Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
GARY ADSHEAD: In terms of Federal politics at the moment it is all about the decision to give Prince Philip a Knighthood, but there are many other things that are going on as I am sure that you are aware and perhaps some of you would actually like to listen to and hear and understand. Let’s talk now to the Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who joins us on the line. Thanks for your time Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Gary and good morning to your listeners.
GARY ADSHEAD: Can I just start though with what is happening and the fallout of the decision to give a Knighthood to Prince Philip? Why do you think everyone is suggesting, including Mr Abbott’s friends, that it is all about his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not ever about our staff. We who are serving in Ministerial roles, we are responsible for the decisions we make. Obviously all of us in Government are focused on implementing our plan to build a stronger, more prosperous economy to ensure that everyone has the best opportunity to get ahead and to ensure that Australia is safe and secure. That is what I am focused on as part of Tony Abbott’s team.
GARY ADSHEAD: You have defended her before, I think in 2013, there were some people suggesting back then that she should be removed from being so close to Mr Abbott, do you defend her again? And again, why would the centre of attention be her? We have got people like Rupert Murdoch suggesting she should be dumped, why?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Peta Credlin has obviously got a very important role at the heart of the Government. She is the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. She is very good at what she does. I work with her very closely as I work very closely with the Prime Minister. As far as I am concerned she does an outstanding job and I look forward to working with her for a long time to come.
GARY ADSHEAD: Have you had a think about how this decision to give Prince Philip a Knighthood was so wrong and how the Government got it so wrong and how the Prime Minister got it so wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator. It was a decision made by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has taken responsibility for the decision. He has learned his lesson. He obviously understands from the public reaction that it wasn’t a popular decision that he has made. He has made a commitment to consult in the future and that is a good thing. I think it is now time to move on and to focus on the important issues for our country. To focus on the challenges that we face and the opportunities in front of us and to talk about how we can put Australia on the strongest foundation for the future.
GARY ADSHEAD: I suppose it is about his judgment though, you would accept that as Prime Minister people have got to have faith in his judgment and we have seen in the last few weeks given the Medicare back down , the second Medicare back down that his judgment seems to be all over the shop.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He has taken responsibility for the decision. It was his decision and he has learned his lesson. We can go around and around in circles and continue to talk about it. In the big scheme of things it is not actually that big of an issue in as much as there are more important issues for the lives of Australians and for the future of our country that we ought to be focused on. That is what I am working on, to continue to talk about how we can best strengthen our economy, how we can best create the opportunities for more jobs, how we can best ensure that Australia is safe and secure in the context of both global economic headwinds and increasing global security threats.
GARY ADSHEAD: I assume that the big challenge is still ahead of you and Joe Hockey in terms of some of the Budget measures from the last Budget that are still hanging there…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are still dealing with some of the Budget measures from Labor’s last Budget, because Labor in their last Budget for example, said that they wanted to save about $1 billion over the forward estimates from cutting tax subsidies for businesses generating more than $20 billion in income. Now in Opposition Labor are opposed to their own savings measures. It is not unusual that certain Budget measures that are a bit more controversial because they are pursuing structural reform, take a bit longer to get through the Parliament. We did make significant progress in 2014. We were able to implement many of the key features of our Economic Action Strategy. Our commitment to scrap the Carbon Tax, our commitment to scrap the mining tax, our commitment to reduce red tape costs for business which we have been able to achieve and of course we have made significant progress on repairing the Budget. There is more work to be done and in 2015 our goal is to build on the progress we have made last year.
GARY ADSHEAD: One political commentator says today that while we would expect Labor to be in denial about the challenges to the economy and living standards because that is going to suit them, do you think Australians are slightly in denial about the challenges that we are facing given that our economy is turning around and not for the good?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We need to ensure that our generation today can live within its means. We need to ensure that we don’t fund our lifestyle by borrowing from our children and grandchildren. The job of the Government is to explain why it is that we need to get our spending under control in order to protect our living standards today and into the future and to build better opportunity, not less opportunity for our children and grandchildren. That is what we will continue to do.
GARY ADSHEAD: Obviously for you to do what you need you still have got the Senate and that is a minefield, let’s face it, dealing with it, are you now having had the year that you had last year, much more prepared to sit down with Senators and try and map out what is going to happen before you find that you just can’t get your way?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have always been prepared to sit down with Senators from all parties and indeed we will continue to do that. What I would say, as we embark on 2015, it is time that the Labor Party stopped being in denial about the state of the Budget that they left behind. When we came into Government not only did we inherit a bad starting position, the country was heading in the wrong direction, the Budget was deteriorating and heading in the wrong direction. We have worked very hard to turn that situation around and it is time that Labor started to become part of the solution and started to help us fix the mess that they left behind. That is very much going to be our focus this year, to urge Bill Shorten to start putting the national interest ahead of his perceived political self interest.
GARY ADSHEAD: The black holes that are there in the Budget now, you’ve got situations where there was an idea to bring reform to tertiary education, to make some savings but also to change the whole structure of it through deregulation. It now looks like you’re in a situation where you’re prepared to push ahead with your ideological argument, but not necessarily the savings argument because you just know, for a fact, that it will not pass the Senate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’re not pursuing an ideological argument at all. What we’re focused on is reforms to ensure that our universities in Australia have got the best possible opportunity to be internationally competitive, to be world class and that our students can have access to the best possible university education to prepare them for their working life and their lives ahead. We completely remain committed to pursuing those reforms. Towards the end of last year we were able to get the support of four of the necessary six crossbench Senators. We need another two. Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Education and others across Government are continuing to work very hard to get that support from two additional crossbench Senators. You would have seen John Dawkins, the former Labor Education Minister yesterday on the front page of The Australian calling on Labor to actually come on board with what are very important reforms. I think that the chorus in support of our Higher Education Reforms is actually growing, because they are important reforms. They are not ideological reforms and they are not just reforms about the Budget bottom line. They really are all about making sure that our universities here in Australia can compete with the best universities in the world and that students here in Australia can have access to university education in the best universities in the world without having to leave our shores.
GARY ADSHEAD: Just finally though, there’s no doubt that you have got some very big picture items that have to be addressed, in terms of the economy and so on. You must agree that the sort of sideshows and distractions that were brought on your Government by your own Prime Minister, makes that nigh-on impossible if they keep coming up.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is very important that at all times, those of us who have the privilege of serving in Government focus on what needs to be done to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. That we continue to focus wholly and solely on doing the best we can to build a stronger more prosperous economy to create better opportunities for the future. That is what I am doing, that’s what all of my colleagues are doing.
GARY ADSHEAD: And you are confident that your Prime Minister’s leadership is not in the death spiral?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott is the best person to lead our party and to lead our country. He is a very strong leader. He is leading the charge in helping to build a stronger, more prosperous economy and he is leading the charge in making sure that Australia is safe and secure in the face of increasing threat levels from across the world.
GARY ADSHEAD: Minister thanks for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.
GARY ADSHEAD: Good on you and that is the Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.