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TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 10 October 2017

TITLE: Transcript – PM Agenda with David Speers – Sky News

TOPIC(S): Same sex marriage postal survey, parliamentarians’ work expenses, energy


DAVID SPEERS:
With me now, the Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, who’s back on deck after taking some leave for illness and resumed his position. Very good to see you this afternoon, thank you for joining us Minister, good to have you here.

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:
Thanks David, great to be back.

SPEERS:
Just on the figures from the Bureau of Statistics then this afternoon, what’s your view on this response rate?

SENATOR RYAN:
I think it’s fantastic. I think it vindicates the approach of the Government, which was, to take a promise for the plebiscite to an election. When that was blocked opportunistically by Labor and the Greens, we ensured that we could have this survey of qualified electors. I’ll be honest, I’ve actually been a little bit surprised …

SPEERS:
It’s a bit higher than you thought?

SENATOR RYAN:
It’s a bit higher than I guessed when I was asked a week and a half ago what I thought the first return would be. As you said, there is still just under four weeks for people to return their survey forms, and we’ve reached, effectively, over 60 per cent, over 62 per cent, approximately, of qualified electors.

SPEERS:
What’s your best guess now as to where it will end up?

SENATOR RYAN:
Look, I thought, after I saw last week, that we could break through two-thirds. I suspect there will be a slightly declining return rate. I have to admit, I only posted my form back this past week – I was reminded to by the news – and so I think we could get very comfortably to two-thirds, which is an extraordinary response and is testament to the conduct of the debate and Australia’s willingness to participate in the survey.

SPEERS:
Look, you’re right, it’s higher than most though it would be. Do the ads keep going that encourage people to get the ballot back? Because there are, what, four weeks now till you can return them?

SENATOR RYAN:
November 7.

SPEERS:
Then November 15 we get the outcome, so will the ads keep going till then?

SENATOR RYAN:
I understand they will. There is targeting and people have probably seen them on the internet, when they’re reading newspapers potentially, on social media. I understand they will keep going, but obviously the great bulk of returns have actually been very early.

SPEERS:
Now, what have you made watching this process over recent weeks as the campaign’s been underway? How would you characterise whether it’s been the sort of polite exchange of views, has it been nasty in your view? How would you characterise it?

SENATOR RYAN:
Well I’ve spent a lot of time observing a lot of media the last few weeks, involuntarily, and I’ll say I always have a great deal of faith in the Australian people. There are always a tiny, tiny minority, whether in political debate, whether in street protests, on every issue, that misbehave, that don’t take into account the consideration of their fellow citizen and say some appalling things. But with over 10 million people having returned their forms and this debate having run really highly prominently over the last month, I’m very pleased with the conduct of my fellow citizens, the conduct of the debate, the coverage of it, because I don’t think we should ever let a nasty minority prevent an overwhelming majority from having a say in a democracy.

SPEERS:
Have you had to trigger, at all, the protections that are in place in terms of what can and can’t be said?

SENATOR RYAN:
As I understand, and I saw the Attorney General say last week, he had not received any particular complaints, because, of course, the Attorney General has a role in those going forward as legal actions. I haven’t spoken to him since, but he said last week that he hadn’t received any complaints.

SPEERS:
Just before we leave this issue, we are all now expecting that two-thirds response rate, as you mentioned, to be hit, possibly even higher. Does that indicate, in your view, that we are likely to have a ‘yes’ result?

SENATOR RYAN:
I’m going to stand away from making a prediction. I’ve made it clear I supported a ‘yes’ in my response to the survey, but I’m not going to make a prediction. I think we just let it run over the next four weeks, the debate’s been running a very long time in Australia, but I think it is a testament to our commitment to give the people a say, and also to the way they have conducted themselves, our fellow citizens, and the way they’ve participated. There was clearly an appetite for this.

SPEERS:
I want to turn to another aspect of your portfolio, and that is MPs’ entitlements, and the new measures that the Government, you, have put in place, around the reporting requirements. I think this is one of the first things you did on returning to work, was on Friday, what is it now, a quarterly update?

SENATOR RYAN:
It used to be that every six months, on the last sitting day of June and, effectively December, late in the afternoon. Now, one of our changes, earlier this year, was it being managed by an independent authority, so not being put out by the Minister. That independent authority, which has been in place since April and then legislated from July, handled the release of the first quarterly reports that now come out regularly and they were released last Friday morning.

