy.

EPSTEIN: Yeah, ok. Mark Dreyfus, what do you do?

DREYFUS: Yes and I get all the papers delivered on the weekend, and that makes me really old fashioned. My kids deride it, but I actually think it is a good way to read the newspapers quickly. I also get electronic versions and I also get a clipping service. I don’t think you should judge my consumption of news as anything like typical, or representative.

SENATOR RYAN: We are not the median reader.


EPSTEIN: I’m just curious about what versions of the paper you read.

All right, Scott Ryan, your Cabinet colleague Simon Birmingham has announced a change to school funding. He says it is more needs based and more sector blind. Does any of that matter if you’re spending less than Labor?

SENATOR RYAN: Well, we’ve actually got a plan to spend money on a rational basis that treats students across the country the same; that increases, and continues to increase, Government funding, Commonwealth Government funding, to government school students and to non-government school students. I mean, I’ve been in this portfolio as a parliamentary secretary, when we had 27 separate agreements, students in Australia – government and non-government schools  - being funded at almost random levels of difference across states and territories, it was profoundly unfair. This can end the school wars, this can provide certainty over a decade, that’s why David Gonski stood next to the Minister and the Prime Minister yesterday. What Labor implemented was not the Gonski plan and Ken Boston, one of the panel members, made that very clear.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus, is Scott Ryan right? You didn’t implement the needs-based, sector-blind model?

DREYFUS: That’s not right. We had needs-based funding and I don’t know why any Australian would trust the Liberal Government with schools funding. They are cutting funding to schools - $22 billion over the decade – and this comes after five years, just about, of deriding needs-based funding. Lying at the 2013 election when they said they would not cut a dollar from the Gonski model, and then three years of uncertainty, nearly four years of uncertainty, we still don’t have the detail, they haven’t consulted with the states and territories. They need the agreement of the states and territories, they don’t yet have that. It’s been rejected by the Catholic Education Commission.

EPSTEIN: They’re going to go to the Senate, which you didn’t do, which is one of the reason we’ve got multiple deals. Can I just ask Mark Dreyfus, do you think they’re going further down the path of being needs based and sector blind? There are 25 private schools that will get a cut and there are another 350 that will get less of an increase than they expected. Is that a further step towards needs based, sector blind?

DREYFUS: Clearly, the Government having spent many years not doing needs-based funding, starting off with a position of deriding it, Malcolm Turnbull should have started yesterday’s press conference with an apology for the positions that have been taken by the Liberal Party over the last five years. But if they are moving towards needs-based funding, true needs-based funding, that’s what we want, that’s what delivers the outcomes for Australian families, for Australian students and let’s see what happens. But taking $22 billion from schools is the equivalent of a $2.4 million cut from every school, or sacking 22,000 teachers. I am not going to applaud a Liberal Government that is taking $22 billion away from schools.

EPSTEIN: Scott, do you just decide you can’t outbid Labor on education and you cop spending less than them?

SENATOR RYAN: If I promised to give you a million dollars tomorrow Raf and you know I don’t have it and I don’t provide for it, then it is a meaningless promise. Labor had bumper stickers, they didn’t have a schools funding policy. They provided no money in the Budget whatsoever for Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, which they took out, during the election campaign in 2013.

Labor wants to continue a fight on education. David Gonski stood next to the Prime Minister and the Minister yesterday and said he was happy to support it because we are moving to a needs-based system and he wants to know how the money is spent. In 2013, I think it was, the Commonwealth Government provided just over 13 per cent of funding for government schools. We are moving towards 20 per cent, it’s continuing to increase.

Labor is saying ‘oh but trust us and we’ll provide more money’. When they were in government they didn’t.

EPSTEIN: Can I just ask, Scott Ryan, some of your Party Room colleagues on the eastern seaboard with wealthier schools, they’re going to go and have to say to those schools ‘listen, you’re getting less money’. Is that going to a problem, the way your super changes at the election were a problem?

SENATOR RYAN: I think we are talking about – I don’t know the exact numbers, I’ve seen the media commentary around the number of schools – but you referred to 25, another news publication referred to 24: that’s not a lot of schools. There are other schools – a few hundred ...

EPSTEIN: Well 350, that’s a fair few?

SENATOR RYAN: Yeah, but that’s a lower rate of growth, as you mentioned. That’s a lower rate of growth.

