Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
JOHN MCGLUE: Now just when the Abbott Government was hoping to kick off 2015 on a far more positive note than it could hit last year, it is facing another image crisis and this one entirely of its own making. The Prime Minister’s decision to award an Australian Knighthood to Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh sparked a furious backlash yesterday with several of the PM’s own Liberal colleagues all pretty vicious in their condemnation, mostly delivered anonymously it must be said, but nonetheless, many of them had a lot to say. Here in WA there has been some support for the PM from several Liberals including my guest here on Drive, Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister welcome to Drive, nice to chat again.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is good to be back.
JOHN MCGLUE: Tell me about this decision to award a Knighthood to Prince Philip. Why wasn’t this good decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It wasn’t my decision as I have been explaining all day. My focus today has been to talk about our plans to build a stronger, more prosperous economy and to create more jobs, to about the progress we made last year and of course what lies ahead this year.
JOHN MCGLUE: Okay but what about this decision? The Australian Knighthood decision? As you would be aware, it is shaping how the Abbott Government is moving into 2015. It basically hijacked Australia Day yesterday. It was what everybody was talking about. The Prime Minister says it is a good decision. What about you? Can you explain to me why this makes sense for an Australian Government, and Australian Prime Minister to do this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is overstating it a bit that this is shaping 2015. I mean in 2015 as a country what we need to focus on is how we put ourselves on the strongest possible foundation economically to deal with the challenges coming our way, to deal with global economic headwinds and to ensure that we can maximise all of the opportunities given that we are here, fortunate enough to live in the fastest growing part of the world. The decision in relation to Knighthoods was the Prime Minister’s decision. He made it. He explained it. He clearly outlined that Price Philip has made a significant contribution in Australia for many decades. He has got a significant track record of public service and in particular through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, which has seen hundreds of thousands of young Australians go through leadership development programs and the like. That’s the call that he made. From my point of view and the Government’s point of view, there are many more important issues for us to talk about as we progress into 2015.
JOHN MCGLUE: And Mathias Cormann I’ve got a couple of those that I want to raise with you in a moment. But on this particular issue, can I ask you how surprised you were by the response which the announcement from Tony Abbott received yesterday?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not a commentator. My focus is on doing the job I’m ...interrupted
JOHN MCGLUE: But as a Cabinet member how surprised were you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well as a Cabinet member, I’m not a commentator. As a Cabinet member I’ve got a job to do. My job as part of the economic team is to help implement our plan for a stronger, more prosperous economy and to create more jobs. That’s what I continue to focus on.
JOHN MCGLUE: Okay, now clearly there are many challenges as you say are facing the Government this year. It was a difficult year last year. Clearly on a number of matters, the Government really has been, well made blindsided on a couple of things. I’m thinking here of the Medicare, the reduction of the rebate which was flagged before Christmas, due to come in a couple of weeks ago, and then dumped. You know, it seems that the Government is getting blindsided by the politics of a number of things, including this decision to award the Knighthood to the Duke of Edinburgh. You know, the Prime Minister clearly didn’t anticipate a backlash like this. Why do you think that is? Why did he miss it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You’ve got to remember that in 2014 despite everything, we’ve actually made significant progress in implementing some very important economic and fiscal reforms. Now we did inherit a challenging situation. We inherited an economy which was weakening, rising unemployment, a Budget in very bad shape, but over the last twelve months we were able to scrap the Carbon Tax, scrap the mining tax, make a significant start when it comes to repairing the Budget, starting to roll out a significant infrastructure investment program, we’ve signed three significant Free Trade Agreements with countries like China, Japan and South Korea. The results are starting to show. If you look at the outcomes at the end of 2014, you would have seen that more than 210,000 jobs have been created across Australia during last year, the first year of our Government. That’s three times as many as the year before. Now we need to continue to build on that. We need to continue on doing the things that we need to do to ensure that Australia is as competitive internationally as possible, that we’ve got our Budget back under control and that is exactly what we’re doing. Now clearly there is more work to be done. We've made progress but there’s more work to be done and some of the difficult, some of the more challenging structural reforms will take a little bit more time. That’s not unusual. It's not unusual for structural reforms to take a couple of go’s before they get through the Parliament.
JOHN MCGLUE: It’s proving difficult. Twelve after 5 on Drive, you’re with John McGlue. Mathias Cormann, the Federal Finance Minister my guest and Minister talking about having a few goes at trying to get things implemented, you’re back in Parliament very shortly. Just a few months now until the next Federal Budget, but you’re still trying to implement initiatives announced last year. Now without going…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well you know what, we are still trying to implement initiatives announced by the Labor Party in their last Budget. In their last Budget they initiated and banked about $5 billion worth of savings over the forward estimates which they never legislated, which we had to try and legislate, which Labor under Bill Shorten’s leadership is now opposing. We are dealing with a Labor Party that continues to be in a state of denial about the state of the Budget they left behind and which continues to put politics ahead of the national interest.
JOHN MCGLUE: Well it’s working for them so far because they’ve been able to stymie you at each turn. Certainly in the Senate you have had enormous trouble trying to get through a number of your policy initiatives.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If you think that enforcing decisions that are against the national interest is working for the Labor Party, well I’m not so sure...interrupted
JOHN MCGLUE: It’s working on stymieing the Government in implementing its own policy agenda and that’s been enormously frustrating. I’m sure you wouldn’t deny that. But I’m keen to hear from you on this point, a more positive point if you will. Why do you believe the Government can get legislation through the Senate after the Christmas break, on issues like Medicare, Higher Education particularly; and don’t blame the Labor Party, don’t look back over old ground and take out the political jargon as best you can, and tell me why you think you’re going to be able to succeed in the Senate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has always been invariably thus, that Governments have not had a majority in the Senate and that they have had to negotiate their program through the Senate. The truth is that whenever any of our reforms like the Higher Education Reforms are opposed by Labor and the Greens we do need six out of eight crossbench Senators to vote with us in order to get that legislation through the Senate. In relation to Higher Education Reforms which are important to ensure that our universities can be as competitive as possible internationally, that our students have got access to the best possible university education, we had four out of the necessary six votes in support of our legislation. We needed another two; we already indicated that we would be resubmitting that legislation early this year and again there is nothing new under the sun. The previous government, the government before that, in relation to some of the more significant structural reforms have had to put them to the Senate a couple of times before they eventually go through. There will be further conversations with crossbench Senators and with all Senators representing all parties. We are quite confident that over time we will be able to get these significant reforms through, but it is a marathon not a sprint.
JOHN MCGLUE: It sure is and maybe an ultra marathon for the Government. Thanks for your time today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.
JOHN MCGLUE: Mathias Cormann the Federal Finance Minister.