Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Date: Tuesday, 25 February 2014
MATHIAS CORMANN: Today is the day when Bill Shorten has another opportunity to prove that he really does care about jobs. If Bill Shorten really cared about jobs, he would come out today to confirm that he will support our legislation to scrap the carbon tax. Or doesn’t he have the courage to stand up to the Greens and the left in the Labor Party in favour of the public interest and in support of jobs? Because the carbon tax pushes up the cost of doing business, that’s why it is costing jobs. Scrapping the carbon tax would bring down the cost of doing business, which is why it would help create jobs. Bill Shorten should walk into his Labor caucus today and seek a mandate to support our legislation to scrap the carbon tax, because it is the right thing to do, to support economic growth and jobs across Australia.
Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: What about Qantas jobs? There were reports today that more jobs could be cut and its Melbourne terminal could be closed. How close are we to seeing a deal with the Government or is there going to be one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to comment on speculation. These are issues for Qantas to address. Our position has been on the record for some time. We are of the view that the restrictions imposed on Qantas in the Qantas Sale Act ought to be removed. They’re making it harder for Qantas to compete in what is a highly competitive market. Beyond that we are currently considering some proposals that were put before us by Qantas and when we are in a position to make an announcement, we’ll make it.
JOURNALIST: What impact is that going to have on the Budget though and on the economy? Three possibly five thousand jobs going?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are totally focussed on implementing our agenda to build a stronger economy and create jobs, which is why it is so important that Labor finally stops its disgraceful filibuster in the Senate. Bill Shorten has the opportunity to walk into the caucus today and stand up for what is right. We know that that is what he privately believes. We know that so far he hasn’t had the courage to stand up for what is right, to stand up for jobs by staring down the Greens and the left of the Labor Party. It seems that Bill Shorten is more focused on keeping his job than on the jobs of people across Australia.
JOURNALIST: Qantas is making an announcement on Thursday, how soon after that can we expect to hear from the Government announcement on assistance...
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s see what the announcement is if there is one later this week. We’ll make an announcement at the appropriate time, once we’ve made our decisions.
JOURNALIST: Is there a sense of urgency though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are going through with all of these sorts of decisions after proper and careful consideration, having gone through a proper and methodical process and we are approaching this issue in exactly the same way.
JOURNALIST: On 457 Visas the expert panel investigation into rorting, do you think that will show that it was inappropriate to crack down on those visas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Look that is well and truly beyond my area of responsibility and expertise. I will let Scott Morrison answer those questions.
JOURNALIST: But the Coalition was pushing for more places and saying that this was an attack led by unions.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are lot of things that are done by unions across Australia that are not good for the economy and not good for jobs. This particular issue is an issue that should appropriately be addressed by Minister Morrison.
JOURNALIST: Did Custom’s boss Mike Pezzullo ask for your consent to run a budget deficit? Did you knock back that request and what implications will that have for jobs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We don’t comment on specific Budget speculation. But I would just make the general point that the Government expects all departments to live within their means, to live within their budget allocation. We addressed a whole series of legacy issues that we had inherited from the previous government in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and in the usual way any other remaining issues that we’ve inherited form the previous government will be addressed in the Budget.
JOURNALIST: Even though that would mean job cuts at Customs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The previous government made decisions before the last election which are leading to the reduction in the size of the public service, which are leading to job cuts across the public service to tune of 14,500 or thereabouts. Those job cuts were never disclosed by the previous government. The issues that departments across Government are dealing with at the moment are a direct result of the efficiency dividends that were imposed by the previous government before the last election. Now we have inherited a budget in very bad shape. We have inherited a budget with $123 billion worth of projected deficits, with debt heading for $667 billion and we inherited a lot of problems right across government. We addressed a number of those problems in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Any other remaining issues will be dealt with in the usual way, in the proper way, in the context of the next Budget.
JOURNALIST: Mathias, you promised no cuts to frontline services, no job cuts to frontline services like Customs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I’ve just said, there are decisions which were made by the previous government to cut funding to departments right across government, which are leading to job cuts now. In fact the decisions the previous government made caused 14,500 job cuts across the public service which are still working their way through. Incredibly the previous government imposed 14,500 job cuts without making any funding available to Government departments to fund those redundancies. In the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, and this is a matter of public record, we did provide funding to assist departments with funding those redundancies which were caused by the actions of the previous government.
