Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and also has carriage if you like for financial services and he joins me now live from the nation’s capital. Thanks very much for being there. Can I just ask you off the bat, any chance of a Royal Commission? You guys seem pretty keen to call Royal Commissions in other areas, why not here where the Senate Committee wants one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Peter, this report has been tabled this afternoon. It is a report that goes over more than 500 pages and makes 61 recommendations, so the first thing I will do is I will read the report, I will consider it and in due course I will provide a full and considered response on behalf of the Government.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: So what you’re telling us you are open to a Royal Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not what I am telling you Peter. What I am telling you is that right now I have received a copy of the report that was tabled in Parliament this afternoon and I will now carefully study the report as I should do, as is the responsible course of action in these circumstances and after I have considered all of the recommendations, all of the findings, I will make a proper and considered response on behalf of the Government. What I would just say...interrupted
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But presumably you'll do that with an open mind to the prospect of a Royal Commission.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The first point I would make is the recommendation that you refer to in relation to a Royal Commission was not a unanimous recommendation. The Chair of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, Senator David Bushby did not support that particular recommendation. Most recommendations in that report relate to the activities of ASIC and what I would just point out is that we already have a financial systems inquiry underway as we speak, which includes as part of its scope a review of the role of ASIC.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright. I want to ask you about climate change. In one of our earlier discussions, we saw footage of Senator Milne basically condemning the inconsistency of the approach that Clive Palmer is taking to this whole debate vis-a-vis from what we saw in his announcement yesterday. Are you worried as a Government that that sort of inconsistency that he has had over months and years now on the issue of climate change could leave you guys hung out to dry in terms of any agreement that he strikes with you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well we are very pleased about the announcement that Clive Palmer made yesterday to the extent that he will support, and his Senators will support, our plans to repeal the carbon tax. The carbon tax will be gone and that is very good news for families across Australia, it’s very good news for our economy. But what I would say though, I heard those comments by Christine Milne and what I would just point out is that a few weeks ago, the Greens were in full agreement with the Government that the excise on fuel should be made to keep pace with inflation but of course this week, the Greens have announced that they want the tax on fuel to keep going down and down and down in real terms every year over the forward estimates. So there has been some chopping and changing by various people. Labor initially was opposed to our Temporary Budget Repair Levy and then they voted in favour of it. The Greens were in favour of our proposal to ensure that the fuel excise keeps pace with inflation. Now the Greens are telling us that they stand for regular cuts in the value of the tax on fuel. So look the Greens don’t have any lessons to provide to anyone on inconsistency, Christine Milne is a master of it.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: There has been inconsistency though including in your own ranks, your good friend and colleague Joe Hockey, less than a year ago, July last year in fact, he said quote: “if the world comes together in pricing carbon across their whole economies then Australia stands prepared to look at joining them.” That is pretty much all that Clive Palmer is calling for, with a zero dollar ETS, so that we are at least ready for it if it ever happens with the infrastructure in place. What is wrong with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is no inconsistency at all. Joe Hockey made a very accurate observation. The point is that the world has not come together...interrupted
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But it is good to form a plan isn’t it? A zero price forward plan for if or when they do.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our policy is not to have an Emissions Trading Scheme. If the world were to come together in an appropriately comprehensive global agreement, let’s have that discussion then... interrupted
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Then you would quickly rush it in? Whereas Clive Palmer wants to be like an adult government if you like, ready for it beforehand.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well let’s see. We haven’t seen the specific amendments yet. What we do note and what we welcome is that Clive Palmer is joining with us in our efforts to scrap the carbon tax, which is a bad tax, bad for the economy, bad for families and which does nothing for the environment and that is very good news indeed.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Is the Government’s biggest worry about his suggestion of a zero ETS that is enacted and ready to go, which is very similar to the editorial line that The Australian has run for a long time now which is that Direct Action is a furphy but you don’t want to disadvantage the Australian economy, you want to wait and be ready to move when the rest of the world moves. Is the Government’s biggest concern that if you put the legislation in place with a starting price of zero then Labor without legislation, if back in Government, prior to the rest of the world acting would be able to just simply kick that ETS up and moving.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am pleased to note that you have pointed out that The Australian and Clive Palmer are on a unity ticket. That is interesting. As far as the Government is concerned, our policy is clear, we went to the last election promising that we would get rid of the carbon tax and we will. Of course you will recall when the debate about Labor’s carbon pollution reduction scheme played out, the reason we were opposed to that legislation at that time was because in Copenhagen, at the conference in Copenhagen towards the end of 2009, it became very clear that there was no prospect of an appropriately comprehensive global agreement to price emissions and in the absence of such an agreement, the best thing that we can do here in Australia is to take direct action to reduce emissions in Australia in a way that achieves genuine net emissions proportionate to our size in the world.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Senator, one final quick question because I know that you have got a flight to catch. It is becoming a Budget of back downs isn’t it? We sort of had the original starting position which was that to fix the fiscal problems in this country, we must have every element of this Budget so said yourself and the Government. Yet now it is looking like from co-payments from to who knows what, you’re only going to get a grab bag of bits and pieces out of the Budget. How can the opposition maintain your fiscal credibility on the urgency of full blown action if you end up compromising left, right and centre on the Budget?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well Peter, I don’t accept that proposition at all. We are continuing to progress all of the Budget measures in an orderly and methodical fashion. All of the Budget measures incidentally that have been put to the Senate have been passed by the Senate. The Budget Repair Levy, the Appropriation Bills. We will continue to put the Budget measures to the Senate in the form that they were delivered in the Budget. We delivered the Budget that Australia needs if we are to protect our living standards and if we are to build opportunity and prosperity for the future. Now depending on what happens in the Senate, let’s cross that bridge when we get there, but we are not going to engage in hypotheticals. The Budget that we delivered is the Budget that Australia needs.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Alright. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, I appreciate your time on the program. Thanks very much.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.