Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
DAVID LIPSON: G’day welcome to the program. Well updated Budget figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office show that the Senate blockage will carve more than $100 billion out of Government revenue over the next decade. Joining me now to discuss the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann thanks for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.
DAVID LIPSON: All Budgets of course assume that its measures will pass. But you’re banking on measures that have been stuck for getting on close to 13 months now. Are you being optimistic of a Budget near balance with in a few years?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are still dealing with Budget measures form Labor’s last Budget in 2013. Labor right now is blocking $6.5 billion worth of Budget measures to improve the Budget bottom line that they themselves initiated and banked in their last Budget. Our Budget is our plan to strengthen growth, create more jobs and get the Budget back into surplus as soon as possible. To the extent that there is talk of a Budget black hole, this is Bill Shorten’s Budget black hole, because what the Parliamentary Budget Office report shows is the importance of passing our Budget in full as part of efforts to strengthen growth, create more jobs and get the Budget back to surplus as soon as possible.
DAVID LIPSON: Measures like the higher education reforms and cuts to welfare in the form of Family Tax Benefit B are showing now signs of being accepted by Labor or the crossbench or the Greens. So is it right for your Government to rely on them being passed, rely on those savings in your figures?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Governments of both persuasions forever have presented their policy agenda in their Budgets. On occasions, under Governments of both persuasions it has taken a period to get certain measures through. In relation to the 2014-15 Budget more than 80 per cent of Budget measures have passed. There are a series of measures that are yet to pass and are still subject to discussion. We remain committed to them and we are confident that over time all of those measures will pass.
DAVID LIPSON: $22 billion of that $100 billion over the next decade is down to the fuel excise indexation. Now there have been discussions going on with the Greens, but they want to see some of the additional revenue ear marked for public transport. Is that something that the Government is amenable to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’ve been on the public record under the previous Greens’ leadership when Christine Milne was the leader, to indicate that we were prepared to talk along those lines. We have been having some very positive and very constructive discussions with the new leader of the Greens, Richard di Natale. Let’s see where it leads us. But certainly from our point of view, this is an important public policy measure. It will help ensure that the real value of the fuel excise remains. That it doesn’t keep falling as it has over the last fourteen or so years. Most expenditure items are indexed to inflation, so it’s important for revenue measures like this one to be indexed to inflation as well.
DAVID LIPSON: What’s a suitable figure, percentage of the revenue that should go to public transport in your eyes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to conduct conversations with the Greens through your program. I know that you would like me to, but I prefer to keep those conversations private.
DAVID LIPSON: You’re not prepared to say a ceiling or a maximum?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’re going to have these conversations in private.
DAVID LIPSON: No, fair enough. Well on the State revenue, or the State Government revenue front this week, Joe Hockey added a barrel of fuel really to the campaign to remove the GST on women’s sanitary products. If that happens that would narrow the base of the GST and Arthur Sinodinos says for one and he’s far from alone, says we should actually be having a discussion about broadening the base of the GST. Where do you stand on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The GST is a revenue that is collected for the States. One hundred per cent of the revenue goes to the States. So it really is a matter for the States to determine whether they are comfortable with any change in either direction. What the Treasurer is doing, he has asked the Treasury to cost what it would cost to remove the GST from tampons and sanitary products and then it is going to be a matter for the States at the Treasurer’s meeting in July to consider the issue.
DAVID LIPSON: But do you personally think that a GST on tampons is unfair as Joe Hockey does?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to express a personal view. This is a revenue that is raised for the States. It is a decision for the States as to how they want to proceed. But we are assisting them by providing the necessary information on how much it would cost to make such a change.
DAVID LIPSON: If it is a matter purely for the States, why did the Federal Treasurer say that he would look into it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Because the Federal Treasurer is able to provide information to the States by asking Treasury to cost the measure, to cost how much it would cost to make such a change.
DAVID LIPSON: Fair enough. Okay, moving on, I want to look at the citizenship changes that were announced this week and those that were not announced this week. We’ve seen today that a whole range of backbenchers, 37 in total, about two-thirds of the backbench have written to the Prime Minister, supporting his tougher stance on citizenship. That stance of course that would see Australian citizens potentially stripped of that citizenship if they are suspected of terrorism, even if that citizenship is their sole citizenship. Now that was not accepted by Cabinet, the backbench wants to see it accepted it though. What’s your view on this? Is this an appropriate response? An appropriate approach that the Prime Minister is taking?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I’m not going to talk about what is discussed in Cabinet. Let me just say that your characterisation of it is wrong. But in relation to the changes that were announced this week, what we have said is that wherever a dual citizen is engaged in acts of terror against Australia, in those circumstances there should be a capacity for the Minister for Immigration to revoke citizenship. We have also issued a discussion paper, which was also endorsed through our party processes. A discussion paper, which flags that the Government is considering giving the Immigration Minister that power in relation to Australians who are able to access another citizenship. These are powers that are already in existence in the United Kingdom, were introduced in the United Kingdom by the Blair Government. These are important tools for a Government in the modern world to be able to protect itself and keep the nation secure. From that point of view, the changes that were announced this week were very important changes as part of our plan to ensure Australia is safe and secure.
DAVID LIPSON: So do you believe then that they should not have been pushed off to a discussion paper, that the Government should be legislating those harsher elements of those changes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We were always legislating immediately the capacity for the Immigration Minister to revoke the citizenship from dual nationals in those circumstances and always ... interrupted
DAVID LIPSON: Yeah, but I’m talking about the other elements.
MATHIAS CORMANN: ... and we were always going to put the other elements forward in the form of a discussion paper in the first instance. The reason you’re having a discussion paper is because you are considering going down that path down the track subject to what comes out of that consultation. This is just good Government process at work. This is just normal, orderly, methodical Government, as we conduct ourselves generally.
DAVID LIPSON: It is significant in this letter, that it was written and signed by 37 backbenchers that it’s been led by Luke Simpkin, of course who was the Liberal MP who petitioned to have Tony Abbott dumped back in February. Has there been a shift do you think, on the backbench?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister enjoys the overwhelming support of the party room. The events of earlier this year are way behind us.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, I just want to ask you finally on same sex marriage. We’re seeing movement on this front. Bill Shorten will of course introduce his Bill on Monday and there may be a bipartisan bill to come later on at some point. You’re opposed to same sex marriage are you opposed to a conscience vote within your party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support the current definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, which is that marriage is between a man and a woman. As far as the Parliamentary processes are concerned, if and when another Bill comes before the Parliament it will be considered through the usual party process. I will be a participant in those processes.
DAVID LIPSON: Do you see it as an issue of priority?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our priority as a Government is to strengthen growth, create more jobs, repair the Budget and ensure that Australia is safe and secure. Having said that, it is an important issue for many Australians on one side of the argument or the other. It has come before the Parliament on a number of occasions and the Parliament has dealt with it on a number of occasions. I don’t know if and when it may come before the Parliament again, but if it does, the party will deal with it in the usual way.
DAVID LIPSON: Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann great to have you with us. Thanks for that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.