Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Date: Tuesday, 24 February 2015
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We are joined from Canberra by the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to discuss those emails have that been leaked and other matters. Mathias Cormann, good morning and thank you for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here. Good morning.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: This is how Phillip Higginson, the honorary Federal Treasurer ends this private and confidential email that he sent out to party members: “I hope the recipients will respect my privacy and treat the letter with the utmost confidentiality and debate it only internally. It will serve little purpose to hang out our dirty linen.” What does it mean for you then that other members of your party are so unconcerned about that, that they would really rather leak it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is true that internal party matters are best dealt with internally. People across Australia expect us to focus on the issues that matter to them and not on party internals. What the polls today indicate is that when we talk about the issues that matter to them, like strengthening the economy, more jobs, more affordable childcare, how to keep our nation safe and secure, our position improves. When we talk about ourselves, our position deteriorates. So that is certainly disappointing, that matters of party internals have gone into the public domain.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes but my question went to what does it say about your party that there are people prepared to hang out such dirty linen at the expense of the success of the party and the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My focus is on my job as a Minister in the Government. My job is doing everything I can as part of the economic team to help strengthen the economy, create more jobs and to work as part of the Abbott Government to ensure our nation is safe and secure. It is not my job to give a running commentary on party internals.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Clearly it matters a great deal and enough to your colleagues, what is important to them is what they see as the dysfunction inside the Prime Minister’s office and that conflict of interest that they will speak about this publicly. Why has the Prime Minister not dealt with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with your characterisation of the Prime Minister’s office. Let me just say that the ...interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me jump in there. This is not my characterisation. This goes to the letter and clearly criticism made by party members as well.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with your characterisation in your question and I disagree with the characterisation in Mr Higginson’s email. Let me say that the arrangements in the Prime Minister’s office in terms of his staff and the arrangements in terms of the senior leadership at the organisational level have been in place for more than five years now. It is not as if this is a new circumstance. In that period we were able to successfully move from Opposition into Government.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Have you successfully moved into Government if clearly over those five years the situation has built up to such a point that people are criticising it publicly? You may insist this morning that it works fine for you and that you’re not troubled by it but you have people here who are, in your own party.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are always a range of views in any party. But what I am saying is that our job as the Government is to focus on the issues that matter to the Australian people, to do the job we were elected to do. To put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future, to strengthen the economy, create more jobs and ensure Australia is safe and secure.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes and we heard that but I need to jump in there and say that there are clearly party members who say that they can’t be doing the job of Government effectively is they can’t speak truth to power and they can’t do that when the parliamentary wing and organisational wing are conjoined in that way.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, this is not a new arrangement. This is an arrangement that has worked very successfully for us ...interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me jump in there. No it is not a new arrangement, clearly it is an arrangement that that has come to a head over a period of time, it has gone on for too long and not successfully for members of your party. Do you acknowledge that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you can go around and round in circles. I have made my position very clear. My position is that the Government needs to focus on the issues that matter to the Australian people. There are clearly some issues that have been raised internally. Incidentally, that is not a universal view. The President of the party, Mr Alston, has written to the Federal Executive last night as I understand it, putting a very different view about these matters. Let me just say again, we were extremely successful as a strong and united force in Opposition and for most of the period in Government. We had a difficult period for the last few weeks, indeed for the last month or two. It is very important now that matters have been resolved in the party room a week or two ago, that we all focus back on what is actually important and what we were elected to do and that is to deliver for the Australian people.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I assume that you’re addressing that not to me but to those party members who keep leaking against you and your Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I can’t control what every individual member across the Liberal Party does, but again, let me just be very clear, we can’t get distracted by party internals away from doing the job we were elected to do and that is to do the best we can to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Alright, well let me go to the seven Ministers who are clearly not in that frame of mind according to The Age today. An exclusive report there on the front of The Age. Seven Ministers who voted for Tony Abbott in the failed spill are now prepared to put him on notice if he can’t revive the Government’s fortunes. Are you one of those seven Ministers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Let me just say very clearly that I say privately what I say publicly and that is that the Prime Minister has my strong and unequivocal support. He is the leader together with Julie Bishop who took us successfully from Opposition into Government. I believe that he deserves the opportunity to turn this situation around and to take us successfully to the next election.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And do you have a sense or suspicion about who those seven Ministers might be?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to start running some sort of speculative running commentary on people that are not named in an article in a newspaper.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But it doesn’t come as a surprise to you that reports like this are on the front page of the paper?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don't control what is on the front page of the newspaper all I control is ...interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You are not here this morning saying this is errant nonsense?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying is that I believe that the Prime Minister has the strong and united support of his Ministry. He clearly has the support of the party room that was expressed again only two weeks ago. So from where I sit, all of us need to focus on the job at hand which is to do the best we can every day to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You were just mentioning before the successful transition of your then Opposition into Government. Were you disappointed to read reports from John Howard he doesn’t think that successful transition has been made by Tony Abbott to Government and also comments made yesterday by former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett saying that he didn’t think the transition had been successfully made either?