JOURNALIST: All this talk about Budget cuts, you know a hard Budget ahead, government running out of money, is that being reflected in the polls which is showing Labor now with an eight point lead in Newspoll this morning?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We went to the last election with a plan to build a stronger economy, to create more jobs and to repair the Budget. We are getting on with it. We are implementing our plan and we are delivering on our commitments.
JOURNALIST: You are not concerned about the result today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are just getting on with the job.
JOURNALIST: Mathias, what’s your view on a government debt guarantee, of course in the context of Qantas, is it a taxpayer handout or is it just an insurance policy from the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well right now we are considering various proposals that have been put to us by Qantas and ..interrupted
JOURNALIST: Are you speaking to Qantas about a government debt guarantee?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m sure you would like me to talk in general terms but I will talk about the specifics and the specifics are that Qantas is a private business. Qantas needs to do what it needs to do to get its own house in order. That is a matter for Qantas. We do recognise that they are facing restrictions under the Qantas Sale Act which are making it harder for them to compete and in our view those restrictions should be removed. At some point no doubt that is something for the Parliament to consider. But as far as any specific proposals by Qantas are concerned we’ll make an announcement, we’ll express a view when we have properly considered all of the aspects of that.
JOURNALIST: You’re talking about the easy, political side of this at the moment but Qantas have made it clear that the other side; it’s not just the Sale Act, it’s the government debt guarantee, so is it a taxpayer handout or is it just an insurance policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: And this Government will continue to do what we’ve done right from the start. We will consider these issues carefully. We will go through a proper, methodical process and when we have properly dotted all of the ‘i’s and crossed all of the ‘t’s we’ll make an announcement.
JOURNALIST: So are you considering a government debt guarantee?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are considering a range of proposals put to us by Qantas and we’ll make an announcement when we’ve concluded those considerations.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Tony Abbott that spending growth in health and education, does need to be curbed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we’ve said in the lead up to the last election and what the Prime Minister again confirmed last night is that under the Coalition there will be no cuts to health and education. But in order to ensure that our investment in world class hospital services and in world class educational services remains sustainable into the future, we do have to ensure that funding is as efficient as possible, as well targeted as possible and that we are able to limit growth. That is obviously something that the Australian people would expect us to do, because if we just keep ramping up spending, inefficiently and not well targeted, then we would have to impose more taxes on people than what people would want us to do. We want to pursue lower taxes so that we can strengthen our economy and create more jobs, which means that spending growth in very important areas across Government is as high as necessary but as low as possible.
JOURNALIST: ..inaudible… to look after detainees on Manus Island in the wake of the riot and violence over there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Scott Morrison is an outstanding Minister who is doing a very good job. We went to the last election with our promise to stop the boats as one of our most emphatic commitments and Scott Morrison is delivering on that commitment. More than two months without an irregular maritime arrival and just remember over the six years of the period of the previous government we had more than 1,000 people die at sea because more than 50,000 people arrived in Australia illegally by boat. We promised that we would stop the boats. The boats are stopping and Scott Morrison is doing an outstanding job.
JOURNALIST: I was more specifically asking about G4S. Do you think they have a lot of answers that they need to make?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously there are some inquiries underway now and again I’ll let the responsible Minister deal with these sorts of issues.
JOURNALIST: Labor says it is going to support Parliament’s apology to Craig Thomson, do you welcome that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was clear to a lot of us then, it is very clear now to everyone that Craig Thomson misled the Parliament. He should apologise for that. It’s a matter that is going to resolve itself in the House of Representatives.
JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey said at the weekend that structural reform needs to be tackled almost immediately. Can the Government then afford to wait until after the next election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Structural reform does have to start almost immediately. We have inherited a Budget in very bad shape. We’ve inherited a Budget with $123 billion worth of projected deficits, with debt heading for $667 billion without any corrective actions, so these are obviously the sorts of issues that the Treasurer and I are currently working through as we are working with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on putting the next Budget together. Obviously there are some things you can do straight away and there are other things that will be medium to long term reforms. All will be revealed on the second Tuesday in May.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean you want to limit spending growth in health and education, will that happen in this term?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I’m not going to deliver our Budget here for you today. Our Budget will be delivered on the second Tuesday in May and all will be revealed.