Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
CHRIS KENNY: Welcome back to Viewpoint. As I said, we want to catch up with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in Perth today. It’s a big country. We can get is audio from Perth at the moment, but technical problems we can’t get his picture up. So Mathias Cormann is on the line for us at the moment. Thanks for joining up Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be with you. Good evening.
CHRIS KENNY: I want to start off on this story today. I talked at the start about the idea that your Government is about ending the culture of entitlement. That’s something you’ve talked up. That the Treasurer’s talked up in the past. You’ve softened the country up for some Budget cuts coming in May. You do have the audit commission report though. You have seen it. The rest of us haven’t seen it. And today’s revelation is that seniors could be in the firing line. You’re looking at tightening the eligibility criteria for the seniors card holders.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we’ve received is the first of two reports from the Commission of Audit. In the lead up to the last election you’d remember, we promised that we would build a stronger economy, create more jobs and repair the Budget. We’ve inherited a Budget from the previous government in very bad shape. $123 billion worth of projected deficits. $667 billion worth of debt without corrective action. So Joe Hockey and I, working closely with the Prime Minister and the whole Cabinet are working on making sure that we deliver on our commitment to repair the Budget.
CHRIS KENNY: Now we’re expecting though, that those reports you have and any further reports you get will have literally hundreds of ideas involved in terms of cutting Government waste and ending entitlement where it’s perceived to be too much. We're going to see a lot of leaks, though, aren't we, along the about whether this is in, whether that is out and there's going to be scare campaigns from the opposition and others. Isn't there a lot of merit in actually get the report out publicly as soon as possible so the whole country can be engaged in a sensible debate about fiscal discipline?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten and the Labor Party don't have anything positive to say, so they will go for a scare a day between now and the Budget. In the meantime the Government is working carefully and methodically through all of the issues. All of the things that we have to do to ensure that we put the budget back onto a pathway to a believable surplus. That's what we said we would do. The Commission of Audit made a report to the Government and that is one of the inputs into our Budget process now that we're working our way through carefully.
CHRIS KENNY: Is that recommendation to tighten eligibility criteria to the seniors card, one of the recommendations, is that something that's under consideration?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Look, I'm not going to go into a rule in, rule out dialogue. I'm not going to deliver…interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: No, we could do that…
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not going to …interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: …we could do that for the next few weeks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not going to deliver the budget for you here tonight, Chris. But the one thing that I can say, though, as we've said all the way through, is that we will implement any recommendations from the Commission of Audit in a way that is entirely consistent with the commitments that we made in the lead up to the last election. Now in the lead up to the last election we promised that we would lift the eligibility thresholds for the Commonwealth seniors…interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: Indeed.
MATHIAS CORMANN: … card for example. We're going to stick to that commitment. People expect us to look at Government spending right across the board and to make sure that spending is as efficient and as well targeted as possible and that's what we're currently doing.
CHRIS KENNY: You mentioned that Bill Shorten will be negative. I'm certain he would say that you were pretty negative in opposition. Up until about six months ago you and Tony Abbott were pretty negative. Let's have a look at what…
MATHIAS CORMANN: We stand for good public policy.
CHRIS KENNY: Oh, okay. Well certainly Bill Shorten would say he's doing the same. Let's have a look at what he had to say today about this latest speculation.
DAVE OLIVER: Our laws …
CHRIS KENNY: Okay, that is Dave Oliver, not Bill Shorten. I think we should be able to have that - those comments from Bill Shorten at his press conference today… No? Oh, I'm sorry about that. Well, we're going to have skip that but Bill Shorten effectively saying that the Audit Commission report is secret. It contains a lot of cuts that the Government doesn't want the public to know about and he's calling on you, Mathias Cormann, to make a lot of this more public sooner, I suppose, rather than waiting for the Budget.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We're doing something that the Labor Party over the last six years in Government never understood and that is going through proper process in the lead up to the Budget. We are working our way through all of the recommendations and all of the issues carefully and methodically. And in the usual way, on the second Tuesday in May, the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, will be bringing down the Budget.
CHRIS KENNY: Just on the budgetary situation. We had MYEFO back in the December when you and Joe Hockey told us the situation was a lot worse that you expected. That there was a $17 billion blow out in the Budget deficit, that you were worried about the direction the economy was taking. The national accounts last week give some cause for cautious optimism, don't they? The growth at 2.8 per cent. Suggestions from Glenn Stevens the Reserve Bank Governor that unemployment will go up a little bit but then start to improve again by the end of the year. Are we starting to see already that the situation economically is not as dire as you and Joe Hockey told us in December?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well back in September, last year, when we became the Government we inherited an economy growing below trend, rising unemployment, consumer confidence too low and business investment which had plateaued. So we had a clear plan to turn that situation around the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook in December was a reflection of the situation that we found ourselves in at that point in time. Now…interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: Do you think it's looking a little better...