MATHIAS CORMANN: John Howard is a giant of the Liberal Party. I am a great admirer of John Howard. He has made an enormous contribution to Australia of course. Now...interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So what he says goes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly, we have been facing some issues. I believe that in 2014 we did make significant progress on a range of fronts that we took to the last election. The economy in 2014 grew more strongly than the year before, jobs growth was three times the size of the year before, but clearly there are issues that need to be addressed. We have had a range of conversations internally about how best that can be done. Some of these changes are now underway.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: How far advanced, to move to your portfolio are Budget preparations for this year’s Budget now given that you have so much still in abeyance from the previous year’s Budget?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We had things in abeyance from Labor’s last Budget. Until two weeks ago when we finally passed a Labor Budget saving in relation to research and development, we were still dealing with matters in Labor’s last Budget in 2013-14. There is nothing new under the sun. Any Budget is a four year plan. There always is over that four year period a sequential implementation of measures that are in the Budget. Clearly there are some issues that are still a matter for public debate. There is nothing new under the sun there either. There are structural reforms that the previous Government took two or three years to finally get through the Parliament. We will continue to do what needs to be done to put Australia on a stronger economic foundation for the future, to ensure we are as resilient as we can be in the face of global economic headwinds and to make sure that we have got the best possible opportunity to take advantage of global economic growth in our region.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just finally this morning, you will be facing a grilling this morning about the Government's handling of that $25 billion plus contract for the new submarine fleet. You will be fronting a Senate estimates in that parliamentary hearing. Are you prepared to tell all about just what role Government owned ship builder ASC might have in any future sub fleet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I read that I was about to face a grilling this morning. I very much look forward to it. I am a very enthusiastic participant in the democratic process through the Senate committee system.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That is good to hear. Because I guess what the Australian public will want to hear is there is an open and democratic and transparent system when it comes to a very expensive and important sub contract. Is that what the Government has in place?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government absolutely has a fair system, a fair process in place that will ensure that Australia will get the best possible submarines at the best possible price for the best possible defence and national security outcomes. This is not a procurement process like you would run for office supplies, paper, chairs, tables, you name it. This is a very complex, very sensitive, very expensive procurement and one that has to go through a very different process than what you would run for a normal run of the mill procurement.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Indeed which goes to then the questions and the conversations that the Prime Minister has already had with Japan in relation to them possibly building these subs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we are doing is run a competitive evaluation process which will assess the comparative merits ...interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I'm sorry to jump in there, you might be able to offer then this morning at Senate estimates a proper definition of just what that process is?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have offered a proper definition of that, as have others in the Government for some time. I was about to give it to you again this morning before you interrupted me there. What the competitive evaluation process will do is provide a comparative assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of various options when it comes to capability, costs, project risks, schedules and the like. At the end of that process which is expected to run for the next ten months the Government will make a decision in the national interest. That will be driven by where, how and in what combination, in what configuration, can we get the best possible submarines for the best possible defence and national security outcomes at the lowest possible price. That is our responsibility to the Australian people, that is our responsibility to taxpayers.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Mathias Cormann good to talk to you, thank you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.