Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
SANDY ALOISI: The Government is trying to turn the political spotlight back to economic issues today but the fallout from the Prime Minister’s decision to Knight Prince Philip continues to be felt with polls showing falls in support for the Government and for Tony Abbott. Leading the Government’s drive to renew debate on the economy is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. He joins us now and he is speaking to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann, good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
MARIUS BENSON: You want to talk about the Budget and about economic issues but you can hardly see the economy from the storm the Prime Minister has created over Knighting Prince Philip but let’s start with economic issues. Penalty rates and minimum wage, they seem to be at the top of the public agenda. What action do you want to see taken on those issues?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we want to do in 2015 is to build on the progress that we made in 2014 when it comes to strengthening the economy, creating more jobs and creating better opportunities for everyone to get ahead. There is a conversation which is starting now in the context of the Productivity Commission review on how our workplace relations system can be improved and that conversation is very important when it comes to strengthening our economy and creating better opportunities into the future.
MARIUS BENSON: Well can you contribute to that conversation with your thoughts on penalty rates and the minimum wage?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt what comes out of a process that is only just getting underway, except to say that it is important that we continue to strengthen our economy, that we continue to improve our international competitiveness, that we continue to improve opportunities for Australians to get ahead and to create more jobs.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I put a specific proposal to you from ACOSS, the welfare lobby group says the Government is looking for savings, you are looking for savings. Here’s an idea, scrap the Private Health Insurance Rebate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What is very important when it comes to the health system is that we ensure that all Australians can have timely and affordable access to quality health care in a way that is also affordable and sustainable for taxpayers. It is very important in that context that we have got a strong, proper balance between public and private health and obviously the Private Health Insurance Rebate at a time when private health insurance membership was in freefall was an important policy leaver to help restore that balance. The Coalition is strongly committed to supporting those Australians who take additional responsibility for their own health care needs.
MARIUS BENSON: Okay, that’s a no there. Can I move from the economy to the issue which has sucked all of the oxygen out of the debate and pretty defeated any attempt to have an economic debate at the moment, the Prime Minister has made himself, his judgment, his office, the big issue of the past three days. Now you ducked the question of whether Knighting Prince Philip was a mistake when you were asked that. Can you say now, directly, if it was a good decision? Do you support or oppose Knighting Prince Philip?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree that I ducked the question. I made the point that it was the Prime Minister’s decision, not my decision and it wasn’t a decision of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister has taken very clear responsibility for this decision. He has indicated that he has learnt his lesson and that he will consult more widely in relation to these sorts of appointments in the future. I think that is very good and it is now time to move on and focus on the important issues for Australia. In particular, how we can put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future, how we can ensure that we are in the best possible position to deal with global economic headwinds and to take advantage of any opportunities coming our way.
MARIUS BENSON: When you say the Prime Minister has learnt his lesson, the implication is there that the decision was a wrong one. But I don’t want to draw implications or put words in your mouth. Directly, was it a mistake or not to Knight Prince Philip?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Marius, I am not a commentator. I will stick to that approach which is that I focus on my job and my job as part of the Abbott Government is to help implement our plan for a stronger, more prosperous economy, to create more jobs and to ensure that Australia is on the strongest possible foundation for the future. The Prime Minister has very clearly indicated that he is taking responsibility for the decision that he has made, he has learnt his lesson given the reaction across the community in response to his decision and that he will make some changes in relation to these sorts of appointments in the future, namely, that he will consult more widely and I think that is a good thing.
MARIUS BENSON: Does he need to change things in his office? Is it not working?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I work very closely with the Prime Minister’s office as you would expect. I think it is a very good office. I believe that Peta Credlin does an outstanding job as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. It is obviously a central role, a very challenging role in Government. From my point of view I think the Prime Minister’s office is a very good office.
MARIUS BENSON: Does Peta Credlin block your access to the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all, not in any way, shape or form. I have every access I need to discuss the important matters of Government and to work with the Prime Minster, with the Prime Minister’s office and with colleagues right across Government when it comes to implementing our plan to build a stronger economy and create more jobs.
MARIUS BENSON: Rupert Murdoch says Peta Credlin has to go. Do you care what Rupert Murdoch thinks?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with him. Rupert Murdoch is a very eminent Australian, who has been very successful internationally, but in relation to this matter, I disagree with him.
MARIUS BENSON: Do you care what he thinks?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have just said, I disagree with him in relation to this matter.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Bolt is normally a voice in your corner in the political debate. He says this decision on the Knighthood could be fatal for Tony Abbott. Is he right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I am not a commentator on commentators. But what I would say is that the Prime Minister enjoys the strong support of his party, he enjoys my very strong and unequivocal support. He is the best person to lead the Liberal party and to lead our country. He is a very strong leader, 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.
MARIUS BENSON: And the polls show that while you say he is the best to lead the country, the polls suggest that people prefer Malcolm Turnbull who has 45 per cent, Julie Bishop with 31 per cent, before they get to Tony Abbott with just 18 per cent. In fact his satisfaction rating is minus 40. Is that a worry?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have got to continue to work hard. In 2014 we have had to make some difficult but necessary decisions to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. That has had some implications for our popularity as a Government. It has had some implications for the Prime Minister’s personal popularity. But we need to continue to make the decisions that put Australia on the best possible footing for the future, to continue to do what is right and we have got to continue to work on explaining better what it is that we are doing and why.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann, thanks very much for speaking with NewsRadio this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.