Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks for your company on AM Agenda. With me now, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister, thanks so much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
KIERAN GILBERT: First of all your reaction to one of your WA colleagues Dennis Jensen coming out. He is one of a few actually, Warren Entsch and Mal Brough also saying that he is not giving the Prime Minister unqualified support. It is a bit messy isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: They are valued colleagues. I wish that they hadn’t taken the course of action that they did, but they have. It is a free world. Dennis Jensen is my local Member of Parliament. Obviously I disagree with him. 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 for the leadership. Tony Abbott is a strong and effective Prime Minister. On Monday, he set out our priorities for 2015, which are to strengthen the economy, create more jobs, help families and maintain our national security. Really, all of us should be focusing on the job that we were elected to do and that is to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Dennis Jensen is your local Member of Parliament. Will you still vote for him at the next election?
MATHIAS CORMANN:I will always vote for the Liberal candidate in my electorate and yes, Dennis Jensen will continue to have my vote, but on this occasion I disagree with him.
KIERAN GILBERT: I suppose the question is, is this the tip of the iceberg though. Dennis Jensen, Entsch, there are differing numbers depending on who you are speaking to as to how many people are that disgruntled that they would one, put their name to a spill and then two, go ahead with axing the PM.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have just said to you, I believe that the Prime Minister has the overwhelming support of the party room. He certainly has the unanimous support of the Cabinet. All of us in the Cabinet are focused on doing the job that we were elected to do and that is to implement our agenda for stronger growth, more jobs and maintaining our national security.
KIERAN GILBERT: Christopher Pyne said this morning on the Nine Network that Julie Bishop felt insulted that her loyalty was questioned. But it was the Prime Minister who asked her for a guarantee that she wouldn’t challenge on Sunday, the Prime Minister himself said that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are your words. Julie Bishop has been an outstanding Minister in the Abbott Government. She has been a significant part of the success of the Abbott Government. She has been a loyal ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Then why has her loyalty been questioned?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe her loyalty was questioned. You’re questioning it, I am not questioning it.
KIERAN GILBERT: The PM did.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is what you are saying.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, well it is true.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are your words. From my point of view, I can only go by what I see. I am very confident that the Prime Minister has the unanimous support of the Cabinet and the overwhelming support of the party room. The important point here is there is actually no alternative candidate.
KIERAN GILBERT: That is true, let’s move on. The interest rate cut, what does that mean for the economy? Is it a sign that the economy remains sluggish and a worry given the international headwinds as they are described?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The rate cut is good news for families and it is good news for small business. It is good for the economy, good for jobs. We are as a country facing global economic headwinds, but with low inflation and given that we gave the Reserve Bank room to move as a result of our efforts to repair the Budget, this was the decision the Reserve Bank made yesterday. It is very good news for families and business.
KIERAN GILBERT: What does it say about the strength of the economy though? I know in Opposition the rhetoric around rates is different. Joe Hockey when he was in Opposition said when rates cut it was a sign of a softening economy. Is that the same now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When we came into Government we inherited a weakening economy. Last year, our first year in Government the economy grew more strongly than the year before at 2.7 per cent instead of the 1.9 per cent the year before. 600 jobs a day were created in Australia last year, more than three times as many as the year before. We are heading in the right direction now as a country as a result of the decisions that we made last year, as a result of us scrapping the Carbon Tax, scrapping the mining tax, reducing red tape costs for business by more than $2 billion a year, rolling out our infrastructure investment program, signing up to three significant new Free Trade Agreements with China, Japan and South Korea. These are all the sort of decisions that we made and the parts of our plan that we implemented last year that have contributed to stronger growth ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: There is one policy thatMal Brough for one has called for the Government to scrap and that is the $5 co-payment. I have already seen some shifts on this policy. But Mal Brough thinks it is the wrong policy. He spoke his medical experts in his seat last night and argues that it has inadvertent effects on the rest of the medical system. He thinks that it has been received poorly by the electorate. Is it time now for the Government to rethink some of those Budget measures and I guess put fairness first? And put balancing the Budget second? Because obviously that is a big problem among your backbench, that they are worried about the fairness of that Budget.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The co-payment is not about making cuts in health or fixing the Budget. The co-payment policy is about protecting Medicare for the long term. We have an ageing population, we have got growing demand for access to healthcare services. The cost of healthcare and the cost of medical services in Australia is growing more rapidly than our revenue, than the size of our economy, more rapidly than CPI...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Sure, but it is seen through a fairness prism isn’t it? That people see it as a flat tax, as a GP tax?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a small co-contribution for those who can afford a small contribution because the key here is that we want to ensure that all Australians can continue to have timely and affordable access to quality health care in a way that is also affordable for taxpayers ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: The point is though; can they all afford it though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If you let me finish, this is a very important point here. Our policy ensures that vulnerable patients, pensioners, concession card holders, children continue to have access to bulk billing. But that those of us who can afford to make a small contribution towards accessing a medical service, when we access that service are required to do so. Our policy actually, it is an optional co-payment at the discretion of the doctor. It is a price signal, a small price signal. It is a value signal as the Health Minister has indicated, because providing medical services doesn’t come free. IT does come at a cost. Right now, under bulk billing arrangements, that cost is fully covered by taxpayers.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you haven’t convinced your colleagues on this, Mal Brough is out there publicly arguing as he did on this program a bit earlier.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We haven’t convinced 100 per cent of our colleagues that is clear. There are some further conversations to be had in the party room and that is where we ought to have those conversations and I look forward to having conversations about these matters next week.
KIERAN GILBERT: I’ll finish where we started here because this week and in the wake of the speech from the Prime Minister, you have had Andrew Laming come out and say that he is going to introduce a Private Member’s Bill on Knights and Dames. And then Mal Brough come out and say that the co-payment is wrong headed. It seems like this is almost a coordinated attempt to undermine the Prime Minister and then Dennis Jensen, Warren Entsch.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe that it is a coordinated attempt to undermine the Prime Minister, but clearly it is very important that we don’t make the same mistakes that Labor made in Government. Labor descended into chaos and dysfunction. We presented ourselves as a credible alternative, as a strong and united team and it is important that we continue to provide good and stable Government. These sorts of issues where colleagues have concerns, that is legitimate, but the appropriate forum to deal with those issues is the party room.
KIERAN GILBERT: It is going to be an interesting party room. Mathias Cormann thanks so much.