Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning everyone. Any suggestion that the Government is retreating on any of our Budget measures is wrong. The Government absolutely remains committed to all of our Budget measures. We will continue to progress all of our Budget measures through the Senate.
What we are doing this week in relation to the Social Services Budget measures is deal with the issues that it has become apparent that there is agreement on. Labor and the Greens have come to the Government and have suggested to us that there are several measures in our Social Services related Budget measures that they support. So what the Government has said is let’s get on with the things that we agree on and let’s deal with the matters that require further discussion through a separate process and separate legislation down the track.
Let me just repeat, the Government remains firmly committed to all of the Budget measures that we outlined in the Budget. We remain firmly committed to progress all of those measures through the Senate. We are doing so in an orderly and methodical fashion. We are doing so in a sequential and prioritised way. That will continue moving forward.
REPORTER: Minister, are the controversial measures on the back-burner?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Nothing is on the back-burner. The Senate has been very productive since Labor and the Greens lost control of the Senate on 1 July. In the first fortnight, we were able to repeal the carbon tax, as promised. In the second fortnight we were able to repeal the mining tax, as promised. We were able to deal with a whole series of Budget measures already. As you know, most of the Budget has already been passed by the Parliament. We are dealing with a series of important structural reforms. Structural reforms that are required to put our welfare system on a sustainable foundation. Structural reforms required to ensure that we can get back to surplus in a reasonable time period. So what we are doing is we are continuing to work with the Senate. We are continuing to work with cross-benchers in the Senate on all of these issues. But if there is agreement on certain things it makes absolute sense to deal with the issues where there is agreement swiftly and efficiently and indeed we call on Labor and the Greens, now that they have indicated to us the measures in the Social Services Bills that they support, we call on Labor and the Greens to facilitate efficient passage of these measures through the Senate this week so that we can then concentrate on the debate in relation to those issues where there is still a level of concern.
REPORTER: So how many billions will you be setting aside and does that mean that all Ministers need to be on notice, that you will be delving back into their portfolios to look for other savings?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All Ministers and indeed the Government as a whole remains committed to repairing the Budget mess that we have inherited from the Labor Party. We inherited a Budget in very bad shape. $123 billion in projected deficits. Government debt heading for $667 billion. We are paying more than $1 billion a month right now on interest just to service the debt that Labor has accumulated. So of course all Ministers and the Government as a whole remains focused on the important task of repairing the Budget. But let me just repeat again, we remain committed to all of the Budget measures that were part of the Budget in May. We have made significant progress since May in implementing quite a number of them. Some of the structural reforms, many of which don’t take effect until 2015, 2016 and beyond, will be the subject of further conversations, but that is situation normal. That is the way things are always done in the Senate.
REPORTER: Just with the Social Services Bills, does this mean that some of those Bills will need to be split? And what has Labor and the Greens indicated they will support?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor and the Greens have given indications to the Government about those savings measures in those Social Services Bills they support. What we have indicated to Labor and the Greens is that we are prepared to facilitate speedy and efficient passage of those measures that they agree with this week. So we would certainly expect that now Labor and the Greens have pointed to those measures that they support, that they equally would facilitate efficient passage of those measures through the Senate. That is those measures that Labor and the Greens support between them come down to about $3 billion in savings over the forward estimates. That means that there is about another just under $10 billion over the forward estimates that is up for discussion. Our focus and determination is to get those issues where there is agreement either with Labor or the Greens dealt with by the Senate this week, so that we can then move to a discussion about the remaining $9 to $10 billion in savings in the Social Services portfolio are part of separate legislation.
REPORTER: Did Clive Palmer put a line through the changes that Senator Day proposed reduction of that waiting period for New Start. Given that he has now ruled that out, is that waiting period, indeed that change now gone?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I have learned with Mr Palmer is to never give up. Always keep talking. Clive Palmer is always prepared to listen to a sensible and constructive argument. I am hopeful that for Mr Palmer and the Palmer United Party that might be their opening bargain position. We will continue talking on some of these important structural reforms for Australia into the future.
REPORTER: Minister, there is news of a case of Ebola in the US. Do you expect that Australia will have to contribute more financially to this issue? And what’s your response to that as a key member of the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will let Peter Dutton, the Health Minister comment in relation to that on behalf of the Government. Obviously these are matters that the Government has been considering and continues to consider. If there is an announcement to be made, Minister Dutton will make it.
REPORTER: Mathias, just looking at the article this morning in the Fin, is there an acceptance though within the Government that no you’re not giving up on the measures that you put down in the Budget but the crossbench is being difficult to deal with and that you will have to increasingly look to Labor and the Greens?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe the crossbench is difficult to deal with at all. We have been able to do some very good work with the crossbench since the Senate changed...interrupted
REPORTER: But there are some deal breakers that Clive Palmer just seems doesn’t want to budge on.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor left the mess that we are now taking responsibility to fix. So far Labor has been rather unhelpful and not been prepared to take responsibility for the mess they left behind. Now in relation to the Social Services related Budget measures today in front of the Senate now, Labor has indicated to us that there are a number of savings measures that they support. So our call on Labor this morning is given that that is what you have indicated to us, work with us to facilitate the speedy passage of those measures that we now have reached agreement on. Our call to the Greens is the same. The Greens have separately indicated to us that there are a number of other measures that they support. Our call on the Greens is facilitate the efficient passage of those things that we agree on through the Senate and then let’s deal with all of the remaining issues in the social services and other portfolios when we come back in the next sitting fortnight.
REPORTER: Can you be more specific about what those measures are?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am happy to give you a list; it is a pretty long list of individual measures. Now I just might have to leave it there...interrupted
REPORTER: Minister, are we seeing a housing price bubble here in Australia?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The short answer is, housing prices are set by the equation between demand and supply. If demand is higher than the supply then clearly prices are going to rise and over time when prices are high, the supply will over time increase. There are some responsibilities here in particular for the States to do the right thing to ensure that supply can increase moving forward. Thank you.