Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government today will be introducing legislation to repeal Part Three of the Qantas Sale Act. Passing that legislation will set Qantas free. It will enable Qantas to compete on a level playing field with other players in the aviation market, which will be good for competition and which will continue to deliver improvements in services and lower airfares for consumers without the taxpayer being asked to inappropriately pick sides in a competitive market.
As well as that, we still have the carbon tax repeal legislation stuck in the Senate. We’ve said it before, I say it again here this morning. There is an opportunity for Bill Shorten and the Labor Party to take more than $100 million a year in costs out of Qantas by supporting our legislation to scrap the carbon tax. Taking more than $100 million in costs out of Qantas every year will help protect jobs at Qantas. The choice is very clear, Bill Shorten and the Labor Party could do the right thing, the right thing by Qantas and the right thing by Australia, or they could continue to just play politics.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: But you face a road block in the Senate don’t you even though the legislation being introduced today, the Greens, Labor, Palmer United Party, other cross-benches won’t support it, what’s your plan B?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’ve put forward the best plan. We’ve put forward the right plan. We are making judgements on the basis of what is right. We are making the case. We are seeking to persuade the Australian people and we will continue to work on persuading the Senate and we are hopeful that on reflection, that having considered all of the facts, having considered all of the information that the Government had in front of it as well, that Labor ultimately will come to the right conclusion.
JOURNALIST: That looks like a summary of what Joe Hockey said, he said your Plan B is your Plan A, is that correct?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The job of government is to make judgements on the basis of what is right in the public interest. That is what we have done. We are not playing political games. We are making judgements on what is right in the national interest and we are now seeking to implement and give effect to those decisions. What is Labor’s Plan B? We have Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese jumping up and down, trying to promote essentially a proposition where the taxpayer should be asked to pick sides in a competitive market. The Labor Party is asking the Australian Government to help one business compete with another business, using taxpayer resources. That is not appropriate. What is appropriate is for us to ensure that Qantas is able to compete on a level playing field with Virgin and other players in the aviation market.
JOURNALIST: There are plenty of people who say the job of government is to pass laws to help the constituents. You’re not passing laws standing head-first and being stuck on this won’t pass the laws.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The job of government is to make judgements on the basis of what is right. What is right is to ensure that we set the framework, the conditions, to ensure that all businesses including Qantas have the best possible opportunity to be successful. Our job is not to use taxpayers’ resources to pick sides in a competitive market.
JOURNALIST: The job is also, isn’t it to work with the Senate to make judgements that are also realistic?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working with the Senate. We are engaged in an argument. We’ve made a decision, having considered all of the facts, having considered all of the information. We made a decision that we are very certain to be the right decision. Now we’re setting out to persuade the Australian people and to persuade the Senate that it was the right call. This has still got a little while to go by the time it gets to the Senate. Hopefully the Labor Party has been able to reflect by then on what is actually on the table and what the ramifications would be of what they’re suggesting we do.
JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on the inquiry into Qantas that will be underway today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a matter for the Senate to resolve today. As a matter of principle, the commercial decisions and judgements in relation to the running of an airline are a matter for the Board, the management and the shareholders of Qantas. I don’t think that the Australian Government, can or should run an airline by remote control. I don’t think that the Australian Senate, can or should run an airline by remote control. Running a private business is a matter for the owners and the executives of that private business.
JOURNALIST: You may not be at the helm, but you’re giving them a flight path with the changes of the Qantas Sale Act. I mean, how can you say that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. The changes to the Qantas Sale Act ensure that Qantas is able to compete on a level playing field. The implication of what Labor is proposing is that Virgin should be in a better competitive position than Qantas. Labor does not want Qantas to be able to have the advantage of the same competitive opportunities as Virgin. That is just not sustainable and we are hopeful that on reflection Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese will understand that.
JOURNALIST: What was your reaction when they asked for that $3 billion unsecured loan?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, we had a wide-ranging discussion in Cabinet. As the Prime Minister has said, all of the different propositions and all of the different views were canvassed. Our judgement was that it was not appropriate for the taxpayer to be asked to pick sides in a competitive market, that it was not appropriate to use taxpayer resources to help one business compete with another business. What is appropriate is for the Government to ensure that the policy and regulatory settings are such that all businesses, including Qantas, are able to compete on a level playing field. That is of course, what we are progressing today with the legislation to repeal Part Three of the Qantas Sale Act.
JOURNALIST: China’s Premier yesterday vowed to accelerate, apparently, the Free Trade Agreement with Australia. What prospects do you give it of it being finalised this year? Or when do you think it will be finalised?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Andrew Robb as the Minister for Trade and Investment has been doing an outstanding job. He has successfully concluded a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, which will help strengthen our economy and create jobs. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to make very good progress with free trade agreements with China and with Japan. I wouldn’t want to put any timelines on it beyond what has already been put on the record. But the comments that have been made out of China are very promising and no doubt are the result of the very good work that Andrew Robb has been doing.
JOURNALIST: There’s new figures out today showing the amount of profit shifting that Apple is undertaking away from Australia. Will the Abbott Government be acting to bring back some of that revenue for tax purposes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Without talking about specific taxpayers, the general issue that you’re raising is one that the Treasurer, Joe Hockey has pursued very actively through the G20. There is an issue where businesses operating around the world, are not necessarily paying their fair share of tax where they’re earning their profits. Our view is and that is a view that is shared around the world, that business should pay their fair share of tax where they earn profits. It is important though to address that in a coordinated way through international fora like the G20.