EPSTEIN: But it’s less than they’re expecting. Do you expect a revolt?

SENATOR RYAN: No. I think that Australians will look at this and think this is a rational, reliable, reasonable response, and combined with what David Gonski is doing, which is saying ‘we are spending a lot more money, we’ve clearly spent a lot more money over the past decade, it’s not delivering results’. We also have to have an inquiry into how we spend the money to make sure we improve our results. If we spend a fortune and we’re not getting the results that help kids get jobs or go onto further study fully equipped for it, then we are not doing our job. Labor has this view that just spending money – judge us only by what we promise, not what we do – we want to see better results, that’s what David Gonski has committed to.

EPSTEIN: Gonski’s kind of killed your PR hasn’t he, Mark Dreyfus?

DREYFUS: Everybody wants to see better results. David Gonski was there because the Government’s announcing a new review with ...

EPSTEIN: He endorsed the way they’re funding schools though, he explicitly said that, he was endorsing the way they were funding schools.

DREYFUS: Let’s see what the detail is. Perhaps David Gonski has seen more detail than we’ve seen? Let’s see what the states and territories do, because they weren’t consulted. That would have to make you suspicious, why weren’t the states and territories consulted? And let’s see if this Government can hold against the Catholic Education Commission, who are screaming in protest about what is now proposed.

SENATOR RYAN: Who continue to see increases – I’m a parent of a Catholic school student – who continue to see increases, but there is a different about the rate of growth.

Now Raf, I’ve had this argument with a number of people on this program that a reduction in the rate of growth in future years cannot be seen as a cut. By all means say it is not growing as fast, but it is not a cut, it is not a reduction.

DREYFUS: Well let’s see and if there is a commitment to needs-based funding, that, of course, is to be welcomed.

EPSTEIN:Somewhere we want to be. 1300222774 is the phone number. It’s 4.45pm. You can hear Mark Dreyfus, one of Bill Shorten’s Shadow Ministers, and Scott Ryan, the Special Minster of State, part, of course, of the Prime Minister’s team.

I’ll ask you both a question, Scott Ryan, did you have to pay back any of your uni costs?

SENATOR RYAN: Yeah, I was a fully HECS student. I think I did a couple of – almost a double degree – so I think mine was $14,000 or $15,000 from memory.

EPSTEIN: And Mark Dreyfus? You’re a little older, I’m not sure if you had to pay back?

DREYFUS: No, Whitlam free university and, on top of that, tertiary education assistance scheme, which gave me a living allowance and today’s students can only dream of those types of conditions.

EPSTEIN: Wow, you got an allowance as well?

DREYFUS: Yep. Means tested, obviously, but I owed to the Whitlam government my attendance at university and my ability to attend university – it’s the great equaliser. That’s why we want to encourage people to obtain the education they are suited for and, while we’ve got to be concerned about the cuts to university funding since we’re talking about universities ...

SENATOR RYAN: Mark, are you alleging the HECS-scheme, which Labor introduced with our support, which was a true global innovation that other countries have copied – the ability to say not a dollar upfront – are you saying that deters students from studying?

DREYFUS: No, I’m saying the times in which I went to university are times of which today’s students can only dream of and ...

SENATOR RYAN: ... the only problem was ...

DREYFUS: No, no, let me finish. We can’t get to there because that was at a time – in the 1970s – when 10 per cent of Australians were getting tertiary education. We’re now, and I’m very pleased to be able to say that, getting to 30 per cent and more, of Australians with tertiary education and it’s appropriate that there be some funding of that education by students themselves.

EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, can I ask if you, by raising – so degrees are going to be more expensive, students are paying a greater proportion of their degree and they’re paying it back at $44,000 instead of something around $55,000, so at a lower salary – that just makes it even harder for people to rent and save for a house, doesn’t it?

SENATOR RYAN: Well the increase in repayment rates, which will come after $42,000, rather than $53,000, is at one per cent of your income. It’s a very, very low rate.

EPSTEIN: But that might be the savings for your deposit, no?