MATHIAS CORMANN: …there were some positive signs…interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: …already? Are you slightly more optimistic already?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well there were some positive signs in the national accounts, the retail figures were very good and global economic circumstances are improving slightly. But our economy is still growing below trend. We're not in as strong position as we could be and as we should be. It is still important that we implement our agenda for stronger growth, which of course, involves reducing the tax burden on the economy by scrapping the carbon tax and the mining tax, reducing the regulatory burden, providing regulatory certainty, investing in productivity enhancing infrastructure. We need to get that economic growth figure well past 3 per cent in order to ensure that unemployment stops rising and starts falling again.
CHRIS KENNY: I want to talk to you a little bit about economic reform. Now one area of economic reform that is the holy grail for one side of politics, the bogey man for the other side of politics, of course, is industrial relations. You are, as well as having a royal commission into union corruption, you've now started this Productivity Commission inquiry into the whole IR framework. And Dave Oliver from the ACTU was out today suggesting that you're actually, the Government is talking up economic problems in order to make its case for IR reform. Here's what he had to say.
DAVE OLIVER: ... It suits them to create this environment that things are bad. So then the next step is, well we'll blame wages and conditions, we'll blame IR laws.
CHRIS KENNY: Mathias Cormann I think maybe there's some unionists trying to cut out our conversation tonight. It's not going too well. But this plan to look at industrial relations reform, is this going to be a large slice of your agenda in the Budget or this year? Or are you going to wait and not really do anything in this area until you can take it to another election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly we've been clear all the way through that our commitment was to build a stronger economy and create more jobs so that everyone can get ahead. We took a very clear policy agenda including in relation to workplace relations to the last election. Now one of the things that we said we would do is that we would have a comprehensive review into the current arrangements and of course, what we will do in this term is implement the specific commitments we took to the last election. If there is anything that goes beyond that in terms of sensible reforms to help strengthen the economy and help create more jobs then that is something that we would take to the next election.
CHRIS KENNY: Right, two points I want to get to on before we let you go. One is when we look at some economic reform you've got before the Parliament at the moment. You're trying to repeal the mining tax, you're trying repeal the carbon tax and after a lot of hullabaloo about Qantas you've got the legislation before Parliament to repeal sections of the Qantas Sale Act all being blocked in the Senate. In the current climate and with the Senate arrangement is economic reform effectively dead for you as a Coalition Government? You are not able to get through any of your major agenda items. And are you going to rack them all up as double dissolution triggers? So that - should there be a double dissolution at some stage on the carbon tax or any of these other matters you'll then be able to get all those pieces of legislation through in a joint sitting.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the carbon tax and the mining tax, the Australian people passed judgement at the last election. We will persist with putting that legislation to the Senate. The carbon tax is a bad tax which is bad for our economy and doesn't do anything for the environment and we want to scrap it. The mining tax is an investment and job destroying tax which is particularly bad for my home state of Western Australia. We are committed to do everything we can to scrap it. Now, as a general observation, the Labor Party these days, which used to be a reforming party, which used to be committed to an open competitive economy, under Bill Shorten's leadership has become a protectionist, interventionist, lazy, populism focussed, sad old party really. And…interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, well we know you've got to say that but what I'm interested in is just how seriously the Government's going to pursue this agenda and that is whether or not you're actually going to rack up a series of double dissolution triggers and put pressure on Labor or whether you're actually just going to have to get in to some hog trading with the Senate and compromise as best you can when you get a new Senate after July.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, the Government will continue to make the case and seek to persuade the Australian Senate and the Australian people of the merits of the propositions that we’re putting forward. Hopefully, eventually, on reflection the Labor Party and others will see sense. And if public opinion continues to support the propositions that we put forward in the lead up to the last election, we're quite hopeful that eventually even somebody like Bill Shorten will see sense.
CHRIS KENNY: Just finally, on the speech by Senator Scott Ludlam, your fellow Western Australian, the green senator, Scott Ludlam, who's called Tony Abbott a homophobe and a racist, have you spoken to him directly about that? Would you advise him to, perhaps, tone down the personal attacks?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I haven't spoken to him about it directly. These were outrageous comments. They're completely inaccurate obviously and I don't know that I'd want to really give them that much credence.
CHRIS KENNY: All right, thanks very much for your time and for your patience in - with this interview tonight Mathias Cormann. Appreciate your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to talk to you.
CHRIS KENNY: That was the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann on the line from Perth.