Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
DAVID LIPSON: Now to the Finance Minister, Senator Mathias Cormann, joining us from Perth. Thanks for your time today. To Griffith and there was a 5.5 per cent swing towards the LNP candidate Bill Glasson at the September election. Would a swing against Bill Glasson in this by-election indicate a message that voters are not happy with Tony Abbott?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’re the underdog in this by-election today. Incumbent governments in Australia haven’t won a by-election for nearly 100 years. Having said that, our candidate Bill Glasson is a very strong candidate, he’s worked very hard. He’s a local resident, a local doctor, he would be Griffith’s strong voice in Canberra whereas his opponent is just another union lawyer. Bill Glasson and the team have given it their best. It will be up to the people of Griffith today to make their decision.
DAVID LIPSON: So what ever the result is tonight, even if Bill Glasson wins, against the odds it seems, there would be no message to take out of this for federal politics?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s cross that bridge when we get there. As I’ve said we’re very much the underdog in this. History is against us. What is obviously on our side is that we have a very strong candidate who would be a very strong representative for Griffith in Canberra. Let’s see what the voters of Griffith decide today.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, well to the Budget, you’ve sent a pretty strong message through the decision on SPC Ardmona that there will be no more handouts for business. What’s your message though to families and the rest of Australia when it comes to the Budget in May?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously the situation we inherited from the previous government was a Budget in a mess, as well as an economy growing below trend with rising unemployment. So our focus is on building a stronger economy, creating more jobs and repairing the Budget. Our Budget forward estimates right now, which we inherited from the previous government, show $123 billion worth of cumulative deficits over the forward estimates, with Government debt heading for $667 billion over the decade without any corrective action. So we will continue to implement our agenda to build a stronger economy and to repair the Budget.
DAVID LIPSON: So families are going to have to pick up some of the slack for that though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously I’m not going to pre-empt what’s going to be in the Budget. Families will be better off as a result of our policies to build a stronger economy, our plans to scrap the carbon tax which will bring down the cost of living, our plans to scrap the mining tax which will help boost investment and create more jobs, our plans to reduce red tape costs for business by $1 billion a year which will help create more jobs. Yes there will be a focus on repairing the Budget because current Government spending is unsustainable at the levels that it is at. We’ve already taken $42 billion worth of savings to the last election which we are in the process of implementing right now, and of course we will need to build on that in the Budget.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay so families you say will be better off, but surely they’ll have to pick up some slack right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again there’s a range of things that we’re focussed on right now including all of our plans to build a stronger economy which will help ensure that everyone can get ahead. On the spending side, there is no doubt that the Government will have to go back to a situation where we live within our means. Right now the situation that we inherited from the previous government is a situation where Government is heading for a massive $667 billion worth of debt and that is just not acceptable.
DAVID LIPSON: Yeah alright, you mentioned the carbon tax there as well, and you’ve spoken time and again on this program about the need to repeal the carbon tax, so we don’t need to hear any more about that. But what I wanted to ask you about was the Renewable Energy Target of 20 per cent renewables by 2020. That’s also putting upward pressure on electricity bills, what’s your justification for keeping that in place?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As the Prime Minister said earlier this week, we want to be the affordable energy capital of the world. That is why we want to scrap the carbon tax, because we want to bring down the cost of electricity, because that will help with cost of living pressures and it will also help make us more competitive... interrupted...
DAVID LIPSON: We’ve heard your point on that, but just the Renewable Energy Target...
MATHIAS CORMANN: ...and I was going to get to that David...
DAVID LIPSON: ...sorry...
MATHIAS CORMANN: ...the point here is, none of this works in isolation. Our objective is to bring down the cost of electricity because that will help us strengthen our economy by improving our international competitiveness, as well as helping families with cost of living pressures. We are very conscious of the fact that the Renewable Energy Target has also contributed to upward pressure on electricity prices. We are having a review this year, which we committed to in the lead up to the last election that will take place. I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the findings of the review. Suffice to say, the most immediate action that we can take to bring down the cost of electricity is to scrap the carbon tax. But beyond that we are having a look at the Renewable Energy Target this year to see whether there are things that can be done, sensible adjustments that can be made to help us achieve our objective of lower electricity prices.