SENATOR RYAN: Other countries, such as New Zealand, put it down at half that because the cost has been incurred, the loan has been incurred, and still the benefit of an education are, over a life, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given the dramatic expansion that’s taken place over the last 20 years in higher education, given the expansion in Commonwealth funding from under $10 billion to $14 billion in the last six or seven years, that has to be supported. The truth at the moment is fewer loans were being paid back and there is now tens of billions of dollars of loans on the Commonwealth Government’s loan book and so reducing it to $42,000 is still substantially about the minimum wage and it’s a one per cent repayment rate. It’s always about striking the balance, but I think that’s a reasonable balance.

DREYFUS: And what it means, Raf, is that young Australians are going to be saddled with a big uni debt, at the same time as they’re trying to buy a house or start a family.

SENATOR RYAN: It’s an eight per cent increase, a 7.8 per cent increase.

DREYFUS: It’s an increase. They’re jacking up the fees that are going to be paid by students, that’s the wrong direction to be going in. It shows the priorities of this Liberal Government.

EPSTEIN: But you’d probably have to do something similar if you were to win the next election, wouldn’t you Mark Dreyfus?

SENATOR RYAN: Labor had cuts in their budget …

DREYFUS: I don’t accept, I do not accept this. We’ve got a Government that is jacking up university fees …

EPSTEIN: But Mark Dreyfus you had an efficiency dividend on universities on Labor’s final federal budget in power to help pay for Gonski school funding. That is something you imposed.

DREYFUS: Let’s give that a bit of context Raf. In government, we lifted funding for universities from $8 billion in 2007 to $14 billion in 2013.

EPSTEIN: But the efficiency dividend you’re decrying this year is almost identical to the efficiency dividend you applied yourself.

DREYFUS: In 2013, and very different times now, we’ve had an appalling period of uncertainty and cuts inflicted on the university sector by this Government since the horror budget on 2014. Of course, we applaud the abandonment of the deregulation of university fees, which we’ve been calling on them to do for three years, but I don’t think they’ve actually shelved their plans. I do think they’ve shelved their plans, I don’t think they’ve dropped them, they don’t seem to have changed their minds on fee deregulation, they’re just not going to get them through the Senate so they’re taking this other tack.

SENATOR RYAN: I didn’t realise Mark had a window into my mind here.

DREYFUS: The Liberal Government is not be trusted on anything to do with education.

EPSTEIN:Gentlemen, Scott Ryan, three or four word answer, any plans to deregulate university fees?


EPSTEIN: Oh, a one word answer.

DREYFUS: Gratifying to hear that.

EPSTEIN:We’ll get some traffic details and be back with Mark Dreyfus and Scott Ryan in a moment.


Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney General and the Shadow Minister for National Security, Scott Ryan is the Special Minister of State.

Scott, if I can ask you a question directly related to your portfolio? Pauline Hanson’s plane – if I could just give people the briefest history. Initially she said the party owned the plane, then on Four Corners there was a claim that the plane she flew around Queensland was donated by a Victorian property developer. We now know the plane is, on paper, owned by Pauline Hanson’s adviser James Ashby and now Pauline Hanson says the ownership is ‘complicated’. I know it is something for the Electoral Commission to rule on, but has One Nation been 100 per cent honest about the plane?

SENATOR RYAN: Well when the Electoral Commissioner has something to say, we will know. Clearly the statements contradict each other and the Electoral Commissioner, as I’ve said publically, is looking at it.

There’s a reason I’m careful with my words. I don’t think anyone would think it’s a good idea for one politician to be inquiring into another party. The Electoral Commission is independent for a very good reason, they’ll be making a statement, I imagine, in the coming weeks, and if not, there is Senate Estimates, where I imagine this issue will be covered, in the last week of May, in some detail.

EPSTEIN: Are you ok with Labor politicians raising it? There has been a Labor Senator firing off letters to the AEC and others saying things need to be investigated.

SENATOR RYAN: I’ve no issue with Members of Parliament raising things with the AEC. I have an issue with Sam Dastyari, the other day, basically threatening the AEC Commissioner, saying if Hanson doesn’t walk over this, the Electoral Commissioner should resign. By all means say something should change in the law, but the Electoral Commissioner enforces the law as it is and to impugn the honest and integrity of the Electoral Commissioner shows how low some in Labor will go and they should walk away from those comments.

EPSTEIN: Just for clarification I’ll ask Mark Dreyfus in a moment, but I think Sam Dastyari’s tweet said the AEC Commissioner should lose their job if One Nation is not, in some way, penalised for the various news reports that appear contradictory. Mark Dreyfus …

SENATOR RYAN: I can actually read you the text. It says ‘If Hanson walks from this, the Commissioner needs to resign’.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus, I’d love a response to that, but also what you think might happen with One Nation?

