Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
FRAN KELLY: Federal Parliament is back today for the final sitting fortnight before the May Budget. In a bid to clear the decks before Budget night the Government will try to legislate its business tax cuts and its omnibus savings bill. But its immediate priority is taking the fight up to Labor over penalty rates. Before eight we heard from the ACTU President Ged Kearney, who defended those comments by her union colleague Sally McManus that the law should be broken if the law is unjust.
GED KEARNEY: But I think what Sally said is refreshingly honest and very open and is actually a universal belief. Now I just heard the Prime Minister say that his values are not the same. Well, does he not value the fact that women can now vote, that women can now drink in bars, that married women can join the public service because all of those things only came about because people broke the law.
FRAN KELLY: ACTU President Ged Kearney who is today leading a delegation of workers to Parliament House to lobby against the cut to penalty rates. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and Government Deputy Leader in the Senate. He joins us in our Parliament House studio. Minister welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
FRAN KELLY: Hearing Ged Kearney there, she says it was refreshing to hear Sally McManus speak on out on the need change unjust laws. She said she was just being open and honest about a universal truth that bad laws need to be challenged even if it means breaking the laws and that has happened through time in memorial. Have you blown Sally McManus’ comments out of proportion?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. Her comments were reckless and irresponsible. She is in a national leadership position and she has given a public endorsement to people breaking the law. In the position that she is in, it is entirely appropriate for her to advocate for changes to the law where ever she thinks that is appropriate, as all of us do. There is a democratic process to help bring that about. But for somebody in a national leadership position to give public endorsement to breaking the law is just completely reckless and irresponsible. She should be apologising for it.
FRAN KELLY: But wouldn’t union leaders, I mean Ged Kearney went onto talk about the general strike in the 70s which helped deliver Medicare. Or she said nurses taking unprotected illegal industrial action to get nurse/patient ratios improved. Wouldn’t union leaders be backing these kinds of strikes that are illegal, were illegal?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, you have to remember the context in which the new head of the ACTU was making those comments. It was specifically in the context of the lawless behaviour of the CMFEU that we have witnessed for years now. CFMEU thugs creating mayhem on building sites across Australia, pushing up the costs of construction and hurting our economy and jobs.
FRAN KELLY: And she was talking about workers going on strike to protest about workers safety after someone was killed on a worksite.
MATHIAS CORMANN: She was saying black and white that it was okay for people to break the law, which is completely inappropriate, completely unacceptable and something that a national leader in her position should reflect on and apologise for.
FRAN KELLY: Let’s move on there are many issues to deal with. The Government is criticising unions this week as the unions come to town with their penalty rate campaign. The Government is striking back, criticising unions for negotiating wages lower than the award for some fast food chains. Isn’t that the point about enterprise bargaining Minister, that it allows trade-offs for things like penalty rates for other terms and conditions like paid maternity leave or superannuation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The hypocrisy is just completely breathtaking.
FRAN KELLY: Why?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten himself has been involved in trading away conditions in particular in terms of penalty rates. He traded away …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But that is a trade, the Fair Work Commission is not a trade.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The evidence is that Bill Shorten has traded away workers’ conditions not to benefit workers but to benefit unions, to organise payments, secret payments to unions. That is just completely inappropriate. Bill Shorten was involved in helping set up the Fair Work Commission as an independent body. He said he would respect their decisions. Now of course he is not. At the same time he is ignoring the fact that unions have traded away conditions to the point where workers on Sunday under these union deals are getting up to $10 an hour less on a Sunday then they otherwise would. This is just …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Yes, but the other part of that is what they traded off for that. I mean isn’t this …interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Money for unions.
FRAN KELLY: …disingenuous on the Government’s part that is what enterprise bargaining which the Government supports is all about isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: So trading away conditions for workers and getting additional payments, secret payments for unions. Are you suggesting that that is appropriate?
FRAN KELLY: No, of course not.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is the point. Here you have a Fair Work Commission, which is headed by a former ACTU official which was handpicked by the Labor party, with the Labor party jumping up and down before the least election saying we must respect the independence of the Fair Work Commission. With Bill Shorten saying that he would respect any decision that the Fair Work Commission would make. They have made a decision.Now because they did not act as an extension of the union movement, because they did not act as an extension of the Labor Opposition, that is the only reason he is now attacking and undermining them, completely ignoring all of the dodgy deals that have been done by the unions along the way.
FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast it is twelve past eight. Our guest is the Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. On another issue, Peter Dutton had a blunt message to CEOs who have spoken out on marriage equality, signed that letter to the Prime Minister, basically stick to your knitting. What is your view? Do you think our CEOs have the right to voice their opinion on social issues? Human rights issues?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was asked that same question on Radio National four days ago by Patricia Karvelas. I am happy to answer it again in the same way... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Well Peter Dutton since had more to say on it and so have the CEOs.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our focus this week and I am sure the focus of business leaders across Australia this fortnight is on legislating a more competitive business tax rate to boost investment, boost productivity and boost growth and over time increase real wages. That is the Government’s focus this week. I am sure that is what business is focused on across Australia this week as well.
FRAN KELLY: So what are you saying, Peter Dutton should stick to his knitting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, that is not what I am saying. Peter Dutton is entitled to his views. I have said before that so are business leaders around Australia. But from where I sit this week, from where the Government sits this week the most important public policy issue this fortnight when it comes to the economy, when it comes to business being able to be as successful as possible so they can employ more Australians and pay them better wages over time is to ensure that we can legislate the business tax cuts that we took to the last election.
FRAN KELLY: And how are you going on that front? You have got these last two weeks in the Parliament before the Budget to achieve it. No sign from the crossbench, so Labor is not going to support it, the crossbench from what I have heard do not seem to be big fans of it. So are you getting ready to ditch the cut for big business and just go with a reduction for companies with a turnover of less than $10 million?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are committed to the measure that we put to the Australian people at the last election. It is a very important growth measure. It is a very important measure to help ensure that businesses across Australia can hire more Australians and pay them better wages over time. We are committed to the measure in its entirety. Having said that, we are pragmatic. We understand that we do not have a majority in the Senate and our focus is on getting as much of our agenda through as possible. That is what we will work on very hard over this fortnight.
FRAN KELLY: This morning Labor has released an analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office that suggests that you will have to borrow the $50 billion to give the tax cut to big business, meaning an interest bill of $4 billion up to 2026-27 which comes to $162 for every single Australian man, woman and child. Labor says why would you do that? Why don’t you just ditch the $50 billion borrowing. Then you would have money enough to pay for the childcare reforms you want?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I saw that release, it was embarrassingly inaccurate. The first point to make is that Labor in the lead up to the last election spent all of the money that they thought they would raise by keeping the company tax rate higher. So they spent all of that money and more, so that is point number one. Point number two, if you look at our Budget papers it actually shows that from 2020-21 onwards, all the way to 2026-27 we are projected to be in surplus and that is after we have taken into account the cost of the business tax cuts that we have proposed. So that is an entirely inaccurate statement that Labor has made today. It is just quite embarrassing.
FRAN KELLY: Just one final question, housing affordability we know will be one of the, pretty much the centrepiece of the Federal Budget. There are a lot of ideas floating around including this notion of allowing young homebuyers to dip into their superannuation to help finance their house purchases. Paul Keating has said today in the Fairfax press, this is a scandalous idea, it would pull the backside out of super. Will you rule it out? Is he right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our Budget is on the second Tuesday in May. My position in relation to the particular proposition that you are putting to me there has been on the record for a very long time. My position in relation to these matters has not changed. I note that there is always a lot of inaccurate speculation in the lead up to any Budget. Let us just wait for the Budget on the second Tuesday in May …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: So what is your position on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us just wait for the Budget on the second Tuesday in May. My position is that if you are concerned about housing affordability, which is caused by demand exceeding supply, you do not want to pursue measures that boost demand, you want to pursue measures that boost supply and, if anything, helps to moderate demand. That is not something that is on the table with this proposition.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.