Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Senator for Western Australia
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well the Government had hoped for a reset on a number of fronts ahead of Parliament resuming next month, but as it puts its mind to working on its second Budget, the Abbott Government is still failing to win support for key elements of its first. The man doing much of the heavy lifting in that regard is Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. He joins me now. Senator Cormann welcome to the program. You and your colleagues had clearly hoped for a better 2015 after a fairly torrid 2014. Hasn’t been the case so far has it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are very confident that 2015 will be a good year for Australia. Of course in 2014 we did make significant progress in implementing our plan for a stronger, more prosperous economy, to create more jobs and to repair the Budget. There is no doubt that we are in a much stronger position than we would have been if we hadn’t made some of the difficult but necessary decisions we made last year.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But clearly you’re having problems still with your Medicare and education reforms. They’re deeply unpopular. Now there’s this uproar for the Knighthood for Prince Phillip. Is the Government and perhaps more significantly the Prime Minister out of step with the community?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’re still working to progress some important structural reforms. We’re still working to progress reforms to strengthen and to protect Medicare. Also we’re still working to progress reforms, which are due to come into effect in 2016, to ensure that our universities are the most competitive internationally they can be, that our students have the best possible university education. All of that work will continue when Parliament resumes in the next few weeks.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Sure, I’m keen to discuss that in a minute. How do you explain the decision to give a Knighthood to Prince Phillip? I mean, is it appropriate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not a commentator. That was a decision that was made by the Prime Minister. Prince Phillip has made a significant contribution in Australia. He’s made a significant contribution in particular through the Duke of Edinburgh awards, to the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Australians. But my focus now is on the work we’re doing to build a stronger, more prosperous economy, so that everyone has the best possible chance to get ahead. If you look at the outcomes, in 2014 our first year in Government, more than 210,000 new jobs were created. That was more than three times the number of jobs created the year before. We want to build on our achievements last year that have made that possible, so that we can continue to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Sure, sure, you’re not a commentator but you are a key member of this Government. Do you agree with some of the concerns expressed by some of your colleagues that this call, giving a Knighthood to Prince Phillip doesn’t reflect a modern Australia?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I say, I am not a commentator. It is a decision that was made by the Prime Minister. It was a ... interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Were you consulted about that though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has already indicated who he has consulted and no, I was not personally consulted.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Does it raise questions about his judgement, do you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister is doing an outstanding job. He is leading the charge, he is leading the charge when it comes to implementing our plan to build a stronger, more prosperous economy and to ensure that Australia is safe and secure. That is what all of us are focused on. That is what the Prime Minister is focused on. That is what I’m focused on and that is what we will continue to focus on in 2015.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You can’t say it’s helping your reset though can you. Clearly today, plenty of conservative commentators have also come out and questioned the judgement.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You’re entitled to express that view. I’m sure that other commentators around Australia will express their views. From my point of view, I’ve got a job to do, the Government has got a job to do and we’re focused on doing the job that needs to be done to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Do you think it adds to what appears to be growing concerns about his leadership?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree that there are growing concerns about the Prime Minister’s leadership. The Prime Minister has the strong support of his Party room. The Prime Minister has done an outstanding job for Australia and as leader of the Liberal Party now for more than five years. I’m very proud to be part of his Government.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay can we move quickly to your continuing Budget problems and particularly education. Are you planning to abandon the 20 per cent higher education funding cut to win crossbench support for the idea of deregulation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are completely committed to ensuring that our higher education reforms pass through the Parliament. Towards the end of last year, we were able to secure the support of four crossbench Senators out of six that we need in order to get the legislation through the Parliament. Conversations with crossbench Senators are continuing and you wouldn’t .... interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And is the funding cut, the 20 per cent figure, is that liable to change, is that on the table as part of the negotiations?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You wouldn’t expect me to conduct negotiations with the crossbench across your radio program. Our focus is on making sure our universities are as competitive internationally as possible, that our students have got the best possible access to high quality university education and that we’re doing it in a way that is fiscally sustainable. Our proposal is on the table. We need six non-Government Senators to support our proposal given that Labor and the Greens are opposed. We've been able to secure the support of four. We're working to get the support of two more. Christopher Pyne is working very hard to make that happen.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay Senator Cormann, thanks very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That’s Senator Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister.