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TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 23 October 2017

TITLE: Transcript – AM Agenda – Sky News

TOPIC(S): The Australian Electoral Commission review process, foreign donations reform, same sex marriage postal survey, energy, NBN


KIEREN GILBERT:
And to another story now and the Electoral Commission is set to review whether activist group GetUp! is an associate entity of Labor and the Greens. The Guardian reports that GetUp! has argued in a lengthy submission that it is independent of the two political parties. It comes as The Australian reports say that Bill Shorten is facing investigation over a $25,000 union donation he made to his own campaign in 2007.

With me to discuss these various issues is the Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan. Minister thanks for your time.

First of all in relation to GetUp!, is it an associated entity or not? Because the Coalition’s tried to prove that it is, I think on two separate previous occasions, and now trying once again now.

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:
Well it’s a matter for the Electoral Commission, and this is the very important point that I think that GetUp! completely missed with their complaints on radio this morning. We have an independent Electoral Commission, that it is independent of politicians, independent of government, and that administers the Electoral Act, including these provisions of whether someone is an associated entity. GetUp! seem to be saying ‘we shouldn’t be subject to the Electoral Act’, and I’m very disappointed that they’re basically out there trying to run a scare campaign about criminal charges when all that may be under consideration is the application of the Electoral Act to GetUp!, in the same way it applies to unions, political parties and to other people that get involved in politics.

GILBERT:
Obviously the Electoral Commission is independent, we know that 100 per cent, but if it’s been proven on two separate occasions that it’s not an associated entity of the Greens and Labor, why is the Electoral Commission being asked to look at this again?

RYAN:
Well, speak to those who have made the request to answer that question. But, I think it is fair to say also, it’s not that it has been proven to not be. There are tests about whether an organisation is an associated entity, and it’s important to note that all those tests do is trigger increased transparency, they don’t prohibit anyone from doing anything. GetUp! wouldn’t be stopped from doing anything if such a declaration was made by the Commission, it would only be asked to be transparent about where the money comes from. And this is the same thing GetUp! have done on foreign donations, earlier in the year they said ‘we think foreign donations bans should apply to everyone’.

GILBERT:
You believe they are an associated entity?

RYAN:
No it’s not appropriate that I express a view. It’s a matter for the Electoral Commission to make a determination subject to the Electoral Act. It’s not a matter for the Minister, it’s not a matter for a Member of Parliament, that’s why we have an independent Electoral Commissioner. But let’s be honest about GetUp!, it runs around saying it’s an independent, progressive organisation, but it also brags at election time how it tries to take out Coalition members. I mean GetUp campaigns, in effect, for a Labor government. But they don’t seem to want to be honest about it.

GILBERT:
On the donations issue, we’ve been told for a number of months now that there’d be some action in terms of a crackdown on foreign donations, what’s the delay on that?

RYAN:
We said we’d have legislation in Parliament before the end of the year, and we’ll definitely meet that target. It’s a complex issue, about how it applies, not just to political parties, but also how it applies to all the other groups that actually campaign at election time. But at the same time… (inaudible).

GILBERT:
It would apply to unions, but then the committee that looked at this, the standing electoral matters committee, was split in the sense that it shouldn’t be extended to these third party groups, like GetUp!

RYAN:
While some members said it should only apply to political parties and their associated entities, that would then let a massive American-style loophole where we don’t regulate this massive flow of money that would go to third parties. We’re not going to create an American-style funding hole or a loophole in Australian democracy. But at the same time, I want to make sure there’s a balance between respecting the role groups independent of politics have in our civil society.

GILBERT:
So you see that as a backdoor way of undermining the law, if you weren’t to look at those third party arrangements?

RYAN:
It would make no sense Kieran, for the ads that come on during this program for some of them to be paid for by foreign money during an election campaign, and others be prohibited from doing so. And that would be dishonest to the Australian public.

GILBERT:
(Inaudible)

RYAN:
You’d have a super-PAC problem, and it’d be dishonest to the Australian people to say ‘I’m banning foreign donations’ but then legislate and create this massive loophole. I’m not going to do that.

GILBERT:
What are your thoughts on the Registered Organisation Commission, again looking at this donation from Australian Workers’ Union to Bill Shorten, this claims seems to have been looked at multiple times now.

RYAN:
Well I’m not familiar whether it’s been looked at previously or not, and I note that the Registered Organisations Commission is like the Electoral Commission …

GILBERT:
Well it’s been raised many times at least …

RYAN:
Well it may not have been looked at. I don’t know all of the history. What I will say though is again, this commission is also independent of Parliament, independent of Government, independent of individual political parties. So, whether it’s looking at that is a matter for that Commission, but again, you’ve got donations going from the AWU to political party, and to GetUp!, which then campaigns in political space, openly in the political space during election campaigns. Whether or not they were done in accordance with union rules, well that’s a matter for a Registered Organisations Commission to look at, it’s not in my particular bailiwick, but again with Getup! all the electoral laws at the moment, is be transparent where your money comes from.

