Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
SANDY ALOISI: Federal Cabinet is meeting in Canberra this morning and while Tony Abbott has been declaring that jobs and growth are the Government’s priorities, attention will again focus on gay marriage. Senior Ministers have been openly battling over the weekend over how and when a national vote on gay marriage should be held. And before going into the Cabinet meeting, Ministers will be studying the latest opinion poll. An Ipsos poll in Fairfax papers, which has the Government’s fortunes falling, Tony Abbott down and Bill Shorten’s stocks rising. For a Government perspective on the politics of the day, we’re joined by the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. He’s speaking to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I begin with economic reform because many of your critics are saying you’re probably relieved by all the distractions of recent weeks because you have no real reform program. Can you point to specific reforms that you have in mind now that you will pursue and take to the next election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have come into this Parliament with a very strong and long term economic plan to strengthen growth, create more jobs and to repair the Budget. We are making progress. Since we were elected to Government we got rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax. We reduced red tape costs for business by more than $2 billion a year. We have finalised three key free trade agreements with key markets in our region. We have started to roll out a record infrastructure investment program. We are pursuing very significant economic reform. We have one of the strongest economic growth rates in the developed world right now. We have one of the strongest jobs growth rates in the developed world. Stronger jobs growth than the United Kingdom. Stronger jobs growth than the United States. Stronger jobs growth than Canada. Indeed stronger growth than any of the G7 economies in the world. Now looking forward, there is more work to be done. We are working right now on our policy agenda for a second term, which will include tax reform to ensure we are as competitive as possible as an economy. It will also include reform to our Federation.
MARIUS BENSON: And what specifically are you going to do on tax?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In this term of Parliament, our priority always was to get rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax and to reduce tax for small businesses. We have done all of these things. We have always said we would engage in a reform conversation with the Australian people in this term of Parliament about the medium to long term tax reform priorities. That process is currently underway. Between now and the election, we will be finalising the specific reform agenda that we will be taking to the Australian people.
MARIUS BENSON: You always talk of lower tax in terms of tax reform. Chris Bowen has said again in fact tax has increased as a share of GDP under this Government, that it’s higher than it was under Labor.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He’s very misleading, because Chris Bowen will be very well aware that the tax a share of GDP trajectory that Australia is now on is much lower than what it was when we came into Government ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: Not the trajectory, but right now your take as a percentage of GDP higher than any year of Labor.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The trajectory is actually what matters, because manifestly we got rid of the carbon tax, which was a $9-10 billion tax a year. We got rid of the mining tax. We reduced taxes for small business. We have reduced the tax burden on the economy overall. There is no question of that. But clearly, we are on a trajectory moving forward. That tax as a share of GDP trajectory is now lower than what it was when Labor was in Government. But there is more work to be done. We have been working within a particular fiscal environment, because Labor not only left a tax growth trajectory behind, they also left a spending growth trajectory behind, which was unaffordable and which we are working to address.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I ask you about one specific tax measure which is expected to be recommended from a Senate Committee inquiry, that multinational tax avoiders be named and shamed. Are you in favour of naming and shaming multinational tax avoiders?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ve heard these reports this morning, but this report that you are referring to hasn’t actually been tabled in the Senate yet. In fact, given that it hasn’t been tabled in the Senate yet, I’m not so sure that the chair of that committee who has been promoting its findings has actually got the approval of the committee to release it. The Government manages these things in an orderly and methodical fashion. If that report is indeed tabled in the Senate, we will consider its recommendations and we will respond to it in due course.
MARIUS BENSON: Tony Abbott declared at the weekend that there had been two great years of Government since the 2013 election. The Ipsos poll seems to have indicated a different assessment from the public. Are your surprised your stocks are so far down?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are focused on doing the job that needs doing in the national interest. Since we came into Government we have had to make many difficult though we would say necessary decisions …interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: But can I ask you to address specifically that poll finding because it is consistent with many lately. The public doesn’t rate you very highly.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t provide a running commentary on polls. I know that you would like me to but what I would …interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: But are you surprised? Are you surprised?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have just said to you that I don’t provide a running commentary on polls. Our job is to do the best we can to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. As I was saying before you interrupted me Marius, since we came into Government we have had to make many difficult, though we would say necessary decisions to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future …interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: I know, that is a point that you have made often, Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Can I finish my answer?
MARIUS BENSON: But that is a point that you have made in the past, can I ask you about the poll?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I could finish my answer. What we will do, we will go to the next election putting to the Australian people the track record of what we have achieved. Putting to the Australian people what we propose to do as part of our second term agenda and pointing to what we see to be the flaws in the alternative government. Now in the end, people at the next election will have the opportunity to pass judgement.
MARIUS BENSON: Yeah, clearly. Will Tony Abbott stay as leader?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott has the overwhelming support of the party room.
MARIUS BENSON: And he will stay as leader?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely.
MARIUS BENSON: The gay marriage issue. There is a dispute, an open dispute between Ministers and how the national vote should be conducted, whether it should be a plebiscite or referendum. Your view on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I understand that you want to put a negative spin on all of this. There is currently no official party position as Malcolm Turnbull quite rightly pointed out when it comes to the specifics of how and when that plebiscite or referendum should be conducted. This is a matter that will be resolved in the not too distant future.
MARIUS BENSON: Your view? Plebiscite or referendum?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support the party position, which was adopted in the party room again on Tuesday, which is support for this term for the current definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. At some point in the next Parliament our disposition is to put this to the Australian people for a more permanent resolution. Given how many times this has come before the Parliament, when the Parliament has reconfirmed on each occasion the current definition of marriage, to resolve this on a more permanent basis we ought to put this to the Australian people in the next term of Parliament. How exactly that has to happen I will leave that for discussion for the internal processes of the party at this point.
MARIUS BENSON: That Ipsos poll that we discussed to some extent earlier, 69 per cent to 25 per cent in favour of gay marriage, what do you think of that number?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m intrigued that after we suggested last week that perhaps for a more permanent resolution we ought to put this issue to the Australian people, many of the proponents of same sex marriage insist that it should stay within the Parliament. Now the Parliament again and again having been asked to vote on this issue, I have voted three or four times on this issue in the eight short years I have been in the Parliament, on each occasion the Parliament has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage. I would have expected supporters of same sex marriage, given what you have just said again in relation to the level of public support, would have strongly welcomed the proposition that this issue be put to the Australian people in the next Parliament.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann I will leave it there. Thank you very much.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.