Interview with with Rafael Epstein 774 ABC Melbourne Drive

Transcript
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training

Topics: Leadership, higher education reforms, Senate

E&OE…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education is Scott Ryan he is also one of Victoria’s Liberal Senators. Scott Ryan, good afternoon.

SENATOR RYAN

Good Afternoon Raf.

EPSTEIN

Do you think the Prime Minister is safe through to the next election?

RYAN

Yes, of course. I think as the Prime Minister outlined today and a number of my ministerial colleagues have, this has been a very difficult month. The Liberal Party met this morning and made a decision and we are going to put it behind us.

EPSTEIN

I don’t know if I am reading things too closely, but a lot of the articles over the weekend appeared to be significant leaking from very senior people inside the Government. Do you think there has been an irreversible erosion of trust between senior ministers or not?

RYAN

Not at all, not in my working experience Raf.

EPSTEIN

There are some damaging leaks though.

RYAN

I’ve also learnt not to believe everything you read. As a politician I can say things have been written about me that are factually untrue, I’ve been said to be places that I have never even visited. So if we take that little bit of scepticism about everything we read. I am not going to pretend that the last week in particular was not a very difficult one. There were substantial concerns expressed by Members particularly of the backbench, and the Prime Minister I think he described himself as ‘chastened’ and has indicated that he has heard those, that he has heard the result of this morning’s party room ballot which was a significant number of backbenchers express their concern through the ballot box, and that he is committed to change.

EPSTEIN

Do you think any ministers, or any one of the thirty-five ministers and everyone else voted against him?

RYAN

Look I am not going to try and second guess a ballot, it is a secret ballot for a reason.  The point is not what happened in the lead up to this morning. The point is what we do from this point on. And how we refocus and stop talking about politics and start talking about policy and the needs for the Australian people. We are going to be measured by our success in doing that and our performance.

EPSTEIN

I suppose it leaves people in a curious positon though doesn’t it, because you have these policies like the Medicare co-payment and higher education that were staunchly advocated for as the only way forward and the Government is now saying “well listen we need to consult more with both voters, listeners to this radio show, and inside the party.” It kind of leaves us very unclear of what the Government is, and is not doing.

RYAN

Well, on the higher education policies that are in my portfolio, I can speak with a bit more authority on that. We have actually listened to the cross-benchers and the Senate. We have actually listened to feedback from the university sector and from other interested parties. So the policy before the Senate now is actually different from the one announced in the last budget. We have changed the indexation rate for HECS debts. The spending cuts associated with it have been reduced. But we are still committed to deregulating fees to allow...

Interrupted

EPSTEIN

So that will go to the Senate – I think that has, correct me if I am wrong, that has one eighth of the savings you proposed initially in the budget, is that correct?

RYAN

It has substantially less; it’s roughly that approximation yes. But that is a product of listening. I know you asked then, what is the Government’s agenda well at the same time as we listen and we do compromise with Senate cross-benchers it’s hard to be criticised for being flexible.

EPSTEIN
So that is, I remember Christopher Pyne I think last week or the week before saying if that’s not accepted by the Senate in March then we won’t be pushing forward with that anymore. Your understanding is that’s still the same position, try again and then give up in March if it doesn’t go through?

RYAN

We have got four sitting weeks between now and the end of March, and if the Senate says no a second time well then quite frankly listening is also saying well, they don’t want to go down that path, there are plenty of other issues across the portfolios that we need to address and so we will move on to where we can find some common ground.

EPSTEIN

Andrew Robb the Trade Minister said to me in the last hour that Medicare and Higher Education were not spoken about before the election and that got you into trouble politically, would you agree? I am paraphrasing his words but do think that’s the problem?

RYAN

And Andrew said something similar last week. I think one of the things we need to be very conscious of is that we promised to be a Government of no surprises and we have got to make sure we deliver that. Part of that is about talking to people about the need to reform before we announce policies.
 

EPSTEIN
What standard do we hold you to? I mean it’s unclear for you now, I suppose people welcome the listening and consultation but do we hold you to what you said before the election? Do we hold you to what you said at the last budget? What is the standard by which we are to judge you?

RYAN

Well every voter gets to do that at the ballot box in eighteen, nineteen month’s time Raf. The point that the Prime Minister made, and I think this is a very important point for all of us, is that in the budget last year there were measures that weren’t really discussed a lot in the lead up to it. The budget has become a big event where the Government put out its agenda, it was almost like an Australian State of the Union for the last ten or fifteen years. So what we need to do is talk to the community and explain the need for change before we announce policies. I think that will provide the path not only to successful support for policies but successful implementation through the Parliament.

EPSTEIN

Are you confident the Prime Minister has got a clear run internally at least until the next election?

RYAN

Yes.

EPSTEIN

Scott Ryan, thankyou for your time.

RYAN

Thanks Raf.

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