GILBERT:
One of your areas of responsibility right now is the same-sex marriage survey as Special Minister of State, given that the turnout its up around 70 per cent, we’re going to get an update tomorrow, obviously been embraced by a big percentage of the community, the electorate. Is it something you might look to undertake for future controversial, social issues, say like the topical one at the moment, assisted dying?

RYAN:
Well firstly I want to give all credit to my colleague who actually does manage this, which is Mathias Cormann, it’s actually being managed by him. My responsibility is the Electoral Commission but the survey is being run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Senator Cormann is actually managing it.

We’ll get another update tomorrow on participation figures, I’ve said before it has exceeded my expectations the amount of participation and I think it does show that the Government’s position about saying ‘let’s give people a say on this’, and finding a way to deliver that, is entirely vindicated, as is the conduct of the debate by those people who said we couldn’t trust Australians to debate this reasonably and fairly. Well I think history has shown that we have actually seen a reasonable debate, apart from some awful out markers that exist in every debate.

As to its potential extension, look I mean, what’s happening in Victoria, I’m not a supporter of euthanasia laws, I never have been, but that is appropriately a matter for the State Parliament. I wouldn’t support them, but it’s not something the Commonwealth, as I understand has capacity to override. And I’ve also previously said I don’t think it’s something the Commonwealth Parliament should seek to override.

GILBERT:
As a precedent for difficult issues though, social, moral issues, as you say, it’s been embraced by the electorate—is it something you could look to, again down the track?

RYAN:
I think a lot of other issues you often haven’t had a debate that’s run for a decade, where in my experience there are passionate ‘yes’ people who support change, there are passionate ‘no’ people who oppose a change in the Marriage Act, but the great bulk of people have an opinion.

On other difficult social issues or challenging economic issues for example, where there might be trade-offs which are hard to resolve through a simple question or through a single question I should say more accurately, you often don’t have that great expression where I think people often already have an opinion.

GILBERT:
From here you’d expect the numbers not to rise too dramatically, unless there is a late surge of people leaving to the last minute I guess.

RYAN:
Well look I didn’t make a prediction at the outset, but I’ve fessed up to my instinct was that it wouldn’t be this high so I’m not going to take another punt, because I wasn’t right personally the first time.

GILBERT:
Well it’s well over other comparable voluntary voting arrangements, whether it be Brexit, or you know, other western nations that have voluntary voting at an electoral level as well.

RYAN:
We have compulsory voting, so I think that does facilitate people being used to participating, we do have regular elections too, state, local, Commonwealth. So I think that has supported the participation, as well as the fact that this is an issue upon which, in my experience, virtually everyone has an opinion.

GILBERT:
Now a couple of other issues I want to ask you about before we wrap up, in terms of the energy issue. Labor says it wants see the modelling before it commits to the National Energy Guarantee. They’ve got a reasonable position on that, don’t they, in terms of their defence of not coming out to embrace this energy guarantee, no opposition would?

RYAN:
It hasn’t stopped them embracing their own 45 per cent target without even answering questions about the modelling of their own, so let’s just put their hypocrisy aside for a second. Labor doesn’t want to talk about the impact their policy will have, their target, they won’t talk about modelling let alone release any, and we know it will force up prices. Josh Frydenberg has outlined that there will be modelling done, and it will be made available to the Parliament and to the states.

GILBERT:
Yeah, but in the meantime you can understand why Labor says it wants to look at the detail, because it was only an eight-page document that was ... It might be a good plan and the energy industry executives that I’ve spoken to are quite supportive of it overall, the third party endorsements have been strong.

RYAN:
I would take Labor’s complaint more seriously if they weren’t so resistant to releasing modelling of their own policy. It hasn’t stopped them embracing their own policy and advertising it, but at the same time then saying ‘well we’re not going to say anything on yours till you show us everything’.

GILBERT:
This NBN report today, some of the data, the numbers are extraordinary for connecting the NBN to individual houses, tens of thousands of dollars, the cost, and the NBN looks like it’s trying to get on the front foot ahead of a negative report looming on the ABC.

RYAN:
Well look, this is an important point because under Labor’s plan we were going to spend $30 billion more in trying to connect all our properties, under the plan that they announced. It wasn’t funded, and it was going to cost consumers and taxpayers more. I think the story this morning outlines the folly of that plan and exactly why Malcolm Turnbull and Mitch Fifield have adopted the multi-technology mix to use taxpayers’ funds more efficiently, which will then also flow through to more affordable costs for consumers, for people who want to use the service.

GILBERT:
Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, we’re out of time, appreciate your time this morning, thanks so much for that.

RYAN:
Thanks Kieran.

ENDS

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