Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well the Senate has passed almost $11 billion in Budget savings in this last Parliamentary session before the winter break. It includes pension reform and changes to fuel excise levy, a hangover from last year’s budget. The small business tax breaks have also been passed but there are still some big ticket items that are proving difficult to win over in the Senate. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and he joins us now in our Canberra studios. Senator Cormann, welcome to the program.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: We will get to the Budget wrangling shortly, but first the Senate has to pass the offshore processing deal today. Why the rush?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Offshore processing is a central part of our efforts to protect our borders. We believe it is important to ensure that there is certainty around the arrangements underpinning offshore processing into the future. We are about to go into a six week recess and we feel it's important to deal with this before we go into that recess.
MICAEL BRISSENDEN: So there was some ambiguity about the sort of legality of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are moving to ensure that there is absolute certainty around the arrangements underpinning offshore processing because it is a central part of our efforts to keep Australia safe and secure.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And to head off a High Court court case?
MATHIAS CORMANN: To ensure there is certainty.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay. The childcare package was the key plank of the May Budget, but you tied its funding to cuts in family payments. How are those negotiations going? Are you willing to find another way of funding the childcare package?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In this past fortnight we've made significant progress implementing our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to repair the Budget. More than $14 billion in Budget repair measures have now passed the Parliament in this past fortnight, which takes Budget repair measures passed since last year's Budget to in excess of $50 billion. In terms of the families package, that will be the next cab off the rank. We will be coming back in mid-August and that will be on the agenda then.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You’ve still have got some big things in there that haven't been passed, the higher education reforms, that was a big item out of last year's Budget. Seems to have disappeared completely?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It hasn't disappeared at all. We remain fully committed to it...interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: We don't hear much about it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are dealing with matters before the Parliament in a prioritised and sequential manner. We had a big agenda on our plate in the past fortnight. We were able to pass the small business and jobs package, we were able to pass more than $14 billion in Budget improvements, and we are continuing to make progress and heading in the right direction. We will continue to work at ...interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But that’s because you've got support for those measures, I mean the higher education reforms, are they no longer at the top of the priority list?
MATHIAS CORMANN: They are an absolutely high priority to ensure our university sector can be globally competitive, to ensure that students across Australia can have access to the best possible university education anywhere in the world. We will continue to work through these issues in an orderly and methodical fashion.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well independent senators say they haven't heard about the education reforms from you for many months. Are you confident to still get these through still. These were last Budget's measures?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I can appreciate that you want to focus on the things that are yet to be done, but we’ve had a lot on our plate in this past fortnight. We have dealt with a lot of measures in the Budget. We continue to press ahead with measures to strengthen growth, create more jobs and to repair the Budget. There will be more work to be done, you are quite right about that.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The IMF is warning that Budget repair is in danger because of over inflated revenue and spending expectations. It is saying growth will be closer to 2.5 per cent, well short of the forecast 3.5 per cent?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We stand by our forecasts. If you look at the growth figures in the first quarter of this calendar year, you will see it is one of the strongest growth rates anywhere in the developed world at 0.9 per cent, a stronger growth rate than any of the G7 countries. What we have been able to observe is that our plan for economic growth is working. Economic growth is strengthening. Employment growth is strengthening. There is more work to be done but ... interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But it is contingent on 3.5 per cent isn't it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When you put these forecasts together, you rely on the best advice about the underpinning assumptions and we stand by our forecasts.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Can I ask you about Senate reform because the minor parties are now saying they are starting to hear from you about Senate reform and this is the idea to stop obscure minor parties gaining the system. It appears to have crept back on the agenda. Are you hoping to get that into Parliament when you come back in August?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not involved in any discussions in relation to Senate reform whatsoever. I'm not sure who is hearing what from whom. But my focus is entirely on helping to progress our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to repair the Budget.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: People are reading into it preparation for an election. Are you tempted to go to an election later this year?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have got a lot of work to do. The election is due in the second half of next year. From where I sit I’ll continue to do the best I can every day, along with all of my colleagues, to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Can I just ask you about another story that’s being reported that Tony Abbott is facing a push from West Australian Liberals, of course you're one of them, to prevent Australia from signing up to any binding targets at the emission reduction targets at the Paris talks later this year. Are you part of that group?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are having conversations internally about a whole range of public policy matters, this being one of them. Once there is something to announce, the Government will announce it.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the WA Liberals are not for it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to provide a running commentary on internal party deliberations.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But you are discussing it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course we are discussing the way forward. Australia is meeting and exceeding the emission reduction target for 2020, which is a 5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels. There is a conversation to be had about the targets beyond the Kyoto agreed targets. That will go through the normal process of the party.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What worries you about signing up to binding emissions targets?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are making an assumption there that I just don't accept.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Alright. Your colleague Kevin Andrews is leading the charge of Ministers saying they won't go on 'Q & A' anymore. How but you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I haven't been on 'Q & A' for a long time. I thought the episode on Monday was rather unfortunate. I'm sure the ABC is having a very close look at all of that.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And is it true that there is a consideration of a Government ministerial boycott?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not aware of that.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Thanks very much, Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister.