Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me this morning is the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Minister, thanks so much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
KIERAN GILBERT: Where do we go from here? It does not seem like there is a clear path forward where the Government is calling for a national plan on this. You have got the energy companies as well going to attend that summit next week, but how do we ensure that we have a sustainable, cost effective supply at home while still maintaining exports of gas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The first thing we need to do is to increase the supply of gas. The key problem, the biggest problem by far, is the fact that states on the eastern seaboard have imposed moratoriums on exploration. They have imposed restrictions and bans on gas exploration, development and production. That is now coming home to roost. In order to bring down the price of anything you have to increase supply. You cannot keep blocking supply. You cannot keep blocking exploration, development and production levels without a consequence. This is where everybody has to come together now and make judgements genuinely on the national interest, increasing supply to ensure that we can have energy security and energy affordability in a way that is as emissions efficient as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: And if you look at the United States, their shale gas revolution, one of the key differences as far as I can tell between our nation and the US is that farmers, property owners, get a share from resource companies that come in and extract gas from their areas. However, our farmers do not have that same right. Is that something we need to extend to the farming community to ensure there is a buy in from them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are considering all of these issues at the moment through the Turnbull Government’s energy sub-committee of Cabinet. It is certainly true that we have to review and assess all of the blockages that are currently in the system. By far the most significant blockage to increase the gas supply is the moratorium and the bans on exploration and development and gas production that are imposed by State governments on the Eastern seaboard. Whatever is causing this, whatever needs to be done in order to get these bans and these moratoriums removed, needs to be considered.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is one of the problems as well a lack of certainty for investment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do need investment certainty. These are very capital intensive projects and you do need investor certainty for sure. The thing is we are not even getting to square one. When you have State governments banning the exploration activity required in order to lead to future new production of gas, then you are not even able to get past square one. You are not going to get investment into increased gas production if states by regulatory means are stopping the exploration activity from happening.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you have people like the head of AGL this week, reiterating their call for an emissions intensity scheme for the power sector for some price point, some sort of certainty. Then you have got Ross Garnaut today or in recent days also arguing that removal of the carbon price removed that element of certainty, investor certainty for businesses, they knew where they were at with that policy. With the various fights we have had in the Federal level politically, that has led to a lot of uncertainty.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely disagree. Essentially that argument suggests that we have to increase the cost of electricity everywhere in order to help one particular energy source compete. The truth is, you are not going to help gas in the context where State governments on the Eastern seaboard are actually preventing gas exploration, preventing development of new gas fields and preventing the start of new gas production from taking place altogether. The proposition that somehow you are going to help improve the affordability of energy and energy security by making every other energy source more expensive in order to give gas a bit of a leg up, in the absence of a broader policy framework, that is just fanciful.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s look at the WA election. There was a people’s forum last night. Mark McGowan was there, Colin Barnett did not show up. I cannot remember a state leader not attending one of these forums that we have put on with undecided voters. Has he given up?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely not. I would have thought that the day before the election, it is good to see that Sky has made it to Western Australia the Thursday, Friday before an election. I would have thought the Premier is out there meeting and greeting as many West Australians as possible. He has provided very good, strong and stable Government over the last eight and half years. He has got things done. He and his team have got things done. We have an alternative which has made $5 billion worth of unfunded promises, which they have refused to submit for independent verification. So they are clearly hiding a massive tax hike should they be successful on Saturday. They proposed to scrap the biggest single infrastructure investment here in Western Australia in the Roe 8 and Roe 9 Perth Freight Link project. A project which would save lives, reduce congestion, create more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. Only a few days ago we had a senior Labor Shadow Minister suggest that should Labor be successful on Saturday, they would seek to corruptly prevent businesses from getting contracts with Government if they sought to protect their rights against a Government that wants to cancel the Roe 8 and Roe 9 Perth Freight Link project. So look there is still a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and Saturday 6pm.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well you have One Nation, this factor at play as well. Pauline Hanson confident of picking up three Upper House seats, what do you think of the situation of One Nation right now? They have not had the best couple of days leading into the election, not the least of which their own internal fights, but also this question as to whether or not Hanson advocates GST to be reworked from Queensland, her home state to your state.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on the internals of other parties. We want all West Australians to support their Liberal party candidate in the Lower House and in the Upper House. If people feel they cannot support their Liberal candidate with their first preference, we would like them to give us their second, third or fourth preference. Certainly to preference us ahead of Labor and the Greens.
KIERAN GILBERT: We saw some vision yesterday of former the Prime Minister John Howard, some quite ugly vision scenes of unionists heckling him, walking along behind him on the street and heckling him in Sydney. The Prime Minister described this as thuggish behaviour, it comes as the Government is looking to try and toughen your position in support of that decision by the independent umpire.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we saw yesterday from the CFMEU was absolutely shameful. It was disgraceful. Bill Shorten should come out today and unequivocally condemn it. Just imagine, when you see what CFMEU thugs are prepared to do towards a respected former Prime Minister, just imagine how they are behaving on working sites across Australia. Of course we needed to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission to restore law and order and to restore some proper standards on working sites across Australia. This is just the sort of shameful, disgraceful behaviour that Bill Shorten is condoning again and again. These are the sorts of people that Bill Shorten was fighting for when he tried to stop the Australian Building and Construction Commission from getting re-established.
KIERAN GILBERT: He was asked about it yesterday though, is this appropriate behaviour? He said of course not, so he has not endorsed this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He made a very minimalistic, unavoidable comment. He needs to come out and say unequivocally that this was shameful, this was disgraceful, this is completely unacceptable in Australia for a former Prime Minister, whether that is Bob Hawke, Paul Keating or John Howard, for a former Prime Minister to be treated that way.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about specifically the penalty rates issue from your Government’s strategic perspective in a political sense. It is important now is it not for you to embrace this and argue the case in support of small business isn’t it, given you have got that other position that the Prime Minister said that you will argue for a transition for workers to soften the changes to soften the changes. But for small business in order to keep them open on the weekends as your colleagues have argued in recent days, that this policy should be supported.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have argued that all the way through. The Fair Work Commission made the decision. Labor handpicked the President of the Fair Work Commission. Bill Shorten asked them to do the job of reviewing penalty rates. He said he would respect the independent decision of the umpire. This is a decision which the Fair Work Commission says will boost employment and will help small business open on a Sunday. We believe that this Fair Work Commission decision needs to be given a fair go. That is because we believe that small business needs to be given a fair go. We believe that unemployed Australians looking for work need to be given a fair go. We believe that those who want to work more by working more on a Sunday need to be given a fair go. This was not our decision but it is a decision that ought to be given a fair go.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister, thank you for your time as always.