DAVID LIPSON: So sensible adjustments, there has been a suggestion from the Environment Minister Greg Hunt that perhaps the Renewable Energy Target could be 25 per cent renewables by 2025. Is that the sort of adjustment that you’re thinking of making? Perhaps pushing it out further?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to speculate about what the outcomes of the review are going to be. This is very much in Minister Hunt’s area of portfolio responsibility, so I will leave him to make those sorts of statements.
DAVID LIPSON: Will there be though, and you mentioned the word adjustments, so we’re looking at an adjustment rather than scrapping it entirely? Is that what you’re suggesting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the lead up to the last election what we’ve said is that we were committed to the renewable energy target but that we are also committed to having a review into its operation. Of course if you’re going to have a review, the whole reason for having a review is to see whether there are some things that can be done better. Just to go back to the overall objective. The overall objective is to ensure that people across Australia can benefit from more affordable energy. We should have a massive competitive advantage in the world given the abundance of coal reserves, the abundance of gas reserves, the abundance of sunlight. We should have a massive competitive advantage that we really need to seize on better than we have in recent years. Scrapping the carbon tax is part of that, having a good look at how the Renewable Energy Target might be able to operate better is part of that and of course reducing red tape costs for business across the board is also part of that.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, I just want to move to asylum seekers. The latest claims from Fairfax, off the back of the ABC’s initial reports give more details on those allegations that asylum seekers were deliberately burnt by Australian Navy personnel. It’s from the same accuser mind you. It’s not a new accusation, it’s just a bit more detail. But these are such serious claims and been so strongly refuted but still serious claims. Why not give people the full certainty of perhaps a more thorough inquiry or a more transparent inquiry into these claims?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well firstly, we completely reject the unsubstantiated allegations that were made by an interested party. Repeating the allegations ad nauseam in different media outlets doesn’t make them true. The ABC’s own umpire, the ABC’s ‘Media Watch’ made the point that the reports were unjustified, that they hadn’t been appropriately corroborated. We can go around and around in circles. The Navy is doing an outstanding job for Australia. The Navy is implementing the policies of the Government to stop the boats, doing very difficult work. They're doing it professionally, they’re doing it appropriately. For different media outlets to continue to recycle each other’s unsubstantiated allegations doesn’t lend any more credence to them. So from our point of view, we’ll just get on with the job of stopping the boats, which incidentally we are stopping. We haven’t had a boat in more than 50 days now.
DAVID LIPSON: As that asylum seeker said to Fairfax, well he said, why would he lie about this, because it’s not in his best interest to lie. He’s probably got a smaller chance of being accepted in Australia as a result of these accusations?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly the asylum seekers that put themselves into the situation where they try to come to Australia with the help of people smugglers do have an interest in creating certain perceptions and creating certain issues. I don’t accept that he doesn’t have an interest in this. As I said there is absolutely no suggestion that there is any truth in these allegations whatsoever and we reject them out of hand.
DAVID LIPSON: So would you like to then, as your Defence Minister has suggested, like to see an inquiry into the journalists that have reported these claims, the ABC and perhaps Fairfax?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In my portfolio area, together with Joe Hockey the Treasurer, we are focused on preparing the Budget. We are looking right across Government to ensure we identify all the opportunities to achieve efficiencies. Minister Turnbull has initiated an efficiency review into the ABC and we’re looking forward to the outcomes of that. I’ll just continue to focus on my area of portfolio responsibility.
DAVID LIPSON: Well I’ll let you get back to focussing on that. Mathias Cormann the Finance Minister thanks so much for your time today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you David.