Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
CHRIS UHLMANN: Every dollar counts for the Federal Government as it pours over the books in the lead up to May’s budget and struggles to return to surplus as quickly as it can. So the chance of picking up billions from the sale of Medibank Private is a prize that’s hard to resist. The Minister responsible for the sale is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
Mathias Cormann, welcome to AM.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is the Government determined to privatise Medibank?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well the Coalition has long been committed to the sale of Medibank Private. Medibank Private is a commercial business, which has been operating in a well-functioning and competitive market with 34 competing funds for a very long time. There is no good reason why the Government should continue to own Medibank Private, which is why in October last year we announced a scoping study into the potential sale of Medibank Private. Obviously we’re not going to sell Medibank Private no matter what. We want to get advice through the scoping study on a whole range of relevant aspects of the sale including whether the market conditions are right, what the most appropriate sale method would be, the timing, costs and relevant regulatory issues and so on. That work is just about complete.
CHRIS UHLMANN: So what’s the timetable? When would it be sold?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we’ve said when we announced the scoping study in October is that we would receive the report back at the end of February. We’re on track for that. We will then be able to consider that report in the context of preparations for the next Budget, which is due on the second Tuesday of May.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there much of anything else after that that the Government can sell?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well right now we have a policy to progress a potential sale of Medibank Private. We don’t have a policy to sell any other Commonwealth assets. We did ask the Commission of Audit to review the operations of Government and to assess whether there are any other sensible opportunities for privatisation, but again, we have not yet received that report and we’ll consider it when we get it.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Mathias Cormann I know it’s a different portfolio area, but there’s a debate this morning about dropping the tariffs on imported cars because of course now there will no longer be an Australian car industry to protect. That’s a pretty reasonable argument, isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are obviously right now working through the implications of the decision that was announced earlier this week by Toyota. Let’s work through those issues first and then all of these other implications can be addressed in an orderly fashion over the coming weeks and months.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But you have a view that taxpayers shouldn’t pay taxes that are unnecessary? That would be about a $1000 on a $20,000 car. That’s a pretty big saving, isn’t it and one that a consumer deserves?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well again, these sorts of issues have to be assessed very carefully. When we have announcements to make in relation to these sorts of issues we’ll make them.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn’t there a problem in your particular area that as Finance Minister you have to find the cash to run the country and you’re making a billion dollars a year from these tariffs at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Treasurer and I are very focused on the job to repair the Budget. We’ve inherited a Budget in a complete mess from the previous government, with $123 billion worth of deficits and government debt heading for $667 billion without corrective action. So you’re right, we of course are making all of these judgements very carefully. Of course in the Budget we’ll be presenting our plan on how to bring the Budget back to a believable surplus.
CHRIS UHLMANN: So handing back a billion dollars to taxpayers would be a big wrench for a Finance Minister no matter what you ideology was?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, let’s just cross those bridges when we get there.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.