Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
PATRICIA KARVELAS: We’re now joined by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Welcome to Drive.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good evening.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, Tony Abbott spoke on the radio today and said this about wind farms.
PRIME MINISTER [EXTRACT]: When I’ve been up close to these wind farms there’s no doubt, not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So I have to ask, do you like wind farms?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that what the Prime Minister said was an objective truth. They’re not particularly nice to look at and they do make a lot of noise. So what the Prime Minister was just saying was straight out fact.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister said today he found wind farms visually awful as we’ve said and talked about the potential health impacts of wind turbines. But the Australian Medical Association in 2014 in a statement on wind farms and health said there’s simply no scientific evidence to support that position.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think, as I understand it, it is somewhat contested and there are some inquiries underway at present that seek to shed further light on this. The broader point is that the Government is committed to the Renewable Energy Target. We’ve reached an agreement recently with Labor to legislate the large scale Renewable Energy Target for the future at 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, which is an increase to the original target from 20 to 23 per cent of Australians electricity to be derived from renewable sources by 2020.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Tony Abbott also told Alan Jones that he supports cutting back renewable energy effectively. Do you support that position?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What Tony Abbott’s position is, is what the Government’s position is. That is that we are committed to the Renewable Energy Target, which will encourage sustainable growth in both small and large scale renewable energy. We have been seeking to pursue some reforms to the Renewable Energy Target because instead of a 20 per cent target as was originally envisaged, the target in actual fact was significantly higher than that with related consequences in terms of increased cost of electricity for business and consumers across Australia. We sought to pursue some reforms in this space and we have been able to reach agreement with the Labor party to give effect to those reforms.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: What kind of signal does it send about Australia’s commitment to renewable energy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The signal is very clear. Instead of a 20 per cent target as was in place for some time, we now have a 23 per cent target and there is bipartisan support for... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Then why did the Prime Minister say this, and this is from his interview with Alan Jones, ‘I frankly would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more’.
MATHIAS CORMANN: And that is true because we felt that we should go down to the real 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target. That was our ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you’re also boasting about how it was higher?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Sorry? What was that... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you’re also boasting about how it’s effectively higher?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not boasting at all. I’m just explaining ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You are.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I totally reject that. What I’m explaining to you is the situation that we’ve ended up with. The situation we’ve ended up with is that instead of a 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target we’re now heading for a 23 per cent Renewable Energy Target. That is not what we wanted. We did want a lower target. We wanted to stick to the 20 per cent original target, but having said that we went for the compromise. The best compromise that we could get and that is the situation now where the large scale Renewable Energy Target is set at 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you sort of resent all big industrial plants? It is kind of a consistent position that you don’t like wind farms, but also power plants? Is it all of these kinds of things you don’t like or just wind farms?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end it doesn’t really matter what we like and what we don’t like. What matters... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: It does because the money and investment goes to certain things over others.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Renewable Energy Target will drive the investment. Any proponent who wants to develop a particular energy source will have to comply with relevant State and Federal regulatory requirements, planning requirements and the like. These processes will run their course in the usual way. But what is very clear is that the Renewable Energy Target has now been set as a result of a compromise where there was some give and take on both sides of politics. That target has now been set at 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. That will provide some important certainty to the renewable energy sector moving forward.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On RN, my guest is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. What do you think of the Prime Minister’s comments on wind farms? Do you find them ugly and annoying and noisy? 0418226576. Everyone has a different view on wind farms, Minister, I’m not sure it is a consistent view. I know some people like them actually. So there is a range of views on this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tastes are a very personal matter, so I totally respect that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now let’s get the job figures out today. They show an improvement, but our regular business commentator who regularly comes on the program, Shane Wright from The West Australian newspaper has tweeted about his State’s unusual turnaround, ‘sorry these job figures are not credible’. Are they credible?