Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
CHRIS SMITH: Well as we know, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has survived today’s spill motion. 39 people though voted for a spill, that means almost 40 per cent of the Government does not want Tony Abbott to lead the party. One abstained by the way. One voted informal. Now it is a secret ballot so it is bizarre someone has voted that they can’t decide. Who is that lunatic? Please put your hand forward. Former Howard Government Minister Peter Reith has said this is a very bad day for Tony. One person who has been steadfast in his support for the Prime Minister has been Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and he is on the line right now. Minister good afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good afternoon and good afternoon to your listeners.
CHRIS SMITH: Thank you so much for your time. Trade Minister Andrew Robb thinks that there has been a challenge in the offing planned since December last year by Malcolm Turnbull. Should therefore Malcolm Turnbull be sacked as a frontbencher?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe he said that and no, of course not. Malcolm Turnbull has been a loyal and very effective member of the team...interrupted
CHRIS SMITH: Well hang on, Andrew Robb said something had been planned since December, before Christmas.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think he mentioned any names. The point is here, the party now needs to get back together, be united and focus on the job that we were elected to do, which is to strengthen the economy, create more jobs, help families and ensure that Australia is safe and secure.
CHRIS SMITH: So you’re convinced that Malcolm Turnbull is right behind Tony Abbott?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull yesterday made very clear that he would be voting against the spill motion and I am sure he did.
CHRIS SMITH: But if the spill motion had been successful, he also said that anyone can put their hand up and it was clear that Malcolm Turnbull would put his hand up.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If the spill motion had been successful it is true that anyone could have put their hand up. But it wasn’t. The party voted to support Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop as our Leader and Deputy Leader. That was what the vote this morning was all about.
CHRIS SMITH: 39 people is not a sensational vote though. You would have to agree?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was 61 to 39. It is what it is. We have a lot of work to do from here on in. Making sure that the Party reunites strongly behind Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop’s leadership and that we do everything we can to get ourselves back into a stronger position in the electorate. Australia needs this Government to be successful in order to put us on a stronger foundation for the future and that is what we are committed to do.
CHRIS SMITH: Tell me about the reaction of the Prime Minister when he was handed the ballot from Philip Ruddock in that room. Some are saying he looked shocked, no doubt shocked because 39 people wanted a spill. Was that your reading of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These have been a difficult few days and indeed it has been a difficult fortnight. This certainly was a very clear message and the Prime Minister has taken the message on board and he’s already indicated that he will make some changes to his approach moving forward.
CHRIS SMITH: Does it mean that we’re going to have a ‘meeting-athon’, where every MP gets a say and everyone gets a meeting with the Prime Minister. If that is the case, you’d have to consider whether anything can be done progressively, constructively, while there seems to be a meeting on every decision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m very confident that the party and the party room will be very sensible about this. Let’s just see how this all develops in the next few weeks and months. I’m very confident that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop together with the Cabinet and the party room can turn this situation around and all of us are back, focused on the job that we were elected to do.
CHRIS SMITH: Peter Reith says this is not a good day for Tony, and he believes that those numbers will increase from 39 up into the 50s because now those who were quivering and not quite sure whether they’d offer a vote for a spill, know that they’re not in a very small minority. Do you think that the tensions will increase now that is been a vote 39 against the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No I don’t believe so at all. It has been a challenging day, let’s not kid ourselves. It has definitely been a challenging day for the Prime Minister and for the Government. We do understand that all of us have a lot of work to do to ensure that we rebuild trust across the electorate and we are committed to doing that. I don’t believe that the situation will worsen from here, I believe that the situation will improve from here. People have written Tony Abbott off before many times, whenever he has been confronted by a challenging situation he has come back better and stronger and I’m very confident that is what will happen this time.
CHRIS SMITH: Gee it’s a long way to go though. He’s on 24 per cent as a level of competence in the Newspoll today, 24 per cent. He’s 14 points behind on a two party preferred basis. How do you turn that around in 18 months?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Given the week we’ve had, I’m surprised that the polls aren’t worse actually. I worked in the Howard Government back in March 2001 when the two party preferred numbers were actually slightly worse even. We had just lost the State election in Western Australia, the State election in Queensland, we were about to lose the Ryan by-election, a blue ribbon Liberal Federal seat in Queensland and John Howard did turn the situation around.
CHRIS SMITH: But he did with the help of the safety blanket in 9/11 and when national security is an issue, the incumbent tends to gain that safety blanket as John Howard did.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think that’s quite right, because you’d remember as a historian of political history that John Howard actually successfully defended the marginal seat of Aston where there was a by-election in July, well before 9/11, well before Tampa. Essentially by July, John Howard had been able to turn the situation around, which looked very, very difficult back in March only a few months earlier.
CHRIS SMITH: What are you going to do with the Budget here because clearly there’s not an appetite for sacrifice out there and there should be. You and Joe Hockey have been bashing around telling people there’s got to be an appetite for sacrifice. It’s not going to go down too well this next Budget if it is as nasty as the previous one was and yet at the same time you’ve got to create revenue and growth.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Back in 2013 when we came into Government we did inherit a very challenging situation. The economy was weakening, unemployment was rising, the Budget was in very bad shape and rapidly deteriorating. We did have to work and we did work very hard to turn the situation around. Right from the beginning that involved a focus on growth. The reason we scrapped the carbon tax and the mining tax was to facilitate stronger growth. The reason we reduced the red tape cost for business was to improve the competitiveness of business and to strengthen growth. The reason we signed free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China, the reason we are rolling out a record infrastructure investment program is all focussed on strengthening growth. We did initiate a whole range of structural reforms in the Budget last year. Arguably we tried to do too much too soon. We’re very mindful of the fact that we need to reassess the appropriate way forward. As the Prime Minister already indicated in his Press Club Speech last Monday, in this year’s Budget we will be building on the achievements that we made last year but we will also be focussing on not repairing the Federal Budget at the expense of the household budget. We will be very much focussing on how we can maximise efficiency and make savings internally.
CHRIS SMITH: This is an important differentiation, people want to make sure that they’re slightly better off in terms of family budgets. Now if Tony Abbott is going to be more consultative and there will be enormous changes and it’s been a wake up call for him, I hope that you and Joe Hockey have agreed to throw out the cigars, have you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have not been smoking cigars publicly ever since the Budget last year, that’s right.
CHRIS SMITH: That is an outstanding outcome. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.