6 December 2015
Transcript - #2015075, 2015

In the role of: Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer [21 September 2015 - 18 July 2016]

Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky News Viewpoint

SUBJECTS: LNP; Government Ministry; Importance of independent directors on superannuation boards.

KENNY:

We will cross now to Melbourne where the Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer joins us. Thanks for joining us Kelly.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Great pleasure Chris.

KENNY:

Look I want to get to your portfolio matters in a moment but first up this defection or attempted defection so far of Ian Macfarlane to the Nationals, I think one of the most intriguing aspects of this is that Malcolm Turnbull's Deputy Prime Minister has been holding secret talks with Ian Macfarlane about this defection, in other words, the Deputy Prime Minister holding secret talks about a defection that is obviously going to destabilise the Government and embarrass the Prime Minister?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Obviously Chris I can't comment on what talks have or have not taken place, because I'm not privy to them. What I can say is that in Queensland the Liberal and National Party Room is one Party. It's unlike all of the other states and territories right around the country. It is one Party Room. What Ian Macfarlane has done is choose to walk into a different Party Room when in Canberra and it is really a matter for him to justify why he has made that…

KENNY:

But it is more complicated than that as you know, in that when he's preselected and chosen in Queensland it is on the basis that he is going to be sitting with the Liberals in Canberra and they do divvy it up between the Nats and the Liberals in Queensland so he is effectively changing parties. He will sit in a different Party Room in Canberra. This is an upheaval for the Government, this is embarrassing for the Prime Minister, yet an architect behind the scenes has been the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well if you've got a question for Warren I suppose you will have to put it to Warren. I can't give you any insights into that Chris.

KENNY:

You're a Cabinet Minister in the Coalition. Do you believe that the Deputy Prime Minister's loyalty should be first to the Coalition and the Government or to boosting the numbers of the National Party?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I'm very confident that both the Liberal Party and the National Party work incredibly well together, in Coalition and in Government and that Warren Truss…

KENNY:

Despite this evidence we've got at the moment?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

…and Warren Truss and Malcolm Turnbull work together very strongly as a team. I'm very confident of that. There are always, in relationships, some testing times and this is probably just one of those.

KENNY:

Obviously Warren Truss and Malcolm Turnbull have to work closely together. There has been no signs before this that they haven't been but we do know, now that this secret negotiation was going on, obviously without Malcolm Turnbull's knowledge, how can the Prime Minister now go ahead with his daily business and have full trust and confidence in his deputy?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Quiet easily. We're in Coalition. Warren Truss is the Leader of the National Party, he is the Deputy Prime Minister, we work well in government, in coalition together. We've got a very big agenda ahead of us at the moment. Tomorrow the Prime Minister is going to be announcing, along with Christopher Pyne, our innovation package. It is a very ambitious statement that is being announced tomorrow…

KENNY:

Indeed alright we will come to that but talking about innovation – are you saying that the Coalition working, you know the two parties work closely together, it's kind of innovative isn't it for a Deputy Prime Minister to be actively poaching members from his Coalition partner while in Government?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I'll leave it to you to give the descriptions Chris.

KENNY:

Alright well then how is this resolved? Do you think this deal will go ahead and if it does do you think then Ian Macfarlane can come back into Cabinet? In effect Malcolm Turnbull has a Cabinet Minister who he has dumped forced back upon him by the National Party. How is that cooperative Coalition Government?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I think you're getting a little bit ahead of yourself on this particular point…

KENNY:

Oh no this is Macca getting a head of himself.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I think that it is pretty clear that there is an agreement between the two Coalition partners and as my colleague Senator Brandis has said, it is governed by the iron laws of arithmetic and it's very clear that there are a certain number of National Party Members who need to be in the Ministry when compared with the number of Liberal Party Members. The ultimate decision though on who is selected for the Cabinet and who is selected for the Ministry, is a matter for the Prime Minister. He can take recommendations from the National Party but it is ultimately his decision.

