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TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 21 May 2017

TITLE: Transcript Ė Karvelas – Sky News

TOPIC(S): North Korea, former senators Culleton and Day, Budget, education reform, immigration, Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians


PATRICIA KARVELAS:

My first guest tonight is the Special Minister of State Scott Ryan, Scott Ryan welcome to the program.

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Good evening Patricia, thanks for having me.

KARVELAS:

First, to this breaking story of an unidentified projectile being fired by North Korea, itís been reported by the South Korean military. Whatís your response to this report?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well to be frank Patricia, Iíve just heard that listening to the news just then, and I think in sensitive situations it is probably best for me to leave any comment on behalf of the Australian Government to Julie Bishop or the Prime Minister.

KARVELAS:

Okay but what weíre seeing is an increasing activity from North Korea, in a climate where Australia, and it is the Australian Governmentís line that China should be exerting more pressure on North Korea. Is this an indication that perhaps this strategy isnít working?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well Patricia I think it would be fair for me to say thatís a news report I havenít had it verified, I donít think it is appropriate for me to add to whatís been in the news report given that I havenít had it confirmed, and itís well outside my particular area of my portfolio responsibility.

KARVELAS:

Well letís get something thatís squarely in your portfolio responsibilities. Senator Nick Xenophon said it would be ridiculous to ask his former colleagues Rod Culleton and Bob Day in the Senate to repay their salaries. Senator Xenophon says he does not believe it was fair and reasonable of the Government to pursue them for their salaries before they were stood down; he says itís ridiculous. Heís been pretty strong on it actually, now youíre Special Minister of State, what do you say to that is it ridiculous?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I think this is quite a complex area. Let me briefly explain Patricia. Officials in the Department of the Senate, and officials in the Department of Finance have legal obligations to determine debts to the Commonwealth. Theyíre going through a process. They have contacted Mr Day and Mr Culleton, as we saw in the news last week. Mr Day and Mr Culleton have been given options to provide information to those departments, regarding whether or not those debts should be pursued, or as I have said, they also have the option of applying to me for a waiver of that debt. This is a particularly important part of the law because itís how we use taxpayerís money. Thereís a process to go through, and itís important that process be followed.

KARVELAS:

Okay but weíve got a very strong statement from Nick Xenophon saying that the Government is ultimately responsible here, and you are pursuing this, are you willing-

SENATOR RYAN:

Officials from the two departments have an obligation to determine Commonwealth debts and I donít want to provide or support any implicit, or otherwise, criticism of them. They are complying with their obligations under the law.

KARVELAS:

So is Nick Xenophon being unfair to them?

SENATOR RYAN:

No, I think the truth is, a few leaps have been made in the media coverage of this. It will be covered, I imagine, at quite a length in Senate Estimates hearings this week. Mr Day and Mr Culleton have a couple of options before them: to provide information to the two departments about whether the debt should be pursued, or to apply to me for a waiver of that debt. It is important that the law be followed with respect to potential debts to the Commonwealth and itís important not to prejudge any action that may be taken if they make such application.

KARVELAS:

If they make an application to you for a waiver, will you look at that favourably?

SENATOR RYAN:

If they make an application to me for a waiver, I will look at it like I look at lots of other applications because Iím responsible for Act of Grace payments and waivers across a large portion of the Commonwealth.

KARVELAS:

Would you be looking at it favourably?

SENATOR RYAN:

Iím not going to go further than what Iíve said Patricia, itís not appropriate that I do. Iím not going to prejudge what might be put before me in the future.

KARVELAS:

Culleton said he would not be answering the Finance Departmentís letter. ďIím just going to hang in like a flea in-between the shoulder blades of a dogĒ, very colourful language there, ďright where it canít scratchĒ. Really youíve got to give him an A+ for colourful language.

He said the action would put other people off politics and accused the Government of coming after cross-benchers to consolidate its power. Are you coming after cross-benchers to consolidate power?

SENATOR RYAN:

It is very important here to understand the process. The law has changed a number of times since this matter last happened. In the past, debts have been waived. More than a century ago they actually amended the appropriations bill to ensure a debt wasnít collected. But the law has been changed several years ago as to how it applies to such circumstances, and I think itís fair to say that the officials are applying the law as they see it. Thereís a couple of outcomes that both Mr Day and Mr Culleton, or applications they are able to make. And I will wait and see what the applications they make, or indeed as youíve suggested, if they make them.

KARVELAS:

So, is Nick Xenophon wrong then in the language heís using. Is he politicising the public service?

SENATOR RYAN:

No I wouldnít go that far at all. I think some of the reporting has made leaps that I donít think are reflected in the process that is being followed.

KARVELAS:

Sorry Iíve got to bring you back to this, you canít blame the reporting journalists, these are Nick Xenophonís words.

