30 July 2015
Transcript - #2015039, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Interview with Peter Van Onselen, PVO NewsHour, Sky

SUBJECTS: Entitlements; women in Parliament; same sex marriage

VAN ONSELEN:

Welcome to the program. We are talking politics now with Liberal Party frontbencher, Kelly O’Dwyer. She joins me live from Melbourne. Thanks very much for being there.

O’DWYER:

Pleasure Peter.

VAN ONSELEN:

Let me just ask you right off the top, we’ve seen the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop apologise both to Alan Jones on radio and then in a media conference as well. What do you think took her so long to get round to apologising?

O’DWYER:

I think she gave a very heartfelt apology. It was clearly an apology that she acknowledged was long overdue. She said that she wished she made that apology three weeks ago when this issue first came up. She knew and acknowledged that what she did was wrong. She apologised to the Australian people for that. She reiterated that apology after her interview on Alan Jones through a press conference and I think that it was right and proper for her to do that. I think it’s right and proper that she did issue an apology to the Australian people.

VAN ONSELEN:

What do you think took so long?

O’DWYER:

She herself said that she wished she’d made it earlier. I can’t go into the mind of the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.

VAN ONSELEN:

I suspect none of us can.

O’DWYER:

She’d be better able to answer that question herself I think. But she has made an apology. She has made an unreserved apology to the Australian people and I think that’s what the Australian people wanted to hear.

VAN ONSELEN:

Well yesterday senior frontbencher, Scott Morrison, refused to say that he supported the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, the Deputy Liberal Leader no-less, Julie Bishop, not only refused to say that she supported Bronwyn Bishop but she said that she would no doubt be considering her position. We now know that she’s not. She’s made it clear today that she isn’t considering her position and she wants to continue on. Does Bronwyn Bishop have, as Speaker, have your support?

O’DWYER:

Well what the Speaker also said today in her press conference is that she is going through all of her expenses. That the Department of Finance is looking at that in some detail. She wants them to go through all of her expenses in some detail and that they will then come to a conclusion, issue her with their findings and potentially make recommendations. Now I’m not going to prejudge that process. I think it’s entirely appropriate for that to be concluded before making any further statements.

VAN ONSELEN:

But does she have your support?

O’DWYER:

It’s clear that there is a process on foot at the moment, Peter, that is looking at whether or not there has been any misuse of the entitlements. As we all know, every Member is responsible for their own use of their entitlements and they, quite rightly, have to make sure that they are spending taxpayer’s money within entitlements. Otherwise again, quite rightly, the opinion of the Australian taxpayer will be very harsh, their judgement will be very harsh. So I’m not going to prejudge the process. It’s ongoing at the moment and I think it’s right that it be concluded.

VAN ONSELEN:

But it is a simple question though. Subject to the findings, does she have your support?

O’DWYER:

Well let’s see what those findings are Peter before we go into commentary and hypotheticals. Bronwyn Bishop has been a very strong speaker. Bronwyn Bishop knows the Standing Orders inside and out. Bronwyn Bishop, I think, more than anyone else probably in the Parliament, understands the importance of the role of Speaker and the dignity that comes with that appointment and how it reflects on the dignity of the Parliament.

VAN ONSELEN:

But it doesn’t sound like you’re willing to say that she has your support at least which, in fairness, neither was Scott Morrison neither was Julie Bishop.

O’DWYER:

Well, as I’ve said to you before Peter, there is a process that’s on foot at the moment. I don’t prejudge the process. I’ll await the outcomes.

VAN ONSELEN:

Do you think that that process should be revealed to the Australian public after it’s completed? Normally of course the Department of Finance investigations like that aren’t subject to public scrutiny like that but do you think, given the public scrutiny of this issue and the public attention that it has received for so long now, that those findings should be made public?

O’DWYER:

Well I think the outcomes will clearly be made public. There’s no doubt about that and it’s right and proper that it be made public. There can be no opaqueness when it comes to the use of taxpayer dollars and I think Bronwyn Bishop herself acknowledged today that what she did was wrong. She apologised for that and she has said that she is very keen for Finance to go through her claims and to make sure that everything is in order and to make sure that everything is within entitlement.

VAN ONSELEN:

How does a Speaker who has been put on probation by a Prime Minister even maintain the façade of independence?