KENNY:

Indeed – it's a diabolical dilemma to be thrust upon him in this way. How does the Party remain unified as it's dealing with this? I noticed last night that the junior infrastructure minister, Jamie Briggs, the Minister for Cities, tweeting that it's a good thing that Macca's leaving the Liberal Party – he actually improves the Liberal Party by leaving it, yet these two gentlemen may end up having to serve in a Ministry together in a few weeks.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

There're a number of people who have used some pretty colourful expressions but what I can say is that frankly, despite the fact that this has caused a fair bit of commentary in the inside set and within the media, most people out there aren't remotely interested in this and they want the Government to be focused on the big issues that affect them. That's taxation, that's superannuation, that's the innovation package, and that's exactly what we're doing.

KENNY:

Just finally, should it go ahead? If Ian Macfarlane was to go to the Nationals, should it go ahead and get himself back into the Ministry that way? It's all fine by you if this is what he has negotiated with Warren Truss then it should go ahead?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I have no say whatsoever over what the National Party chooses to do so I won't give them any free advice or commentary.

KENNY:

This sort of makes quiet a messy end to the year. Of course the other issue that was dominating the week before this was revealed was the problem with Mal Brough. Don't you think that given he has got a police investigation hanging over him and he has given completely divergent answers to the same question publically and in Parliament, that the Government would be best served if he just stood aside while this investigation continued?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Again, you're asking me to comment on another colleague and what I would say is that while this matter is under investigation I think frankly, there's not much to be gained from me providing any additional commentary on it.

KENNY:

But I suppose the question I'm asking is while this matter is being investigated, does it help the Government having him staying in the Ministry? Wouldn't it be better if he stood aside?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I'll let you do the commentary, Chris. He is a Minister in the Government and the matter is under investigation and I think we ought to allow due process to continue and once that matter has been concluded obviously decisions will be made.

KENNY:

Ok, now on to your portfolio matters, you had superannuation legislation in the Senate this week, last week. You've had to withdraw it. This was legislation looking at boosting independent representation on superannuation boards. I know you were crook this week – I'm glad you're better now but the negotiations didn't work, you didn't get the Senate numbers you needed. It is a kind of a reminder that the Turnbull Government faces exactly the same problem the Abbott Government faced and that is an obstructionist Senate.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Let me just correct you on one thing there Chris, we didn't actually withdraw the legislation. The legislation hasn't' been voted on, in fact last week we pulled off a bit of a coup. We had seven out of the eight cross benchers agree for this legislation to proceed to the second reading. This legislation is very important because it sets minimum standards for governance for superannuation funds. This comes off the back of recommendations made by Jeremy Cooper in the Cooper report where he recommended there ought to be one third independent directors and it comes off the back of David Murray's report where he recommended there be a majority of independent directors on superfunds plus an independent chair. Now, the Government was putting forward legislation to enshrine an independent chair and a minimum of one third independent directors because we believe it is important for there to be increased transparency on superannuation funds. The reason for that is this is no longer a couple of hundred million dollars we are talking about now an industry that is a two trillion dollar industry and it's going to be upwards of nine trillion dollars by 2040. The idea that you could have…

KENNY:

So it is important to have those oversight measures in place…

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Indeed.

KENNY:

… And more independent directors but the point is that you weren't able to get the numbers in the Senate. Doesn't this show that you're still up against this obstructionist Senate?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

We didn't get the numbers this week but this legislation can be brought on for a vote any time in the new year and I will continue to converse with crossbench colleagues to hopefully persuade them of the importance of having these minimum standards. I know that at least half of the cross bench are very committed to seeing this legislation through…

KENNY:

So you're going to get into some persuasion and arm twisting over the next few weeks. You think you're going to have another crack in the New Year…

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Never arm twisting but certainly the gentle art of persuasion.

KENNY:

Alright, great. Kelly O'Dwyer thanks very much for joining us on Viewpoint tonight.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Great pleasure.