SENATOR RYAN:

No but I think people Ė as we all do, none of us are innocent in this Ė read articles and make logical conclusions from those. There was a comment, for example, with respect to staff that is not reflected in the process being undertaken. It is a complex process, but itís important that officials and politicians treat Commonwealth taxpayerís funds with respect. And in this case, the law is being followed.

KARVELAS:

Nick Xenophon also says his Senate bloc will support your Governmentís very contentious $6 billion bank levy, only if it is applied to foreign owned companies, not just the big five banks. Is that something under consideration?

SENATOR RYAN:

I saw Nickís comments this morning. I havenít been privy to any discussions with him, nor to any particular discussions inside the Government. I honestly canít comment on that. But Scott Morrison and Matthias Cormann, they have a record of being able to sit down with the cross-bench, and see our measures legislated and Iím confident theyíll be able to do so on this occasion.

KARVELAS:

Does that mean they will negotiate on the terms of this bill, that theyíre not going to go in and say Ďit has to be this wayí, that theyíre willing to be quite open minded about the way they apply this $6 billion bank levy?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well no I think the point Iím making is that Senator Xenophon and the Government have sat down and discussed measures in the recent past. For example there were discussions and agreements to the company tax legislation that was passed prior to the Budget. So those discussions are wide-ranging, and the Government has outlined its policy in the Budget. Weíve outlined the reasons why it applies to those particular institutions and thatís the legislation the Government will bring forward. But as to private discussions to happen between Scott Morrison, Matthias Cormann, and Nick Xenophon, Iím not going to provide comment on those, Iím not aware of them.

KARVELAS:

Tony Abbott said that Australia has become part of the Ďweak government clubí, and has said that this issue with the big banks over the proposed bank levy shows that the banks have the right to fight back, for instance. Is that right, is it the weak government club, is that what youíre part of?

SENATOR RYAN:

Look I disagree entirely. That comment was made with regard to the power of the Senate to block legislation. Historically it has been the Coalition that has been the defender of the Constitution; itís the Coalition and the Liberal Party that has been the defender of the power of the Senate, and I think, quite frankly, thereís no real prospect of the Senate ever losing its power to block legislation. The chances of that being passed at a referendum are miniscule to zero. So this Budget represents what the Prime Minister has said. We seek the passage of our measures, we seek a passage of the promises we made before the election. Weíve had a lot of success in doing so, in less than 12 months from the Building and Construction Commission, to the company tax cuts, the company tax cuts are in this Budget. And now itís the Budget measures weíve announced that will bring the Budget back into balance.

KARVELAS:

Was the 2014 budget, as he said, a Ďgold standardí for budget repair?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I personally look back to the 1996 Costello budget as the gold standard.

KARVELAS:

So what was the 2014 one?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well look, I was here, Iím probably not the best person to judge. But every budget contains elements that necessarily are a compromise to political reality. We have made clear that we have attempted certain measures; weíve pulled those savings that werenít able to be legislated. Theyíve been pulled out the Budget, and weíve inserted new measures. Because every Coalition voter, and every Coalition member, agrees that balancing the Budget is a critical objective. In 2014, Iím sure members at the time thought we were compromised, such as with the deficit levy that was introduced. That wasnít particularly popular on my side of politics.

KARVELAS:

All right letís get to something very specific, and thatís this Catholic campaign on the schools.

Members of the National Catholic Education Commission voting last week to approve a campaign thatís going to be a very big blitz across the country. Your colleague Christopher Pyne says he hasnít had complaints from parents about the school funding model youíve proposed. Have you had complaints from parents and schools?

SENATOR RYAN:

No I havenít had any complaints in my office. I am a Catholic school parent, Iím a product of the Catholic school system, my family has been involved in it for decades, my mum taught in it for 40 years. I received a note with the school newsletter last week Ė thatís as far as the contact Iíve had.

KARVELAS:

Other than the note with the school newsletter Ė so you got that, I assume, as a parent Ė youíve got nothing else?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well, I canít swear I havenít got a single email, we get thousands a week. Iíve had conversations with people, but I havenít had complaints come into the office, no.

KARVELAS:

Ok, thatís interesting. Sounds to me like youíre about to get them.

Is it a dishonest campaign by the Catholics?

SENATOR RYAN:

I think Simon Birmingham has been very explicit, and he is very active on Twitter pointing this out, the agreement on, the announcement that he made prior to the Budget contains far funding increases for all school sectors, it brings them all onto the same page, it is fair and it is transparent and understandable to parents and it provides for stability in the long-term. One of the challenges in education funding has been the funding agreements over four years. This goes out 10 years and says Ďthese are the resources the Commonwealth will put in and these are the markers by which you can hold us accountableí. I can understand, I can see the perspective of some people having a different view, but I strongly support the measures that make it simple, fair and transparent.

