Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Australian Government is very confident about what we can achieve as a nation in 2015. We will continue to work to strengthen the economy, create more jobs and help families. Last year in 2014, the economy grew at 2.7 per cent, up from 1.9 per cent the year before. Last year, more than 210,000 new jobs were created or about 600 new jobs a day, three times as many than the year before. We still have a lot of work to do, because jobs growth needs to go up further if we want it to be sufficient to bring down the unemployment rate in the context of population growth. So that is why the Government is committed to work, based on the achievements of last year, to further strengthen economic growth and jobs growth into the future. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Senator, given that you’re saying that things are improving, there is employment growth, yesterday, I think a Westpac/Melbourne Institute survey showed that confidence is improving. When do you think a surplus will be likely?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government continues to be committed to achieving a surplus as soon as possible. The plan of course is reflected in our Budget. It will be reflected in our next Budget. We will continue to work very hard to get back into surplus as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: But is there some consternation between the PM and the Treasurer? The Treasurer is saying that we do need to accept tougher Budget cuts or we won’t ever achieve a surplus. The Prime Minister doesn’t appear to be that pessimistic about it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are all very optimistic in the Government. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, myself, the whole Cabinet indeed everyone in our party room is very optimistic about what lies ahead for Australia in 2015. We did make significant progress last year as a result of scrapping the carbon tax, scrapping the mining tax, reducing red tape costs for business, signing up to three key Free Trade Agreements with Japan, China, South Korea, as a result of starting the roll out of our massive infrastructure investment program. These are all measures last year which have helped strengthen economic growth, which will continue to help strengthening economic growth into the future. Stronger growth will help with the important task of Budget repair.
JOURNALIST: Have you made any sort of agreement with Japan over submarines?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have indicated consistently all the way through, no decisions have yet been made in relation to the acquisition of submarines. We are committed to going through a proper process, consistent with the processes followed by previous governments. We will be going through a competitive evaluation process and for those of you who were here yesterday, you know exactly what that involves.
JOURNALIST: Why didn’t the Prime Minister say that when he was asked that same question in Parliament? He didn’t rule out that some sort of deal had been done.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has been extremely clear in relation to matters related to submarines.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how was your dinner last night with Clive Palmer and Christopher Pyne?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a very good dinner. Clive Palmer is very good company. We had a range of issues to discuss in the national interest and it was a very good conversation.
JOURNALIST: Does it seem to suggest that maybe a deal on higher education could be on the cards?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Christopher and I did explain all of the important features of our higher education reforms. We did talk about why our higher education reforms are important for Australia, important for universities and important for students. We also explained that we are very supportive of the proposal for an inquiry currently before the Senate, because we understand that that inquiry is supposed to report back by the middle of March so that we can then progress the legislation through the process in the Senate by the end of March.
JOURNALIST: Did you win Mr Palmer over with caramelised banana splits?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a very enjoyable dinner. Mr Palmer is very good company. We talked about a lot of issues around public policy for Australia. I’ll let Mr Palmer talk for himself.
JOURNALIST: So you expect these reforms to still go through at the end of March, is that right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the lead up to Christmas last year, in the last sitting week last year, we were able to persuade four crossbench Senators out of the necessary six to support the important higher education reforms that we put forward. We need to persuade another two. You all know that the Palmer United Party has two Senators represented in the Australian Senate who didn’t support our higher education reforms towards the end of last year. So there are important conversation to be had and the Government as we have consistently said remains committed to having those conversations.
JOURNALIST: Senator can I just ask you on the comments that Peter Costello made yesterday in the paper suggesting that if the Government doesn’t pursue tough Budget cuts well then the economy could break in the years ahead. Do you agree with that assessment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government continues to be committed to Budget repair to strengthen our economy and to strengthen job growth and we will do that in a responsible way. But we remain focused as I said in my first answer that we remain committed to the task of bringing the Budget back into surplus as soon as possible, but we do that in a responsible way.
JOURNALIST: Why is the Government opposed to the idea of a Royal Commission? A Royal Commission on the children in detention?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a matter that the Attorney-General is dealing with today and I think he has already been out in relation to this.
Thank you very much.