O’DWYER:

The Speaker is independent and impartial in their role. They need to be. That is important for the smooth functioning of the Parliament. In terms of probation, they were the Prime Minister’s words. I think what he was really expressing there was that it was important for the Speaker, just as it is important for every Member of Parliament, to make sure that they are using their entitlements properly and that they are making sure that taxpayer’s funds are being used properly.

VAN ONSELEN:

Alright let’s move on to other issues can we. Yesterday there was a debate between Penny Wong and Cory Bernardi on the issue of same sex marriage. My understanding is that the Prime Minister has been canvassing whether or not there’s support for a plebiscite on this particular issue and I know some Liberals, Members of Parliament, your colleagues, that I’ve spoken to who have said that they have even suggested to him that a plebiscite is the best way to go. Would you be open to the idea of a plebiscite on this issue or do you think that the Parliament should make the decision?

O’DWYER:

I haven’t been canvassed, I’ve seen reports of that, but I certainly haven’t been canvassed on this and I know that my Senate colleague Cory Bernardi, in his Press Club address yesterday, raised the prospect of a plebiscite. I must say, I think we took a very clear position to the last election and it was a position that was made clear by the Prime Minister himself. He said this issue is one that is for the Party Room to determine. We as representatives have to make judgements about all sorts of issues in representing our constituencies and this is no different. The Prime Minister said the Party Room will have a discussion about this issue and we will determine our response on this issue. I think that’s right and proper. I’m very confident that we will do as the Prime Minister has said and I see no need for a plebiscite.

VAN ONSELEN:

Can I just check on that with you Ms O’Dwyer, ‘cos my understanding was, before the last election, yes the Prime Minister did say that there would be a Party Room discussion on this with the determination with what to do going forward in this term but it feels like there has been slippage on that in some in the rhetoric since then. You’re confident that that commitment ahead of the last election will be met during this term. That there will be that Liberal Party Room discussion this term, not next about what to do whether or not to allow a conscience vote.

O’DWYER:

I am absolutely confident, I’m absolutely confident that the Prime Minister will keep that commitment.

VAN ONSELEN:

The Prime Minister has also said that he is interested in considering at least the prospect of targets for females in Parliament for the Liberal Party. That’s something that I know some time ago you said you were in favour of. It worked for corporate Australia. I spoke to the Prime Minister’s adviser within the Ministry on women’s issues, Michaelia Cash, on To the Point with Kristina Keneally just a matter of days ago. She also sounded perhaps that she had an ear open to the idea of targets. Is this something that you think could manifest itself in the next short while for the Liberal Party?

O’DWYER:

I think targets are very important because targets allow us to measure our progress. Targets are very different to quotas and Michaelia Cash, who is the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, has also acknowledged this point that quotas are a very blunt instrument and they are very prescriptive and they don’t work in party organisations like ours. We’re a grass roots organisation, the Liberal Party. We’re unlike the Labor Party which allows factional warlords to stitch up deals to shoehorn people into particular seats. That’s not something I want to see the Liberal Party emulate. Targets allow us to focus the mind of our grass roots membership to work out who is the right person to represent us in particular seats and the Liberal Party, which has had a very strong and proud tradition in the advancement of women, knows that when it comes to having more women in the Parliament and progressing more women through the Parliament, that we’ve got a little way to go.

VAN ONSELEN:

Just finally Kelly O’Dwyer if I can I just want to go back to Bronwyn Bishop just for a moment. If Parliament reconvenes, if she’s still the Speaker, if we haven’t yet heard the outcome of the enquiry of the Department of Finance and there is a motion of no confidence against her and Liberals are expected to line up and support her on that as you inevitably will. That will be a pretty awkward moment for a lot of liberals surly – not least of which Craig Laundy who made the point, I think in the Saturday Telegraph, that if entitlements weren’t in play he thinks that Bronwyn Bishop may have chosen to walk from Melbourne to Geelong rather than catch a chopper.

O’DWYER:

I’m not sure what your question is Peter.

VAN ONSELEN:

Well it will be awkward won’t it. I mean it would be an awkward look – particularly for marginal seat Liberals – to be lining up to show a vote of confidence in a Speaker under investigation by the Department of Finance having made one after another, I will call them misuse of entitlements even if they’re technically legal.

O’DWYER:

Well we’ve now entered into the realm of hypothetical questions and I have a policy of not answering hypotheticals.

VAN ONSELEN:

Alright. Fair enough. Kelly O’Dwyer appreciate you joining us on News Day. Thanks for your company.

O’DWYER:

Pleasure.