KARVELAS:

Should you be talking so tough about the Catholic sector, some pretty extreme language used by different ministers. In the past weíve heard they were bullying you, all of this kind of language, is that appropriate? Is that how youíre going to fight the Catholic sector?

SENATOR RYAN:

I think if people have had an experience they should be honest about it. Politics is robust, Iím robust on occasions, I havenít had those experiences myself. But if my colleagues have, they should be honest about them. Politics is a robust argument, and this is something the Labor Party have been trying to stoke the fires of because theyíre desperate not to have a solution to the education funding catastrophe they left in office, which was unfunded, with students being funded differently right across Australia. Simon Birmingham has put down a policy that is simple, fair and transparent that sees children across Australia treated equally.

KARVELAS:

Asylum seekers in Australia who are part of this so-called Ďlegacy caseloadí have now been given until October 1 to formally apply for protection according to the Immigration Minister, the big story of today. But the wait for legal assistance in applying is up to a year for many of these asylum seeker organisations. Theyíre not resourced, how is what youíre doing fair given you havenít provided any resourcing thatís adequate for these people to go through the proper processes?

SENATOR RYAN:

Itís fair because there are I think 15,000 people currently being processed. The Minister made the point that this is to put in an application, or to provide the information the Department has requested. It is unfair on those that have put in their applications that these people shouldnít.

KARVELAS:

Just on one other issue before I let you go, and thatís really going to be one of the big issues outside of the Parliament this week. 300 indigenous delegates are descending on Uluru to have a big discussion about the kind of changes that they want to see to the Constitution.

Obviously this change, this Recognise debate is all about indigenous Australians. They will be proposing what they would like to see. What we know is that Warren Mundine has now proposed a network of constitutionally guaranteed local bodies based on existing first peopleís groups that would advise Parliament. It follows on from Noel Pearson wanting an indigenous body recognised in the Constitution. Is that something that you think, I know youíre a Constitutional conservative, but that you would be willing to look at?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well Patricia itís actually 40 years ago today that we last successfully had a referendum in Australia, to change the Constitution, May 21 1977. Three changes got up that day, one didnít, and that was the last time. Since then there have been eight attempts on three occasions, most famously the republic referendum, and the preamble referendum in 1999. So I think the lesson of that is that the Australian Constitution is very difficult to change. And the process this week is important that people passionate about that cause with a particular interest in the models youíve outlined come up with a proposal. But the Constitution is also property of every single Australian citizen, and every single Australian citizen gets to vote in a referendum. I think one of the challenges in the past with referenda and their success has been that a group of people, particularly passionate about a proposal sometimes might make it a little bit too radical. And the truth is the more radical a constitutional proposal, the less chance it has, historically speaking, of succeeding.

KARVELAS:

This particular group of indigenous Australians, the 300 that are turning up, theyíre been around the country already. Theyíve had 12 to 13 regional meetings to discuss these issues so we already have an idea of what they want to do. Iíve spoken to a number of them, what theyíve made crystal clear is that symbolism isnít enough. If you go forward with something that is just symbolic, theyíre not interested. Given the change is all about acknowledging Indigenous Australians in our formal document. Do you accept that symbolism may not be enough and you have to meet them halfway?

SENATOR RYAN:

Well in 1999 the preamble then was criticised by some for going too far, and by others for being too symbolic. The truth is a referendum needs a majority of people overall, and a majority of states. Eight out of 44 have passed, and as I mentioned the last was 40 years ago. So itís not about politicians agreeing, on the day in 1967 more than 90% of them, overwhelmingly voted in favour of changing the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power over indigenous affairs, on the same day a question supported by both sides of Parliament was knocked back. So what that shows is that referenda are actually about what the people think, not just what politicians think. And so I think this is a very important process, but it is not the final stage in the process. In many ways it is the culmination of the first stage in the process.

KARVELAS:

So whatís your message to these 300 indigenous Australians that are meeting in Uluru?

SENATOR RYAN:

I donít have a message to anyone on this Iím making observations that thereís a reason the Constitution has been challenging to change, that generating the consent of people right across the country as a matter of historical fact not been easy. So I think the reason, for example, that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have decided not to attend was to allow this convention and this process to culminate following the events that have been conducted all around Australia. But it is one part of the process. There are other stages in the process, such as passage through Parliament, and finally the vote that gets held right across the country. My observation is we do need to ensure if we are to put a proposal forward, I think everyone agrees that it needs to be one that maximises the chances of success.

KARVELAS:

Thank you so much for joining us Senator.

SENATOR RYAN:

Thanks Patricia.

 

ENDS.

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