Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
GREG JENNETT: The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is with us now Minister we will leave aside the citizenship process questions for now, because there is a bit happening on the Budget front. A core Budget initiative in the pension looks like going through the House of Representatives today. That was a product of negotiation with Richard Di Natale and the Greens. Where are you at in other talks with him and in particular the automatic indexation of fuel excise?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government continues to make progress in implementing our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to repair the Budget. This week we were able to successfully pass the small business and jobs package. We were able to lock away more than $6 billion in additional Budget improvements. So we are heading in the right direction. We are making progress. There are a series of other measures where conversations are ongoing, the fuel excise indexation measure being one of those.
GREG JENNETT: And how would you characterise those conversations? Well advanced?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The way I would characterise them is that they are ongoing and that the Greens and the Coalition are engaged in those conversations with a lot of goodwill.
GREG JENNETT: There are indications that progress is being made, would you agree with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are talking and that is better than the situation that we found ourselves in this time last year. So let’s see where we get to.
GREG JENNETT: Because you’re up against a deadline on this. If legislation is not passed by October, there is a mother of all financial messes to unpick. How happy are you with the progress measured against that October deadline?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very confident that when it is all said and done, that this measure will be legislated by the Parliament.
GREG JENNETT: And what leads you towards that confidence?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s just wait and see.
GREG JENNETT: Would you describe the Greens as your best hope on that? Or a potpourri of other Senate votes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to conduct conversations with the Greens or other Senators through the ABC. We will continue to have conversations in private. Both the Greens and ourselves have indicated various areas for discussion in relation to this publicly. We are currently exploring those. We know there is no immediate urgency. We can deal with these matters if required after the winter recess. That is the timetable we are currently working on.
GREG JENNETT: No immediate urgency. So we wouldn’t expect to see something happening next week as we head into the winter?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Unless the Greens come up with something next week where they say here is a deal, then I would not expect there to be an agreement between the Greens and the Government over this next week, no.
GREG JENNETT: The bank deposit tax was not in the Budget, are we going to see that come back in another form and sometime soon?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not entirely accurate. The as you call it bank deposit tax was actually introduced and put into the Budget by the previous Labor government. The previous Labor government locked it in as a measure. They initiated it. They banked the expected revenue in the Budget. So it is reflected in the Budget bottom line. What the Government has said is that as part of our response to the financial systems enquiry, we will make a judgement on a series of things, including on whether or not we ought to proceed with this Labor party measure.
GREG JENNETT: And how far off are you from making that decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the next few months the Government, through the Treasurer, will be releasing our response to the Financial Systems Inquiry and that will be part of that consideration.
GREG JENNETT: And are you disposed towards proceeding?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are currently considering all of these matters. When we are in a position to make an announcement we will make it.
GREG JENNETT: Going back to the Greens. Part of the negotiations there on the pensions deal was a review of retirement savings in superannuation as part of the Tax White Paper. Is it likely that the Government will come out of that process with changes to take to the next election to super?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we have made very clear is that the Government will not increase taxes on superannuation. We will not make any changes that in any way remove current flexibilities when it comes to accessing superannuation in retirement. What we have agreed with the Greens is to extend the period for submissions to the Tax White Paper process. The Tax White Paper process was already considering matters relating to the retirement income system and if there are beneficial changes that can be made, changes that don’t impact on people saving for their retirement in an adverse way, then we are open to considering those. But we are very, very clear. Under the Coalition, there will be no new taxes on people’s retirement savings. Under the Coalition there will be no new restrictions on accessing your super in retirement. That is quite a point of difference with the Labor party who wants to increase taxes on people’s retirement savings.
GREG JENNETT: But those who have characterised the Prime Minister’s statements in this area as a ‘never ever’ promise, that he is never going to go back and touch super in any way. They’re misguided aren't they? That is the wrong interpretation, because changes may come for a second term.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, that is not right. What we said in the lead up to the last election is that we would not make any unexpected adverse changes to super and we have stuck to that commitment. We have now repeated that commitment for the next term. What we have said very clearly is that under a Coalition Government, taxes on super will not increase. We know that under Bill Shorten that his intention is to fund his Budget black hole by targeting people’s retirement savings. We are very clear, we are very explicit. It is a commitment in black and white.
GREG JENNETT: Now your Senate colleague James McGrath made a speech in the chamber yesterday advocating a 15 per cent GST and a broadening of the base. Do you think he is contributing helpfully to progress on that debate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government’s position is very clear. The Government has absolutely no intention, has no plans, to increase either the rate or the base of the GST... interrupted
GREG JENNETT: So he’s wasting his time?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Individual Members of Parliament are entitled to express their view, but from the Government’s point of view our position is very clear. We have no plans, no intentions to increase the rate or the base of the GST. What we have said in relation to the GST is that for any changes in relation to the GST to be progressed at any one point in time, there would have to be a broad community consensus, there would have to be a broad political consensus in Federal Parliament and all State and Territory Governments including Labor governments would have to agree.
GREG JENNETT: There is no strategy to push backbenchers out to start a national conversation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. We have released a discussion paper on tax. We are encouraging a national conversation about how our tax system can be improved, on how it can be made better, simpler and more efficient, fairer and that conversation is ongoing. We encourage everyone to participate in that conversation.
GREG JENNETT: As a senior figure in the Coalition in the Senate, what do we know about progress on debate for the Bill around SBS advertising? There are suggestions that that’s stalling and that the West Australian media baron Kerry Stokes may have had some influence to bare on media matters generally when it comes to government policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not sure what you are referring to there. But what I would say is that legislation is on the notice paper, it was on the agenda this week. We are dealing with all matters before the Senate in an orderly and sequential manner. Right now we are dealing with the Renewable Energy Target legislation. That is important legislation to provide certainty and stability for that sector in the economy. We have had a very significant legislative agenda this week. We have dealt with the small business and jobs package. We have dealt with various measures to improve the budget bottom line. So we are working our way through things one by one.
GREG JENNETT: Has Mr Stokes ever made any representations to you in relation to media ownership laws or any media policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have never in my life spoken to Kerry Stokes about media ownership laws.
GREG JENNETT: Mathias Cormann, thanks for that today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to talk to you.