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, what you’ve got to look at are the trends. The last twelve months of the Labor government about 3,600 jobs were created on average per month. So far this year, it is more than 22,000 jobs a month. So it’s not just this past month, but on average over the last five months, it has been 22,200 jobs a month. In our first full year in Government in 2014, about 170,000 odd jobs were created. If you look at the trend, what you can see is that economic growth is strengthening. Recent data has shown that economic growth has come in above market expectations. It is also now clear that for more than eighteen months now that jobs growth has been coming in stronger than expected. Last year, jobs were growing at about three times the rate on average per day than the last year of Labor. This year it is running at more than five times the rate of the last... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But even the ABS is urging caution in this set of figures. They do seem particularly wild in WA. Do you see them as wild in WA?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I always accept the point that you can’t just look at one month of data in isolation. You always have to look at a trend over a period. The point I am making is that if you look at the trend over the 20 months that we have been in Government, more than 280,000 jobs have been created so far. Consistently now over the last 20 months, jobs growth has been much stronger than what it was in the last year of the Labor government. Jobs are not growing strongly enough yet to absorb the effect of population growth. We are not yet in the position we would want to be in, in order to bring down unemployment to the level that we would want to get it over time. But we are now heading in the right direction. We are making progress. The economy is now strengthening and jobs growth is strengthening. Surely everyone would welcome that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Let’s get to opposition Bill Shorten. Many of your ministerial colleagues have been suggesting Bill Shorten has done something wrong and to come clean about alleged corruption in the AWU, the Australian Workers Union, back when he was the National Secretary, what evidence does your Government have of his wrongdoing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All that the Government has been doing and all that some of my colleagues have been doing is to say that Bill Shorten needs to explain himself …interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But he said, let’s get this, he has said he is happy to answer questions at the Royal Commission again, this is what Bill Shorten had to say today.
BILL SHORTEN [EXTRACT]: What I would say to you is that the thrust of today’s story is that somehow I haven’t looked after workers, I have. That has been my record from when I started working in the union, my whole time in the Labor party it’s about looking after people, making sure that people’s best interests are maintained. That is my answer on these matters. My record.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: That was Bill Shorten speaking to reporters today, so he said he will front the Royal Commission, isn’t that good enough?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t care where he provides his explanation, but the proposition that has been put to the Royal Commission is that the AWU has been ripping off workers to advance its own political interests. Bill Shorten must explain what he knew and what he did inside the AWU and he should tell us what he did when he was there to correct any wrongdoing. Whether he explains it to the Royal Commission, whether he explains it at a press conference, whether he explains it in Parliament, that is really immaterial, as long as he provides an explanation.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so you are satisfied if he just fronts the Royal Commission and gives his answers there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The important point is that he explains himself. Where he does is immaterial.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now, I just want to get to what is going to happen when the Senate sits again. What are the bills that you are going to be prioritising? Are you likely to get the Family Tax Benefit B changes through? What sort of negotiations are you in over that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our first priority is to get our small business and jobs package through. We also want to get the appropriation bills through in order to ensure the proper functioning of Government through 2015-16. There is a range of other pieces of legislation that will come up for debate in that fortnight before 30 June, including the Medical Research Future Fund. A very important initiative to boost investment in medical research on a fiscally sustainable basis moving forward. Yes, we will also pursue our families package and as you would expect us to do we are pursuing all of these measures in a prioritised and sequential fashion.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens have called for greater transparency for MPs who use taxpayer funded allowances to pay off their houses in Canberra. Do you support change in this area?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All Members of Parliament, all Federal Members of Parliament as part of their remuneration arrangements receive a travel allowance, a daily travel allowance when they stay in Canberra. I would have thought what individual Members of Parliament do with their remuneration is a matter for them.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Isn’t it double dipping?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe so. I believe that as part of Members and Senators remuneration arrangements, where there is a lot of travel involved, including and in particular to Canberra, there is a long standing provision which applies to every single Member of Parliament, where there is a travel allowance payable. It is a matter for individual Members and Senators what they do with it.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mathias Cormann it has been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for coming on Drive.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And that is Mathias Cormann. He is the Finance Minister.