Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
SANDY ALOISI: Federal Cabinet Ministers are in Canberra this morning for the second day in a two day meeting, which has been overwhelmed by speculation over the leadership of Tony Abbott. For a view from inside the Cabinet room and on the Prime Minister’s future, we are joined by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. He is speaking to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann, good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I begin with economic issues, interest rates cut yesterday, the official rate cut, the big four banks not yet responding, should they?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are certainly urging all the banks to pass on the interest rate cut yesterday. It is an interest rate cut which is good news for families, good news for small business, the economy and jobs. Yes, we would like to see them pass it on.
MARIUS BENSON: Now this takes the interest rate to new record lows. When they hit a previous record low under Labor, Joe Hockey said that was a vote of no confidence in a flat economy. Would you share that interpretation now on your watch?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are facing global economic headwinds and the Reserve Bank clearly has made a judgment that in the context of low inflation and given the room that we have created with our efforts to repair the Budget, that this was the right decision for Australia. It is good news for small business, good news for families and good news for our economy.
MARIUS BENSON: But interest rates are such a clumsy tool. Is there danger that this will simply, in one area, push up real estate prices?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is something that the Reserve Bank is monitoring very closely. Monetary policy is only one tool. The Government continues to work very hard to build a stronger, more prosperous economy, to implement our plans to strengthen economic growth and create more jobs.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I leave the economy there and go to the issue which is dominating headlines this morning, the leadership of Tony Abbott. Was that discussed in Cabinet yesterday?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We had a very good Cabinet meeting yesterday where we talked about our priorities for 2015 to strengthen the economy, to create more jobs, to help families and to maintain our national security. It is very clear that the Prime Minister enjoys the unanimous support of his Cabinet and I believe he enjoys the overwhelming support of the party room.
MARIUS BENSON: Two hours into that Cabinet meeting, Julie Bishop issued a statement saying that she would not challenge Tony Abbott, so obviously the leadership was on her mind. Was it discussed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into specific discussions in Cabinet, but Julie Bishop came out publicly yesterday and confirmed that that is what she told the Cabinet. May I just say, Julie Bishop is an outstanding and effective Minister in the Government and she has worked very hard as part of the team to ensure that the Abbott Government is as successful as possible.
MARIUS BENSON: The threat to the Prime Minister is now open with three backbenchers effectively calling for him to go. How should this be resolved? Should there now be a vote in the party room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I said, the Prime Minister enjoys the unanimous support of the Cabinet. I believe he enjoys the overwhelming support of the party room. Yes, clearly, there are a number of colleagues who have concerns and the appropriate forum to raise any concerns and to discuss any ways forward, to ensure that we do the best we can for the Australian people to strengthen Australia moving forward, is the party room.
MARIUS BENSON: But clearly there are a substantial number of backbenchers at least who want Tony Abbott to go. Guesses at 20, 30, 40, maybe more. Is a vote the only way to resolve it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree with your characterisation that there is a substantial number. There were a number of colleagues that went out publicly expressing their concerns. The party room is the right forum to discuss any concerns and to ensure that we are on the strongest foundation moving forward.
MARIUS BENSON: But is a vote necessary to resolve it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe so. From my point of view the Cabinet is unanimously behind the Prime Minister. The party room is overwhelming behind the Prime Minister. Ultimately what happens in the party room is a matter for the party room. Individual Members of Parliament are always entitled to raise any issues of concern or to make any proposals on how best to move forward.
MARIUS BENSON: Does the party room have the right, the authority to choose the leader or does it now lie with the people as Tony Abbott argued in his speech. That after you’re voted in as Prime Minister, you’re put in by the voters, you can only be removed by the people, the party room can’t do it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The party room did elect Tony Abbott as leader. The party room elected Tony Abbott to be the leader to take us to the last election. At the last election the Australian people did elect Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. We are less than half way through our first term of government. Tony Abbott is a strong and effective Prime Minister. He has led the charge in implementing our agenda for a stronger, more prosperous economy and to ensure our nation is safe and secure. I certainly don’t believe that this is the time to go down the path that Labor went down in the previous administration.
MARIUS BENSON: But my question was does the party room have the power and the authority to remove the Prime Minister, or can that only be done by the voters?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ve answered your question. What... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: No, no, no, there’s no answer there. That specific point. Does the party room have the power?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Marius, I’ve answered that question explicitly and directly. The party room elects the leader. The party room did elect a leader in the lead up to the last election. We are half way through our first time of government. I believe Tony Abbott should have the opportunity to go to the next election and be accountable for our performance as a Government and take our second term agenda to the election.
MARIUS BENSON: But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Are you saying it’s up to the party room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying to you, is that the party room made that judgement in the lead up to the last election, that the Australian people elected us with Tony Abbott as our leader to be the Government, to implement the agenda that we took to the last election and we should not be, in my view and in the Cabinet’s view, and in my view in the overwhelming view of my colleagues in the party room, we should not be going down the path of the previous administration.
MARIUS BENSON: The Prime Minister promised a more consultative approach again before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting began, were there a signs that that in fact, was it a sign that Peta Credlin, the Chief of Staff, was not present. Was that a significant point?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister over the break, talked to a lot of people. He talked to a lot of colleagues. He made very clear on Monday in his Press Club speech that he has listened, that he has learned and he has taken action. I believe that the Prime Minister now should be given a fair go to give effect to the changes that he has made. We should all focus now on doing the job we were elected to do and that is to do the best we can to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.
SANDY ALOISI: Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann speaking there to Marius Benson.