SPEERS:
I’ve got to say, no scandalous stories coming out of it, you know, there are a few interesting expenses there and so on where people have travelled for events that others didn’t charge the taxpayers for and so on. Do you think there has been a chilling effect on MPs in terms of their use of expenses?

SENATOR RYAN:
As the Prime Minister made clear when he announced the independent authority in January this year – no sorry, I think it was February this year – and then we implemented that within almost a month, transparency actually ensures that people like yourself, our citizens, can ask us questions and that ensures that people think a second and third time before they use public money.

SPEERS:
So you reckon this is working? The transparency …

SENATOR RYAN:
I think it is working. I think when some changes were brought in two decades ago that ensured more regular reporting by the then-special minister of state, who was Nick Minchin, we did see a change in behaviour from what had been taking place to that point. Now I think our citizens both have access to more information and expect to be able to get access to more information, they want to be able to go online and actually say, ‘Scott Ryan, how much did you spend on airfares?’

Now we’re working on the information technology to update 15- and 20-year-old systems at the moment so that becomes easily searchable and monthly, but in the meantime, to demonstrate our bona fides, we have the independent authority doing it quarterly.

SPEERS:
No doubt you’re also observing the energy debate, which has been going on for quite some time within the Government’s own ranks. Let me ask you about Tony Abbott’s remarks in this speech in London early this morning our time. Climate change, global warming might be doing more good than harm. Do you agree?

SENATOR RYAN:
No. I’ll start by saying that I’m not qualified in the science, but all the advice I’ve read, everything that I have observed over my nearly 10 years in Parliament, where this has been a central issue, is that that’s not the case. We have always, in my 10 years in Parliament, had a commitment in the Coalition to reduce our emissions, that’s been the case for all of those 10 years even when there has been an occasional internal debate.

SPEERS:
Even when Tony Abbott was prime minister, I pointed out earlier, he did a number of things: announcing the Paris targets, settling the renewable energy target, spending billions on reduction and so on, can you work out why he is now expressing this view that it’s like throwing goats down the volcano, all these policies to tackle emissions?

SENATOR RYAN:
I haven’t seen any goats around the hills of Parliament and I don’t think we will. Look, I’m not going to comment on what the motives of my colleagues might be, they can answer their own questions.

In 2015, when these targets were announced, the then-prime minister described them as ‘economically responsible’ and, as I said, reducing emissions has long been Coalition policy. I think it has bene Coalition policy at every election I’ve been a candidate since 2007.

SPEERS:
To that end, and just finally, do we need, in terms of reducing emissions to subsidise renewable energy any longer?

SENATOR RYAN:
The Minister, Josh Frydenberg, made, I think, a fantastic speech on Monday at an energy summit and I read it yesterday, it was a very important speech because it outlined where we’d got to and how we’ve got here so that over 10 or 12 years a lot of policy change, including for a market that used to be based on brown and black coal generators, the market operated for them. But we’ve had a big change in that, particularly for the entry of renewable energy and in that, he did outline that the cost curve for renewables is coming down to the point where they may not need it, but I’ll leave specific comment to Josh because the pricing of different forms of energy is a very technical question.

SPEERS:
The main thing from Alan Finkel, the chief scientist, was a clean energy target will make our prices, our power prices lower. Do you reckon he is way off or do you accept it?

SENATOR RYAN:
He made 50 recommendations and in mid-July, in conjunction with the states, Josh Frydenberg announced 49 of those were being implemented. That was a very quick response to a lot of little, but significant, issues that would make the market work better and take the pressure off prices and help reliability. At that time, both he and the Prime Minister made clear they would be working through a range of issues, including from other market regulators. I think, to be fair …

SPEERS:
He was right about 49 things, why is he wrong about suggesting that this will actually lower our prices?

SENATOR RYAN:
I think it is worth looking at problems that have developed over many years, you know, they are not going to be solved with one announcement. The Government and Josh Frydenberg are taking a very deliberative approach and they’ve said they’ll have something more to say by the end of the year.

SPEERS:
Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, thank you for joining us, good to see you back on deck.

[ENDS]

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