Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
DAVID SPEERS: Now let’s bring in my first guest this afternoon, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who throughout this contest has been strongly defending the Prime Minister, arguing the case against this leadership ballot, leadership spill motion, which was put to the vote this morning. Thank you for your time this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.
DAVID SPEERS: Were you expecting that more than a third of the party room would back a leadership spill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Look it was a clear result, but it was also a clear message, not just to the Prime Minister but to the Government as a whole that our backbench expects the Government to do better. We are committed to do better. I think today this will draw a line in the sand and we will be pulling together, working to do the best we can to deliver on the commitments that we made to the Australian people at the last election.
DAVID SPEERS: Does it also send a message to the Prime Minister that he really is now on notice, that he only has to make one or two more mistakes and the party room will come back at this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are all very conscious that we are expected to do better than what we have been doing and we are committed to make the necessary changes to ensure that happens.
DAVID SPEERS: I want to talk about those changes. Because what we heard from the Prime Minister in his press conference this afternoon was no further changes beyond what he announced at the Press Club a week ago. No ministerial changes, no staff changes. He said he would be consultative and collegiate. But what is changing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: On Monday last week at the Press Clu, the Prime Minister did set out his direction and his priorities for 2015. What the judgment of the party room was today is that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and the Government as a whole deserves time to give effect to those changes.
DAVID SPEERS: As you say, that speech was a week ago today. A week on, you have got more than a third of the party room saying no thanks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly we have some more work to do to ensure that we persuade...interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: There will be more change?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying is, we now have the opportunity to give effect to those changes. People that have moved the spill motion, I have listened to Luke Simpkins before, he clearly has indicated that he is committed to working all together now, to get the Government back on track. We will be working, we will be pulling together as a united team and making sure that we deliver on the commitments we took the last election.
DAVID SPEERS: Sure, but you acknowledge the message from the backbench loudly today was there needs to be change? So what more is going to change?
MATHIAS CORMANN:Let’s just wait and see on how this rolls out. The Prime Minister has set out very clearly ...interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: That is hardly going to be convincing to the backbench.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I believe it will be convincing. I believe that what the backbench has said today is let’s give Tony Abbott and the Government more time to give effect to the changes that were announced in a strong and clear speech by the Prime Minister last Monday. That is what we will be doing from now on in.
DAVID SPEERS: Except for the 39 who voted for change today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: They will now work with everyone else in the party room to make sure that we are the best possible Government party that we can be.
DAVID SPEERS: The Prime Minister today was asked about the GP co-payment. Can you just clarify what is the status of that? Is that still Government policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The status is that we remain committed to protect Medicare for the long term, that we remain committed to ensure that vulnerable patients, like pensioners and concession card holders, children, have the benefit of accessing bulk billing arrangements. What the Prime Minister has indicated publicly as well as privately is that there will be more consultation on how best to ensure that those of us who can afford to make a small contribution towards paying for the cost of providing medical services do so. There will be more consultation with the medical profession and other stakeholders. There will be more to be said about that in coming weeks and months.
But right now is the Government committed to a co-payment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Right now the Government is committed to doing some more work to ensure that we get that policy right.
DAVID SPEERS: And what about the submarine policy? What is the position on how to go about deciding on where the next subs come from?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The policy is as it always has been. We want to procure the best possible submarines at the best possible price to maximise the national security and defence outcomes for Australia. We are doing so by going through a proper process and that proper process as the Prime Minister again confirmed yesterday will include a competitive evaluation process of all of the potential options that are on the table.
DAVID SPEERS: A competitive evaluation process, that is different to a tender process?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is not like running a tender to procure some paper for office requirements or whatever. We are talking about very significant defence infrastructure. We are talking about very sizeable defence infrastructure. There a whole range of national security issues at play. So the process will not be your run of the mill tender process like for, as I said, the procurement of office supplies. What we are committed to do and what we have always been committed to do is to ensure that we achieve value for money for Australian taxpayers, that we get the best possible defence outcome for Australian taxpayers at the best possible price and there will be a competitive evaluation of all of the available options.
DAVID SPEERS: But does that mean for example that the Japanese, the French, the Germans can all submit, as well as Australian shipbuilders, can submit their own ideas here and there will be some transparency around how you make this decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It will be a process that is very much a matter for the National Security Committee of the Government in the first instance. There will be further announcements to be made in relation to the specifics and the details by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister at the right time. The commitment, the policy commitment of the Government is as it always has been and that is to go through a proper process to ensure we get the best possible submarines for the best possible defence outcomes at the best possible price. We will be going through a proper process to ensure that we achieve those outcomes. That has always been the circumstance and that is still the circumstance today.
DAVID SPEERS: Let me get back to the vote this morning in the party room. Are you confident that all of your Ministerial colleagues voted against the spill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m very confident that the Prime Minister has the support of the party room. That’s what the numbers show. The result is the result. It was a secret ballot, so I don’t think it is all that useful to now speculate on who did what. The truth is that the Prime Minister had the support of the party room and we now all have a job to do, to pull together, to do the best we can, to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australia.
DAVID SPEERS: Sure but in your view, if a Minister did vote for the spill they should resign, shouldn’t they?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to give a running commentary on Party internals. What is important today …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Would that be your approach? If you were going to vote for a spill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we have done today, there has been a spill motion, the Party voted on it and the result is there for all to see. The result is what it is. It does send a clear message, not only to the Prime Minister, but to the Government as a whole. It’s now important that all of us look forward and work to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australia.
DAVID SPEERS: I’m just trying to work out whether you think this was the backbenchers voting for the spill, or some frontbenchers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will let commentators and analysts go through all of the entrails of all of this. From my point of view, I’ll focus on the job I’ve got and that is as part of the economic team to help implement our agenda for stronger growth and more jobs.
DAVID SPEERS: Come June, after the Budget, if you’re still in this problem in the polls, what happens then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. I’m very confident that the Prime Minister can turn the situation around. He’s done so before. As I’ve said to you this morning, Tony Abbott has been written off many times before and whenever he has faced a challenging situation, he has come back better and stronger. I believe that that is what will happen on this occasion. Obviously we would have preferred not to have to go through this experience of the last week or so, but I believe that having gone through the experience it will make us a better and stronger Government. I think it will have beneficial impact on the performance of the Prime Minister.
DAVID SPEERS: And he will be there at the election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m very confident that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop will take us to the next election as the leadership team for the Liberal party.
DAVID SPEERS: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, we do appreciate your time today. Thank you very much for that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.