Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Federal Government is struggling to get its economic messages out with another day of debate on marriage equality and controversy at the Trade Union Royal Commission. Today a group of eight Lower House MPs introduced a marriage equality Bill and we’ll soon talk to the Bill’s sponsor Warren Entsch. His bill is unlikely to be voted on but its refocussed attention on what is the Coalition’s policy on marriage equality. Several front benchers have today publicly disagreed on the details. I spoke a short time ago with Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann just before he joined tonight’s Cabinet meeting.
Mathias Cormann welcome to the program.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Dyson Heydon has agreed to hear the ACTU application for him to be disqualified at 10:00am on Friday. He’s released correspondence today and admitted that he overlooked the connection between the organisers of the Sir Garfield Barwick address and the Liberal party. How can a Royal Commissioner expect to be exonerated for that reasoning when he would not and should not apply the same standards in his Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters that are being dealt with by the Royal Commission, in front of the Royal Commission. It would be highly inappropriate for me to provide a running commentary in relation to matters that are under active consideration right now by a Royal Commission process and I won’t.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Fairfax is reporting that Dyson Heydon was on a panel that awarded a young Tony Abbott a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University. Is that true and do you think that question needs answering? Is it something that we should be concerned about?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m completely unaware. Dyson Heydon is a highly reputable former justice of the High Court. He has got a great reputation when it comes to independence and judicial qualifications and experience. Let’s just be very clear what the Labor party is doing here. The Labor party is running a smear campaign against somebody who has discovered a whole range of issues in relation to the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. Let’s not look at what the Royal Commission has been saying. Let’s look at Bill Shorten’s own evidence.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But isn’t the fact that Dyson Heydon has accepted initially this invitation, with the Liberal party logo in correspondence to him, doesn’t that actual undermine the findings that no doubt your Government wants this Commission to reveal? The inquiry is now under a cloud because of this decision isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I don’t agree with your characterisation. Secondly, I’ve already indicated to you that these are currently matters that are sub judice. I think you well understand the rules that are in place in relation to commentary on matters that are under active consideration through a judicial process. So there is not really much I can do to assist you here.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alright let’s move onto another issue. Is Cabinet going to sort the issue of same sex marriage out tonight. There are six different positions just from the front bench at last count. What’s your view? Do you believe in a plebiscite or a referendum?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You wouldn’t expect me to hold Cabinet deliberations on your radio program. What I can confirm for you again, is that last week the Coalition party room confirmed our longstanding policy position, which incidentally is also the longstanding policy position of the Australian Parliament and that is that we maintain for this term of Parliament our support for the current definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. We have also said that we recognise that this issue has now come before the Parliament on a number of occasions and that this has not led to a permanent resolution of the issue. The issue keeps being brought back. What we have indicated last week is that our disposition is to put this issue to the Australian people in the next term of Parliament in order to facilitate a more permanent resolution of this issue. Now how exactly ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But there are some people, including Malcolm Turnbull who’d like to see it come up earlier. Is your view that it should be in the next term or should it come up earlier?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Never mind my view ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to know your view, that is why I invited you on the program.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was about to answer your question directly, so if I may. The Coalition party room last week unambiguously reconfirmed the longstanding policy position of the Coalition, which is that we continue to support the current definition of marriage as is enshrined in the Marriage Act as a union between a man and a woman. That is a position that we will maintain for this term of Parliament because that keeps faith with the commitments that we have made election after election in recent elections and in elections some time ago. This all started with a bipartisan vote to enshrine the current definition of marriage in the Marriage Act more than ten years ago. The implication of the position adopted by the party room last week is that this is an issue that will not be revisited by the Coalition this side of the election. But we’ve also said that our disposition is to put this to the Australian people for a more permanent resolution in the next term of Parliament. There are some processes underway now internally to work out how that is best done. These are processes that I will participate in.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Given there is no clear position and the Prime Minister has said that, there is no decision yet on a plebiscite or a referendum, which one do you prefer?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My position is very well known. I am a longstanding supporter of the longstanding Coalition policy in support of the current definition of marriage. I also support the proposition that has been put last week, that this should be put to the Australian people to facilitate a more permanent resolution of the issue. I will participate in the process to come up with the best way forward. I’ve got an open mind in relation to these matters. I will participate in the processes internally. At the end of the day what is important here, is given that this issue keeps coming back, given that clearly there is a very vocal group in the community that doesn’t accept the repeated votes in the Parliament ...interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: There’s a group in your own party.