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DATE: 31 May 2017

TITLE: Transcript Interview with Kieran Gilbert - AM Agenda on Sky News

TOPIC(S): Income tax, AEC inquiry into One Nation donation disclosure, media reform

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, with me now the Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan.

The ASIO Director-General did a rare media interview this morning on radio, he says tens of thousands of refugees have come to Australia over the last few decades, very few of them have become subjects of interest for ASIO. So providing further clarification on those comments to the Senate Estimates, what do you think about his remarks? Were they fair and reasonable?

SCOTT RYAN: I only saw the clip of Senate Estimates, but I thought his interview this morning, he was explicit. He pointed out that it wasn’t being a refugee that made someone a risk, it was the adoption of, I think he described it as, a radical interpretation of Sunni Islamism. He was quite explicit about that in the interview this morning. You’re right, it was rare, but I think he laid out quite effectively the risk factors and what the government does about them.

GILBERT: The point is, I guess as well, is that many of those refugees who are now brought in under the program run by Peter Dutton and his department, that many of them are Yazidis and others are fleeing that sort of terrorism.

RYAN: Absolutely, and the Government has made it clear persecuted minorities remain a priority of our resettlement program. And the key point here is, as Duncan Lewis said this morning, and he is more informed than almost anyone else, is that it’s the adoption radical Sunni Islamism as an ideology that makes people a risk.

GILBERT: Because most of the risks are home-grown, that’s the point as well isn’t it?

RYAN: Well, the other point is, yes, while you have examples of children of refugees and of people who have come here as refugees, given the numbers of people we accept as refugees and given that not all of them, by any stretch of the imagination are from one particular religion, race or creed—it was the adoption of a specific ideological, violent ideology which he described as radical Sunni Islamism, that made people a risk. And I think that’s a statement of the obvious, that everyone can agree with.

GILBERT: Two areas of your responsibility and One Nation, well One Nation is not your responsibility, but the Electoral Commission is, and the Commissioner has taken a rare course of action in terms of looking for information here, can you explain to our viewers what’s happening in relation to the alleged donations of the plane and other matters?

RYAN: Well the first thing I will say is, as the Electoral Commission is quite rightly independent, the Commissioner made clear what was being undertaken at Senate Estimates hearings last week, and I am happy to explain how it works—but it is really an Electoral Commission matter, it’s not something the Government is managing. The Electoral Commission has issued notices for compulsorily acquiring information from One Nation with respect to election and donation disclosures. The Commission has a delegate of the Electoral Commission doing that, who then makes a report.

GILBERT: To get information from One Nation, why would the Commission undertake that, if not for suspicion?

RYAN: Sometimes political parties are quite diffuse. Normally there are common enquiries made by the Commission, as well as a standard regular process of, what are called, compliance audits, to ensure all political parties are complying with the law. But this hasn’t happened for several years, as the Commissioner outlined. For whatever reason, the Commissioner has decided they needed to use these powers that are for the compulsory acquiring of information and there is a period of time for the One Nation party to respond. Then the Commissioner will make a statement about any determinations, findings or next steps after that process.

GILBERT: How long would we expect that to take?

RYAN: The Commissioner didn’t provide a timeline on that, and I’m not aware of one. But it’s not the sort of thing that takes, in my experience, multiple, multiple months—it’s usually a matter of weeks or small number of months.

GILBERT: And by undertaking this course of action, does it suggest that One Nation hasn’t been, at least forthcoming, with the information that the Commissioner wants?

RYAN: To be honest, I don’t want to go there partly because I think it is very important that we have an independent Electoral Commission. We don’t want ministers of one political party overseeing investigations into their own or another party. But the Commissioner will make a statement outlining everything once the process is concluded.

GILBERT: The Prime Minister this morning at a Committee of Economic Development breakfast criticised the Labor marginal tax rate, top rate of 49.5 per cent if they win the next election. That we haven’t had a rate of that nature since the late 1980s was the point that he made. That would be returning to a bygone era. Do you think though that given the sense in the community that people are being left behind by globalisation, that this might be a policy that resonates with the vast bulk of workers in this country?

RYAN: Well look, I think it is important to start from how progressive Australia’s income tax system is. There is a difference between income and wealth. Income is what people earn in a salary or whatever over a course of 12 months, which is very different to how much wealth you may have at any given moment, have inherited or have built-up over the years.

The top one per cent of income tax payers in Australia pay more than the bottom 50 per cent of income tax payers in absolute terms—the top one per cent pay more than the bottom half. The top quarter of taxpayers in Australia pay more than two thirds of all income tax paid in Australia. So I think our system is actually incredibly progressive, and I think we need to be careful about saying to people, who yes, they are earning more than double the average income—you know, if you’re in the top tax bracket, you’re on two and a half times the average full-time salary. But a lot of people who are lucky and I think they appreciate it, they may not be wealthy and they may be paying off large mortgages in our large cities. They may be starting out in life, they may have paid off a HECS debt, have ran a small business and worked very hard. So it’s important that we remember how progressive the tax system is and the incentives that provides—we can’t punish people.

GILBERT: The other element of that tax system though, is because it is progressive, it’s actually the 49.5 per cent is not like for like with other countries in terms of the rate, because the actual rate is closer to 35-36 per cent when you factor in the progressive scale of tax where those on, say $300,000, are paying no tax to a point, then up to the next 50,000 are paying that next rate.

RYAN: Your average tax rates is different to your marginal tax rate, but at the same time, Australia’s top rate cuts in at a relative low level at about 2.4-2.5 times average full-time male weekly earnings. And I think it is fair to say while everyone earning that probably does consider themselves lucky, I don’t think we want to be saying we, ‘you should contribute more and more and more’, when you might have mortgages and things.

GILBERT: Twenty five  media executives in town today, or at least 25 I am told, to meet with the various crossbenchers here—confident you’ll get these changers through given the two-out-of-three rule and other rules of the Keating era were done and formulated in a period when there was no social media, no internet?

RYAN: Yeah look, I’ve learnt not to predict the fate of legislation in the Senate. I’m hopeful for precisely the reason you mention. I don’t know about you, but I find myself watching a lot more streaming than I used to if I get a chance in front of the television, rather than normal television.

GILBERT: Sky News streaming?

RYAN: Actually on the iPad and iPhone, of course. But also at the same time, the challenges to the print media. What this bill does, as Mitch Fifield’s outlined, is actually provide for strong Australian media. Technology has taken over the old regulations, and if people start cherry picking it, you may actually end up with a weaker Australian media.

GILBERT: Well indeed a lot of people do change their habits because of the different technologies, but what do you say to the concerns of Michelle Rowland and One Nation that this would put too much power in the hands of a few?

RYAN: Well I think we’ve got to understand that the world in which the media in Australia operates is now changing. You’ve got massive changes in consumer behaviour, particularly among younger Australians, and we don’t want to sort of try and regulate dinosaurs, we don’t want to try and regulate a world that won’t necessarily exist in 20 or 30 years. And what Mitch Fifield has done is pull together a package that is, as he outlined in a radio interview this morning, balanced and to provide for strong Australian media in a new and very dynamic environment.

GILBERT: Yeah well I do watch Foxtel Go and PVO and Christina and Spearsy through the day, so yeah I think the habits are changing no doubt.


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