DREYFUS: Sam Dastyari’s got a colourful way of putting things. He is drawing attention to what on the face of it – your introduction to this topic showed it – have been massive conflicting accounts given by Senator Hanson, by her chief of staff, by the person who supposedly donated the plane to One Nation. Our Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt, who has been raising these matters as well, has also raised irregularities about One Nation in Queensland with their registration as a political party, which he has raised with the Queensland Electoral Commissioner.

EPSTEIN: Sam Dastyari didn’t go too far?

DREYFUS: In the context of these massively conflicting accounts from Senator Hanson and her chief of staff he is entitled to raise it.

EPSTEIN: I’m sure One Nation will see that as the big parties ganging up on them.

We’ve got a short time left, if I can ask you Scott Ryan, Westpac was the last of the ‘big four’ banks to effectively say they will not fund the Adani mine in Queensland. They won’t fund any new coal mines that don’t produce the most efficient coal. Why is your Resources Minister so furious with them? They seem to just be doing the prudent business thing.

SENATOR RYAN: Well I think Matt Canavan is annoyed at the idea – I haven’t seen the exact comment from Westpac, but I’m familiar with it – they’ve said they’re not going to do new coal, but they’ll do existing coal. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I do remember ‘Lord make me pure, just not yet’. So it’s very hard to say ‘coal’s bad’, but then you’ve got a substantial share in a major, in the world’s largest coal exporting port.

EPSTEIN: They say they don’t have a share, but anyway. A financial relationship.

SENATOR RYAN: That’s a better way to describe it, quite right.

Matt Canavan, as a Senator based in Northern Queensland, is clearly very legitimately concerned at the fact that to develop Northern Queensland, to develop jobs, to give people the chance to get new employment, particularly after the investment phase in other mining areas has declined, they are going to need finance. I think he is going into bat for his patch.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus, I’ll get a response, but Gerard is in Geelong and I think he wanted to say something about education, go for it Gerard.

CALLER: I was just wondering if I could ask Mr Dreyfus, I’ve got a daughter who goes to university. Under the Labor government, she got absolutely nothing of helpful assistance, but under the Liberal Government it’s exactly the same. I was just wondering where they come across saying they have such better ideas on education, where I seem to earn too much money so my daughter doesn’t get anything. I accept it from the Coalition because I’m a Coalition voter, but I can’t accept it from Labor, because they’re not helping either.

EPSTEIN: Is that a study allowance or to pay for her course?

CALLER: Just a study allowance.

EPSTEIN: Look my time’s short Gerard, I just want to put that to Mark Dreyfus.

DREYFUS: That’s means tested, it should continue to be means tested, my particularly criticism of the Liberals is they are jacking up university fees for students and are going to make it harder for poorer students to get to university. That’s the wrong approach, that’s the wrong priority for the Federal Government. We are meant to be designing an education future for this country, not making it harder for students to get to university.

SENATOR RYAN: There is one factual point here. Labor made student union fees compulsory again, which adds up to about $1500 for a three or four year degree. Now they were voluntary under the Coalition, Labor made them compulsory again.

EPSTEIN: I can’t believe we just got back to student union fees.

DREYFUS: Me neither.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus, just briefly on Adani and Westpac, nothing wrong with a Government saying a bank has got the wrong approach?

DREYFUS: There is a bitter irony about this Liberal Government, which has nothing to say about hundreds of bank customers being ripped off for years by a number of the banks, defending the banks against any kind of inquiry or royal commission, but as soon as a pet project of Senator Canavan, the Resources Minister, is not able to get funding from any of the four major Australian banks, he is on the attack describing Westpac as the Bank of NSW, which it hasn’t been called since 1982. I’ve read this carefully, Westpac has adopted, for the first time since 2007, a carefully considered climate change policy for the bank, it is a general policy and all that’s happened here is that they’re saying there is declining demand for coal across the world, we are going to confine our lending practice to high quality coal, which Adani is not. For a Federal Cabinet Minister to be attacking one of Austarlia’s major banks over that, I find extraordinary.

EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, Mark Dreyfus, I’ll need to leave it there. Thank you both for your time.


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