Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Thursday, 19 September 2013
DAVID SPEERS: Welcome back to the program. Well, since being sworn into office formally yesterday, the Government isn't wasting any time. Three senior public servants were yesterday given their marching orders.
Today the Climate Commission, the somewhat controversial body set up by the Gillard Government to provide independent advice on climate change, well, it has been shut down. This is something the Opposition, the then Opposition now Government, promised it would do prior to the election.
To discuss this and other matters I'm now joined by the new Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Welcome to the program, congratulations on your promotion to the Cabinet as Finance Minister.
Let's start on the Climate Commission. This is something you promised that you would shut down. It's now happened a day after you've been sworn in. Is this because you didn't regard the advice it was giving to be independent?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well David, as you've just pointed out, this is something that we clearly committed to do before the election. We are totally focused immediately now on implementing our agenda for a stronger, more prosperous economy and for a safer, more secure Australia and of course as part of that we have taken action to initiate the scrapping of the carbon tax to start ending the waste.
I mean we've of course got a very clear and strongly articulated commitment to treat taxpayers' money respectfully and to make sure that taxpayers get value for money, and of course the particular - the closure of the Climate Commission, as you've pointed out, is something that was part of our plan to achieve savings across government very quickly.
You've got to remember, we inherited a fiscal mess from this government. Labor when they got elected in 2007 inherited a budget with no Government net debt, with a strong surplus, with money in the bank. We inherited two-hundred-and-fifty billion dollars worth of accumulated deficits and a budget position that was deteriorating to the tune of about three billion dollars a week between May and August this year.
So we are essentially just calmly and methodically starting to implement all of the commitments and all of the policy decisions that we flagged before the election in a proper way.
DAVID SPEERS: Just specifically though on the Climate Commission, was this just about money or was it because you didn't respect its independence?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, we've got a better way of providing effective action on climate change and one that is more cost effective. As you know, as part of our program going into this election we clearly laid out the way we would go about it and we're just calmly and methodically implementing and executing that plan.
DAVID SPEERS: Another element of well, the climate change space, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, again something you want to shut down. There is some argument though about whether you can order the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to stop issuing these green loans, or whether you need legislation passed by Parliament for it to do that.
I see the Conservation Foundation has received advice from a senior counsel that legislation is required to force the Corporation to stop making loans. What is your view on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, again this is an issue that we were very clear on. In the lead up to the election we said very clearly that our intention, should we be successful, was to close down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We don't think it provides value for money for taxpayers.
And of course the Treasurer Mr Hockey has already written to the board of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation asking them not to write any further loans and - to ask them to assist us in essentially going through the process to close down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation as quickly as possible.
He has also instructed his department to start drafting the legislation to bring about the closure of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. And I might just say here that the board of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been in touch with the Government to advise us that they had indeed paused the writing of new loans. So we're essentially…
DAVID SPEERS: So they've done that now, have they?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, they have written to us to advise that they had paused writing new loans and we are just again going through a normal, proper, methodical, structured process and of course in good time, as soon as possible, legislation will be put to the Parliament to give effect to the closure of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Again, entirely consistent...
DAVID SPEERS: Just to be clear on what you've said there, no more loans are being issued, is that what you're saying?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is the advice that the Chair of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has provided to us, indeed.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay. On the public service chiefs, the three of them were given their marching orders yesterday. Why were they told to go?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, again, we are a new Government. We are focused on implementing the commitments that we made in the lead up to the last election. We are focused on implementing our agenda for a stronger, more prosperous economy and a safer, more secure Australia.
We're focused on implementing our plans to scrap the carbon tax, to scrap the mining tax, to build the roads of the twenty-first century, to stop the boats, and of course as part of that we've got to put together the best possible team to help us achieve all of those objectives and all of the commitments that we've made to the Australian people.
So there have been some changes. They haven't been dramatic changes. There have been some new arrivals, some promotions and there have been some departures. That is just part of the normal course of events when you have a change of government.
DAVID SPEERS: These three individuals in particular were associated with the previous Government's climate change and immigration policies, politically contentious areas. Was that an issue in choosing these three to go?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Look, I don't want to start reflecting on individual people and on individual decisions. The point I would make is that obviously as the incoming Government we want to give ourselves the best possible chance to deliver on all of the commitments that we made to the Australian people in the lead up to the election and that is what people would expect us to do.
We think that we've got the right people in the right positions. There have been some changes but they haven't been dramatic changes, but we're now ready to hit the ground running and we'll continue one by one to focus on implementing the commitments that we made.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I ask you about Holden? The South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has said today that Holden will stop making cars in Australia unless the Federal Government commits more funding by Christmas. Is that going to happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane of course is working through these issues with all of the relevant stakeholders. You would be aware of course that - the Coalition Government is of course committed to a continuing car industry in Australia. That has of course got to be based on strong and effective export plans. There is not an open-ended chequebook.
As I've said to you earlier, we will be a government that treats taxpayers' money with respect and we'll seek value for taxpayers' money. But these are really matters that the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane will work through with the Premier of South Australia, Holden and other key stakeholders in a proper, orderly fashion.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, when you talk about spending taxpayers' money wisely, where does this fit? Where does the automotive sector fit into the wisdom of spending taxpayers' money?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well again there are obviously two aspects to this. We are committed to see a continuing car industry in Australia but of course it's got to be sustainable into the future and it's got to be based on some clear plans to strengthen the export potential of the cars that are being produced here Australia.
And of course - these are all issues that Ian Macfarlane is working his way through with all of the key stakeholders as we speak and I'm sure that he will have more to say about the specifics of all of that in good time.
DAVID SPEERS: Just a final issue, the Commission of Audit the Coalition promised prior to the election. How quickly are you likely to move on that and have you given more thought to who might lead that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, in good time we'll be making all of these announcements. Just to confirm that yes, of course, as we committed to do before the election there will be a Commission of Audit and its focus will be on making sure that the operations of government are as efficient as possible to make sure that again taxpayers get value for money. The recommendations of that Commission of Audit will feed into the budget processes in the normal, usual way.
DAVID SPEERS: Finance Minister Matthias Cormann, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
DAVID SPEERS: After the break we're going to be discussing this closure of the Climate Commission a little further with one of the Commissioners, not Tim Flannery but the one with the business background, the…