RAF EPSTEIN: Senator good afternoon.
SENATOR SCOTT RYAN: Good afternoon, thank you for having me.
EPSTEIN: Lot of Liberal people are saying this, first job of the party leader is to lead the party and if you lead a party where a Senator leaves, you failed the first test of leadership, are they right?
RYAN: No. I mean, those of us who know Cory and I get along very well with Cory, I would regard him as a friendly colleague, this doesn’t really surprise a lot of us. This has been a long journey for Cory and I’m not going to use pejoratives or call names, but when you’re in a large political party, just like in life, whether it’s your home with the family or at work, you have to learn to compromise.
Now, Cory is one of the more conservative members of the Liberal party, we’ve had in a long time. Obviously as he has made clear, he wasn’t willing to make the compromises that being part of a large party entails. Now I’ll be honest, there is no politician who thinks that every single position that them and their party colleagues come to will be their first preference. We all make compromises. Cory doesn’t want to do that anymore.
EPSTEIN: But when you’re asking voters on the right to make a compromise, if Cory Bernardi won’t compromise, why should they? You know, if the Prime Minister can’t convince him, are you not worried that the Prime Minister can’t convince those voters?
RYAN: The Liberal Party has, in the words of John Howard, long been home to the liberal and conservative traditions in Australian politics, it has been our great strength. It has been why we’ve been in office for two-thirds of our existence and we have had the trust of the Australian people more than any other political party to govern the country. That involves compromise. It involves internal debate. There are many members of the Liberal Party who would use the term conservative, there are those who would use the term liberal, and there are those who would describe themselves as progressive or moderate.
EPSTEIN: So you don’t think this is the beginning of a split then?
RYAN: No. I think that we have Cory, who was a particular conservative member – I am very disappointed he left, the more people in the Liberal Party the better in my view – but he is one person and there are still many people in the Liberal Party, as we’ve heard today, who have said that they remain, and retain a lifelong commitment to the movement that is the Liberal Party.
EPSTEIN: Look 1300 222 774 is the phone number, I don’t think anyone in politics really knows, so your views are as valid as anyone else’s, Scott Ryan’s or mine, 1300 222 774.
I’m interested Minister in the way your colleagues have treated Cory Bernardi. He is an unknown quantity now as a political party, but he is certainly trading on people’s disenchantment with mainstream politics. Your cabinet colleagues have called this a dog act, a betrayal; the Deputy Prime Minister has accused him of cowardice, those insults just reinforce what he is saying don’t they?
RYAN: I think those words, I don’t really want to comment on comments of my colleagues, but I think they recognise what – I’ll use as slightly different language – is the disappointment that thousands of Liberal Party members would feel because, Cory did stand for election for the Liberal Party last July. I can’t point to a particular change in policy direction that triggers this and so you can understand how people feel disappointed. I’m not going to use terms like that, but I can understand why people are angry.
EPSTEIN: Why not? Is that just out of politeness Scott Ryan, or are you worried that insults give him strength?
RYAN: Look my grandmother, who is still going at 99, always taught me manners were free, so I try and avoid name calling.
EPSTEIN: 99! Cory Bernardi is clearly-
RYAN: (interrupting) She is probably listening too, so hello.
EPSTEIN: I’m impressed, although I’m not sure at 99 that I would be bothering with politics still.
Cory Bernardi still thinks that the push that you were part of, which was replacing Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull is still an issue for voters, let’s just have a listen…
EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, is he right? The transaction cost is still being felt?
RYAN: Look, I’ll let yourself and voters judge that. Look those issues have been covered in great detail and we’ve had an election since and it’s nearly a couple of years ago, so I don’t think it’s particularly worth going over them in great detail.
EPSTEIN: It’s just that you lost four or five points on Newspoll over summer. I know it’s certainly ancient history because politics now moves so fast, but and to be honest I’m not sure people can actually change party leaders all the time now I’m not sure if anyone cares, but do you think that it is still an issue for people that you changed leaders in the first term?
RYAN: It’s hard to say that some things are negative, it’s hard to say no one thinks it’s an issue. So I wouldn’t try and say that, but when I talk to constituents or in my policy area, and today I made an announcement on more parliamentary expenses reform to bring more transparency to that, it’s not something that is brought up with me by voters. That’s what I will say, that’s not my experience.
EPSTEIN: One thing that voters clearly are upset about is politician’s expenses, I think people will probably be glad that your new system for politicians’ work expenses, I think that’s what we will call it, that that’s going to happen soon, but there was a promise made by Tony Abbott, as prime minister, in 2014 to get rid of the gold pass, air travel for former politicians.
EPSTEIN: Isn’t that one of the things that drives people nuts, that hasn’t happened until the beginning of 2017?
RYAN: Look I can’t speak, I mean I’ve been in this job since August and I can speak to what I have done since August. I did announce in the last two weeks of last year that we weren’t bringing the legislation forward because we, as people remember, we had a very, very crowded legislative schedule, trying to get those two bills that were the centre of the election on workplace reform and applying the rule of law to building sites through. But our commitment to it is demonstrated by the fact that it’s announced on day one of Parliament this year and we’ve made a change to toughen it up so that it’s not phased out over six years for those remaining gold pass holders, its abolished immediately. The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, while former prime ministers can still get it because they often do a lot more community work, he has made it clear that he will not avail himself, he will not take up that particular option.
EPSTEIN: But you’re clearly keen to get this done fast because you feel it hadn’t been given priority in the past? And that’s a problem.
RYAN: This is part of a large number of measures that are coming forward to drastically change the way politician’s expenses are recorded, the way the rules are enforced, the rules themselves and the way they are reported so that we can be called to account on them. There is another bill that we brought forward today that is setting up an independent authority, absent of control of politicians to oversee us and there will be more legislation coming forward in coming weeks to effectively adopt the rule changes recommended last year.
EPSTEIN: One final try Scott Ryan, is Cory Bernardi the beginning of something like the Greens, ALP split on the left?
RYAN: I think one point Cory made, that I do understand, is that there is disenchantment with politics and I have learnt not to try and predict the future. But we have seen on the left of politics there has been more fracturing of the vote. I hope that doesn’t happen on my side of politics, but we did see a bit of it start with Clive Palmer in 2013 and we’ve obviously had a One Nation vote since, our job as a Government is to get those votes back, and having people leave the Parliamentary party doesn’t make that easier. We have one less Senator but it doesn’t change the job ahead of us.
EPSTEIN: Thanks for your time.RYAN: Thanks for having me.