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Transcript of interview with Peter Van Onselen: PVO NewsDay: 19 October 2015: retirement of Joe Hockey MP; North Sydney by-election; religion; Senate crossbench; Labor tactics

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THE HON CHRISTOPHER PYNE MP Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Leader of the House


E&OE TRANSCRIPT Interview - PVO NewsDay Monday 19 October 2015

SUBJECTS: Retirement of Joe Hockey MP; North Sydney by-election; Religion; Senate crossbench; Labor tactics.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Thanks for being here.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good afternoon Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let’s start if we can with Joe Hockey. We’ve heard the news that he will give his valedictory speech this week. Firstly, your reflections on the former Treasurer, and I guess secondly to that, your thoughts on a possible by-election. Is there enough time to get it in this side of the New Year?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Joe Hockey and I have been friends personally and politically for well over two decades, we were in the Liberal Movement together in the 1980s and 90s so I know Joe - I wouldn’t say better than anyone - but I know him very very well from a personal and political point of view. He has been a good friend and remains a good friend in spite of the circumstances of the last month or so. He’s always put his best foot forward for Australia in serving the Australian public, not just in North Sydney but Australia-wide as a Cabinet Minister and a junior Minister in the Howard Government, and as a Cabinet Minister in the Abbott Government. And of course if he wished to serve in the Turnbull Government, I’m sure he would have been accommodated as well because he has a great deal more to offer to public life, so I wish him all the best in his chosen next career, he’ll be giving a valedictory speech on Wednesday,

which I look forward to eagerly, and he has made a great two decade contribution. Not everyone gets the chance to do that, and he has done it, and I’ve had the chance to do it as well, and I wish him very much the best in the future.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: And I realise this will be a matter that the Prime Minister and others will consider, obviously, but just on the issue of the timing of a by-election, do you think there is enough time to get it done before Christmas, recognising that nonetheless, even if there may just be enough time you may still choose to put it off till after the summer recess?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well a by-election requires 33 days’ notice from the electoral commissioner, and that’s the same for a general election, so there is technically time to have a by-election before Christmas, and if there is a retirement this week, which is what is being speculated about in the press, and on your show today, there is plenty of time to have a by-election before the end of the year, and of course we don’t want the electors of North Sydney to be without a member for - well we want them to be without a member for as short a time as possible.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let’s move to Eric Abetz, if we can. I am sure you would have diligently read his comments to Sharri Markson for The Australian, an interview that she conducted with him. Firstly, do you agree with the sentiment that he’s expressed in terms of the way that religious folk - you’re one yourself - are treated by the Canberra press gallery?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Look, I’m not going to agree or disagree with Eric’s personal views about how Christianity or other religions are covered in the press gallery here in Canberra. We are a secular, pluralistic nation, with many religions represented, but by far and away, the dominant religion is Christianity, it still represents about over 70 percent of the census in terms of how people determine themselves. I’m a Catholic, and I’ve never hidden that, I must admit I have never had a bad story out of the press gallery because of being a Catholic or a Christian, and I think we have to make sure we keep religion as separate from politics as possible, while always using everything we’ve been taught and learnt over a lifetime to inform our views and improve our knowledge of the kinds of decisions we make in public policy. So I’ve never resiled from being a Catholic and how that has formed and shaped my life and my views, but I’ve never been criticised by the press gallery for that.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just one final one on this before you talk about the politics of week ahead as well as the policy debates in the Parliament. Do you see the irony, as I did when reading the piece though, that he’s complaining about a sort of ‘vilification’, if you like, of the religious right, yet he’s effectively singled out Ed Husic as the only Muslim Member of Parliament to get an easy run, and he’s accused Leigh Sales of ‘flirting’ with the new Prime Minister?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I must admit, I didn’t read the piece with that level of detail that you obviously have Peter, but I missed those nuances. If those nuances are there, well Eric can answer for his own comments to the press, I’m not going to have a running commentary on my good friend and colleague’s particular views as expressed to Sharri Markson, as much as I like both people.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Fair enough. Let’s move on to the week ahead. If I can get you to contextualise the strategy for this week for the Government, around the fact that there is also another poll out - there was a poll out for Newspoll last week when we last spoke - this one, in the Fairfax papers, seems to suggest that it’s all good news at the moment at least, for the new Prime Minister and the new governmental line up?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well last week Peter we passed a dozen pieces of legislation through the Senate, including quite controversial matters, some of which have been opposed by the Labor party, proving that we are able to govern and getting on with the job of good government. This week, we’ll have debates in the House of Representatives around the tax treatment of multinational corporations, the ‘No Jab No Pay’ policies in social security, and I imagine, in the next day or two, we’ll get deeply into the debate around the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. We’re working with Labor on that right now. So what we’re proving is that the Senate can work with the Government, policies can be passed, legislation can be passed that improves the lives of Australians. I think the polls are reflecting that there is a sense of optimism and confidence around the nation, as a consequence of the change at the top of the Government.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator Leyonhjelm told us yesterday on Australian Agenda that there’s more ‘love in the air’, if you like. Scott Ludlam wasn’t using the same terminology but he did make the point as well that it does seem that overall that there’s been an ‘unshackling’ of ministers in their capacity to deal with the crossbenchers, and perhaps even the Greens as well. Is that your sense? I think David Leyonhjelm said that he had met with as many as eight ministers since the change of Prime Minister.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well John Paul Young is always pleased when he hears someone talks about love being in the air, because of course that means that some radio station on rush hour can play Love is in the Air, and he’s a great Australian icon. I certainly feel that around the corridors of Parliament House, there is a sense of a ‘can-do’ attitude, a resetting of some of the relationships between the crossbenchers and the Government, and I’m looking to that bearing fruit. Our number one priority is of course jobs and growth.

The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Government’s focus on innovation and industry, all these things are not being done to improve our own sense of self-worth but to create jobs and growth for the

Australian public, and I think when we start seeing that flow through as we are, today I see the Food and Grocers’ Council of Australia released their report on the status of the industry, and shows a 28 percent increase in exports of food and beverages, 3,200 new jobs in that sector over the last twelve months; this is the kind of good news we want in the economy that lends optimism and confidence to the Australian public.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: And certainly what happens with those China growth figures that we will hear about in about half an hour from now will be important as well, it may even get a run in question time.

Let me ask you this though, before we have to let you go, Christopher Pyne, the Labor party last week certainly tried to focus in on Malcolm Turnbull’s wealth, this whole Canary Islands attack, I was pretty critical of it, Paul Kelly certainly was in his editorial yesterday on Australian Agenda, you think that they’ll go back to that well again today, and if they don’t, is that essentially them acknowledging that this was a foray they probably should have avoided?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the politician in me tells me that they should go back to that subject because it was such a catastrophic decision on their part, and I’m glad that they made such a complete hash of it, but the Australian in me says we should move on because there are fine things to discuss around jobs and growth in question time, around the things that we’re doing to get on with the job of putting in place the structures that will improve our economy, and our society, so I hope that they are more constructive than they were last week. Labor’s tactics certainly backfired last week.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: And certainly, Christopher Pyne, manager of Government business in the House of Representatives, I appreciate your time on the programme and we’ll talk to you on the next Monday of the next sitting week. Cheers.



Mr Pyne’s media: 0439 764 809, Department media: