Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
FRAN KELLY: A full meeting today of the Liberal and National parties will be asked to endorse a non-compulsory and non-binding postal vote on marriage equality. The Australia Post ballot is the fall back option if a second attempt at legislating a national plebiscite is as expected rejected by the Senate. The revised approach was settled on after a clear majority of Liberal MPs rejected a push to have the marriage question settled by a conscience vote in the Parliament. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and acting Special Minister of State who will have carriage of a postal vote, should it come to that. Mathias Cormann welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
FRAN KELLY: An expensive, legally challengeable, voluntary postal vote, which will not be binding on MPs. What is the point of that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government’s preference is a compulsory attendance plebiscite, to keep faith with our commitment that we made before the last election to give all Australians a say on whether or not the definition of marriage in our Marriage Act should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. If our first preference is not successfully legislated though the Senate, and we will be putting it back up to the Senate for the Senate’s reconsideration, hopefully this week. If that is again unsuccessful, then the Government believes that there is a legal and Constitutional way forward to keep faith with our commitment through a non-legislated, voluntary postal vote.
FRAN KELLY: Not many people think it is a good idea. Even your colleagues who support the plebiscite, Tony Abbott, Craig Kelly, Kevin Andrews, they do not think a non-compulsory postal vote is a good idea because it would lack authority. Is this just a big stick you are waving at the Senate to try and get them to support a plebiscite?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. This is about the Government working hard to keep faith with the commitments that we made before the last election. Our ….interrupted
FRAN KELLY: With an expensive, dodgy option?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I disagree with that characterisation.
FRAN KELLY: Do you think a postal vote is a legitimate democratic process?
MATHIAS CORMANN: For all of those that are concerned about the merits of a voluntary postal vote compared to a compulsory attendance ballot, I would encourage them to throw their full weight behind the Senate passing our proposal to have a compulsory attendance plebiscite on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. From the Government’s point of view, our commitment to the Australian people was unequivocal. We promised the Australian people that they would have a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. The Government is working hard to deliver on that commitment.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, how many of the 15.7 million voters need to return a postal ballot paper for a vote to have any legitimacy would you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every single voter on the electoral roll will have the opportunity under a voluntary postal ballot to participate …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Well that was not my question, I wondered how many need to be returned, it is voluntary for it to have legitimacy.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, every single voter on the electoral roll will have the opportunity to participate. Every single voter that has a strong view in favour or against the proposed change, no doubt will participate. It is entirely legitimate for voters on the electoral roll to make a judgement in this scenario not to express a view. You have to remember Australia is among about 20 countries around the world that have compulsory voting. There are democratic jurisdictions overwhelmingly around the world that have voluntary voting now. The proposition that somehow voluntary voting lacks legitimacy, I do not accept.
FRAN KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull argued that back in 1997 when a postal ballot was proposed and in fact held around the republic issue and the Constitutional convention. Only 47 per cent of eligible voters bothered to return it. Malcolm Turnbull said it was undemocratic at the time, it would not reach all those who had changed addresses since the last election, a lot of young people in that group, all of those who cannot manage language in and around the postal ballot papers, a lot of migrants perhaps in that group, all of those who do not feel comfortable publicly posting their position on this, the privacy issues. Do you acknowledge those concerns?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran if your proposition is that a compulsory attendance ballot is a superior option, I would agree with you. That is the Government’s view. That is why the Government will put this proposition back to the Senate hopefully this week. But if we cannot get the compulsory attendance plebiscite passed through the Senate and in an effort to keep faith with the promises that we made to the Australian people before the election, we will pursue the next best option. We believe that there is a legal and Constitutional way forward to keep faith with our commitment by giving the Australian people the opportunity to have their say through a voluntary postal plebiscite. That is what we would do in that scenario.
FRAN KELLY: The Government does believe it is legal and Constitutional. Some same sex marriage and some QCs and SCs, they have sought advice from do not think it is. Will you release the Government’s legal advice so we can figure that out before we spend this money?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yesterday’s Liberal party room determined that we would keep the policy of giving the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed. Today’s party room, the joint party room, will now determine the next steps forward and will make a judgment on whether or not to proceed with a voluntary postal plebiscite …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Yeah, but that was not my question. I am wondering whether you will release the legal advice that the Government says means it is a legal and Constitutional way forward.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government will deal with its legal advice in the usual way …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Which is what, not to release it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Legal advice is not released by governments of both political persuasions. That is an appropriate principle. You would not expect anyone to release their legal advice in the context of potentially facing a challenge. We are very confident of our position. We are very confident that there is a legal and Constitutional way forward. Subject to the discussions and the decision in the joint party room, relevant announcements will be made. We will be able to address all of those questions in detail then.
FRAN KELLY: You are the Finance Minister and the acting Special Minister of State so I presume you will know the answer to this question. How much would a postal ballot cost?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, there are decisions yet to be made by the joint party room and subject to those decisions, these are all questions that we would be able to address at that point.
FRAN KELLY: Ballpark, $40 million, $100 million?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, yesterday’s party room was about determining whether or not we would stick to the commitment we made to give the Australian people a say through a plebiscite. The decision was made yes, to stick to that commitment. Today there will be further discussions and decisions to be made. Depending on those decisions there will be further announcements. We will be able to answer those questions then.
FRAN KELLY: And has the Government decided not to give public funding for the yes vote or the no vote? The campaigns?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we have said and what we have indicated is we are committed to the compulsory attendance plebiscite in the form as it was introduced to the Parliament last year and defeated by the Senate last year. That is now a matter for the Senate to consider.
FRAN KELLY: So I have lost track of that, is that with or without Government funding for the yes and no campaigns?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The legislation that was introduced last year and that is a matter of public record was with public funding.
FRAN KELLY: So the Government will publicly fund the yes and no campaigns?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I said to you is that this is now a matter for the Senate to consider. The Government will seek to revive the legislation that was defeated at the second reading vote in the Senate in November last year. That is now a matter for the Senate to consider.
FRAN KELLY: If it is a plebiscite or a postal vote what will the question be?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The question that Australians will have to answer is whether or not they support changing the law to allow same sex couples to marry.
FRAN KELLY: If it is a postal vote will you allow online voting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are getting way ahead of yourself. Yesterday we made a decision to remain committed and to keep our commitment to the Australian people to give them a say through a plebiscite. Today the party room will have further discussions and make decisions on the way forward from here.
FRAN KELLY: And the timeline? The reason I do not think I am getting that far ahead of myself, I understand the Government is going to bring on the vote in the Senate for the plebiscite this week or next and the Government, the Prime Minister wants this voted on, whether it be plebiscite or postal ballot before the end of the year and then voted on in the Parliament. Is that right, that timeline?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The plebiscite bill has been in the Parliament for some time so that is nothing new.
FRAN KELLY: That is there, yep.
MATHIAS CORMANN: People know, people understand what is in the plebiscite bill…interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: So when would you like to bring it on for a vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The timeline that we have publicly indicated is that we are keen to get on with it. We believe that we have a process that could achieve an outcome before we go to the summer break.
FRAN KELLY: That even if that reverts to a postal ballot?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Under both scenarios we are committed. If there is a positive outcome out of a plebiscite, whether that is a compulsory attendance plebiscite or a voluntary postal plebiscite, under both scenarios if there is a yes vote then the Government would facilitate consideration of a private member’s bill by the Parliament. We believe that could happen before the Parliament rises for the summer break.
FRAN KELLY: It is quarter to eight, our guest is Mathias Cormann the Deputy Government Leader in the Senate, Finance Minister and acting Special Minister of State. Can I turn now to the Commonwealth Bank and the Austrac charges that it breached on a massive scale, anti-money laundering laws and terrorism financing laws. As the Finance Minister, how concerned are you that Australia’s largest bank, indeed largest company I think appears to have had such lax compliance measures in place?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide commentary on law enforcement processes that are currently under way. This is going to be a matter for the courts …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Don’t you have a view about the behaviour of the Commonwealth Bank and its response to regulation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran, I am not going to provide a running commentary. There is a process under way. It would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment.
FRAN KELLY: The Bank’s Board met yesterday, it is likely the bonuses paid to senior executives will be cut. Is that enough? Should somebody go? Should the CEO go? I mean you are the Government, do you have a view on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government does not make decisions on who runs the banks.
FRAN KELLY: You are the Finance Minister, can you give assurances that the banking system overall is safe from further breaches of these kind of regulations?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Australian Prudential Regulation and the Australian regulatory framework generally is a very robust and high quality regulatory framework. Arguably in this circumstance, it is the regulatory arrangement at work. It is the compliance mechanism and the law enforcement processes at work. Those processes should be allowed to take their course.
FRAN KELLY: It is arguable though isn’t it from what we know so far and we do not know at all of course from the Commonwealth Bank. Some of these breaches of the Austrac processes and regulations have been going on for a couple of years.
MATHIAS CORMANN: At the moment there is an investigation. I would not from my position want to pre-empt where those investigations go. If there is wrongdoing, then all of the force of the law ought to be thrown at those that have done the wrong thing. That is the way the system is meant to work. There is no regulatory framework, there is no legal framework in which you can entirely avoid people doing the wrong thing.
FRAN KELLY: How long do you think the Government can resist calls for a Royal Commission into the banks, if not into all of the banks even into the CBA, which some are suggesting now as another option given the Commonwealth Bank seems to be a serial offender?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our position on that is well known. We are taking action to ensure that customers with genuine and legitimate grievances in the community have the best and most efficient processes available to them to have those grievances resolved. In relation to the current matter at hand, I am not prepared to pre-empt where those current processes will lead.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.