Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Date: Wednesday, 4 February 2015
ALISON CARABINE: Minister thanks for coming in.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
ALISON CARABINE: Mathias Cormann, Tony Abbott was adamant yesterday that he wouldn’t be spilling the leadership. But you now have MPs openly speaking out against the PM. Isn’t a ballot now unavoidable, maybe even desirable to help try and clear the air?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister enjoys the unanimous support of the Cabinet. I believe he enjoys the overwhelming support of the party room. There is no alternative candidate. Our job is to do the job we were elected to do and that is to build a stronger economy, create more jobs, help families and to maintain our national security.
ALISON CARABINE: But this is a mighty distraction from the business of Government and it is coming from your own side.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a small number of valued colleagues that have expressed a view publicly. These sorts of issues should be addressed through the internal forums of the party and that is what I would urge all of my colleagues to do. We have a party room meeting next week. That is the appropriate forum to discuss how we can work even better to deliver for the Australian people when it comes to strengthening the economy, creating more jobs, helping families and maintaining our national security.
ALISON CARABINE: So are you saying that the dissatisfaction among the backbenchers is limited to the three or four people who are speaking out?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I’ve said to you, the Prime Minister enjoys the strong and unanimous support of the Cabinet. I believe he enjoys the overwhelming support of the party room. There are some issues that have been raised and the appropriate forum to resolve any issues and to ensure that we are doing the best we can to deliver for the Australian people is the party room.
ALISON CARABINE: We just heard Joe Hockey on AM concede that some backbenchers are clearly angry. The Government is only half way through its first term. Do you sometimes ponder how things have got so bad, how the Prime Minister has managed to get at least a part of his backbench offside so quickly?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We made a lot of progress last year in strengthening the economy, creating more jobs and repairing the Budget, but a lot of the decisions that we had to make were difficult but necessary decisions. That has had an impact on our popularity and clearly there is a level of concern. But on Monday the Prime Minister gave a very strong speech at the Press Club about the priorities for 2015, building on the achievements in 2014. Really it is incumbent on all of us not to make the same mistakes that the Labor Party made which descended into chaos and dysfunction. It is incumbent on us to focus on the job at hand and that is to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future and to be a good and stable Government.
ALISON CARABINE: But Minister it is not just your backbenchers, it is also the public. If I could give you some of the numbers from the Essential poll that came out last night, 72 per cent of the people say the Prime Minister is out of touch, 65 per cent say he is arrogant, 63 per cent narrow minded. Only 11 per cent prefer the incumbent as preferred Prime Minister. Now Tony Abbott says voters are sick of the chaos, but might it be that voters are just sick of him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe so. We are less than half way through our first term of Government. We have had to make some difficult but necessary decisions. We still have got more than 18 months to make the case to the Australian people why the decisions we made were necessary, why we are doing the right thing for Australia, while having inherited a situation where the country, the economy and the Budget were heading in the wrong direction, we are now heading in the right direction, making progress in creating better opportunity for Australia into the future.
ALISON CARABINE: But how are you going to convince the public that that's the case when you can’t even convince your backbench that that is what you're doing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Manifestly we haven’t been able to convince 100 per cent of the backbench but that is not the way the system works. I believe that the Prime Minister has the overwhelming support of the party room and it is a matter of all of us getting behind the Prime Minister, giving him a fair go. Having delivered the agenda and the priorities for 2015 in his Press Club speech on Monday, I believe we have to give him the opportunity, continuing to lead the team, continuing to deliver for the Australian people, continuing to work, to strengthen the economy, create more jobs, help families and maintain our national security.
ALISON CARABINE: One of the issues that has come up in the last 24 hours is the GP co-payment. Mal Brough, he is one of the malcontents, he is urging the Government to axe the Medicare tax. Earlier on Breakfast we spoke with Andrew Laming, the Government made absolutely no progress on the GP tax last year, that's according to Andrew Laming. He believes it’s not the solution to the problem of health spending. Let's have a quick listen:
ANDREW LAMING (EXTRACT): Look, I support a very, very modest co-payment that is properly designed. I just fear that the damage that we have done in that policy space in 2014 makes it impossible to have a rational conversation with the people in the health fraternity. They virtually all turned on the Coalition and they are ready to dismember us if we try it again. I think we should learn a lesson from 2014 and work on quality in healthcare instead of merely cost cutting.
ALISON CARABINE: So Andrew Laming, your colleague sees the co-payment as a cost cutting measure that has done a lot of damage to the Government. You are still facing an uphill battle to get it through the Senate. Would you consider cutting your losses and dumping the tax?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly it's not a tax and what Andrew Laming said there is he supports a modest co-payment.
ALISON CARABINE: But not this one.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The challenge that we face in health is in the context of an aging population there is growing demand for healthcare services in the context of limited resources. What we are trying to do is ensure Medicare remains strong for the medium to long term. That people across Australia can continue to have affordable and timely access to quality healthcare services in a way that is also affordable for taxpayers. Now we are committed to ensuring that vulnerable patients continue to have the protection of bulk billing arrangements but that those of us who can afford to make a small contribution towards the cost of accessing relevant medical services do so. I mean that is about making sure that we protect Medicare, that we maintain Medicare for future generations because it is such a valuable mechanism to facilitate access to medical services for the community.
ALISON CARABINE: And how long are you prepared to pursue this lost cause. Christopher Pyne set a March deadline for the Higher Education reforms. Will you set a deadline for the Medicare co-payment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree that it is a lost cause. We put forward a plan for 2015 and it is part of our plan for 2015.
ALISON CARABINE: Mathias Cormann, you will soon be heading back into Cabinet. You were there yesterday with Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull, how was the mood?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The mood was very positive. We are looking at the year ahead, to build...interrupted
ALISON CARABINE: So nothing to see here, folks, move on?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are focused on doing the job we were elected to do for the Australian people. We made significant progress in 2014. In 2014 the economy grew more strongly at 2.7 per cent, up from 1.9 per cent the year before. More than 600 jobs were created a day, more than three times as many as the year before. We are heading in the right direction. We are committed to building on the progress that we made last year in 2015 to strengthen the economy, create more jobs and to help families.
ALISON CARABINE: And Tony Abbott, will he lead the Government to the next election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes.
ALISON CARABINE: Mathias Cormann, Thank you for your time.