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Sure.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Warren Entsch today introduced the bill and two front benchers were there, Christopher Pyne and also Malcolm Turnbull.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I recognise and I accept that. The point is this, the Parliament has voted on this on several occasions now. That hasn’t led to a permanent resolution of this issue. That is why we have come to the view that a more permanent resolution of this issue will be facilitated by putting it to the Australian people in a vote in the next term of Parliament... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you hope that will be resolved tonight? I know you are going into Cabinet soon, is that what you hope will be resolved tonight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to predict when, what is going to be resolved. I know that we will continue to have conversations internally and we will ensure that we get this decision right.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I just want to move on to tax. Last week when asked to rule out increasing the GST, Tony Abbott said and I quote, “well, what I’m not going to do is rule out a sensible conversation about a better tax system”. Today when asked about the GST Treasurer Joe Hockey said, in order to prepare the Australian economy for the challenges of the 21st century, we need to look at the entire taxation system, which is what we are doing. Are changes to the GST on the table?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Both of those statements stand on their own right, I would have thought. What we are looking at is how we can ensure that our tax system facilitates stronger growth and stronger job creation into the future. One of the challenges in our economy is a very heavy reliance on income tax revenue to fund the important and necessary services of government. We have said all the way through that we want to ensure that we reduce the tax burden on the economy overall and that we raise the necessary revenue to fund the necessary services of Government in the most efficient, least distorting way possible in the economy. That is a conversation that is currently underway. Whatever policy we take to the next election will ultimately be reflected in the white paper and that is still some time away.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On tax avoidance and multinational companies, why shouldn’t there be a policy of naming and shaming of those companies ducking their obligations?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a particular Senator here in Parliament ...interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sam Dastyari is his name I believe.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have named him. We named him jack-in-the-box here in Canberra because he has got a stunt a day just about. I don’t believe that he is even reflecting Labor party policy, I think he is just trying to get himself into the headlines. We are focused in a very serious way on making sure that every business in Australia that generates profits in Australia pays their fair share of tax in Australia. We are pursuing legislation to ensure that multinational companies that are entering into contrived business arrangements in order to avoid tax are able to be pursued by the Tax Commissioner in an effective way. We have provided leadership, the Treasurer has provided leadership internationally through the G20 in terms of a more robust policy legislative framework to ensure multinationals, in particular generating profits in relevant jurisdictions, pay their fair share of tax. This is not something that is resolved through stunts. This is something that is resolved through serious policy reform.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And there is another report today calling for the abolition of multibillion dollar superannuation tax concessions. The Committee for Sustainable Retirement Incomes says those concessions heavily favour high-income earners and that finding has been consistent among many reports. Will the Government revisit this issue as part of the tax reform process?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been very clear. We do not believe that we should pursue higher taxes on people’s retirement savings. We know that the Labor party wants to fund their increased spending on the back of retirement savings of people across Australia who work very hard to save for their retirement. Targeting the very rich in this space is not going to help balance the Budget. They are fairly and squarely focusing on middle income earners that are working hard, saving for their retirement to look after their own needs in retirement, not to be a burden on the taxpayer. We have been very clear. We are not going to increase taxes on people’s retirement savings. We are focusing on getting spending under control. That is the responsible course of action.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You haven’t got much political capital to squander though at the moment, haven’t you, if we are to believe the polling. Fairfx Ipsos poll shows two party preferred 54 per cent to Labor and 46 for the Government. Is that going to be a discussion in Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ve already told you that I am not going to give you a commentary on what is discussed in Cabinet. That wouldn’t be appropriate. But let me say that every single day we focus on making judgements about what is in the best interests of Australia, what is in the best interests of strengthening our economy, creating more jobs, getting the Budget back under control, making sure that Australia is safe and secure. Sometimes that involves making difficult and unpopular decisions, though we would say necessary decisions. Between now and this time next year there will be an election campaign that will get underway. People at the next election will have an opportunity to pass judgment on the work that we have done. To pass judgement on our proposed agenda for a second term and to pass judgement on the alternative government putting themselves forward.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you for joining me before you have to step in to Cabinet. I wish I was a fly on the wall in that meeting.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to talk to you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you. That is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann speaking from Canberra and of course right now there is a Cabinet meeting on.