Transcripts → 2015


2CC - Breakfast

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance


Date: Friday, 4 September 2015

Economy and jobs, China-Australia free trade agreement, Canning by-election

MARK PARTON: Ladies and gentlemen, Australia is not heading for a recession. We know that because Joe and Mathias told us. And I said to Zed Seselja yesterday, I said Zed, seriously, if Joe and Mathias thought we were heading for a recession do you reckon they would come out and say that? ‘Cause I don’t think they would. The economy recorded its lowest growth rate in two years during the week of 0.2 per cent in the three months to June. The Australian Bureau of Stats said reduced mining and construction activity weighed on growth, along with declining exports. Now the Government acknowledges that other countries heavily reliant on their resource sectors like Canada and Brazil have fallen into recession. But the Treasurer Joe Hockey says that Australia won’t be next. He’s backed up by, well the acting Treasurer right at the moment, Mathias Cormann, who’s a bright early bird ‘cause it’s just after five in the morning in the West. And we have Mathias Cormann on the line right now. Morning sir.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. 

MARK PARTON: Should we be worried by this low growth figure?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia continues to grow. That is despite the biggest fall in our terms of trade in about fifty years. As you say, while other commodity based economies are in recession, Australia continues to grow. We would argue that that is because over the last two years, we’ve been working hard to implement our plan for stronger growth and more jobs. Because we have been focussing on making Australia more competitive, reducing the cost of doing business, getting rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, reducing red tape costs for business by more than $2 billion, rolling out our record investment in infrastructure around Australia and by engaging in a very ambitious free trade agenda, seeking to give our exporters better access to key markets overseas, like China, Korea and Japan. 

MARK PARTON: When I talk to people who are involved in doing business overseas, one of the things that always comes up is that the biggest hurdle for Australian business dealing overseas is what we pay our workers. That the wage structure in Australia is so much higher than just about every other place. Now as a Government you can’t tackle that, it’s just a fact of life. What do people do about it? What do businesses do about it?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have to make sure that wherever we can that we are the most competitive we can be. That we continue to bring down the cost of doing business. Our workplace relations system does facilitate these sorts of arrangements to be made between employers and employees, within a framework that is set out in the Fair Work legislation. The key for us, we are a trading nation, if we want to sell more products into markets like China, Japan and Korea, if we want to sell more services into those markets, then those free trade agreements that we have been negotiating will give us better access at a lower cost because it removes many of the barriers that our exporters have been facing into those markets so far. 

MARK PARTON: In reality, they’re not free trade agreements are they. They’re sort of a compromise that means that it is easier for the nations to trade together. There’s things that we’ve given to them and in theory things that they’ve given to us. But I think one of the things that has clouded this debate is that initially when the agreement was signed, well most Australians had no idea what was in it. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: It does remove many of the barriers that our exporters are facing. Certainly, China, Korea and Japan, we’ve got one of the best deals that any of these countries have ever signed with any other country around the world. It does give our exporters of goods and services into those markets an advantage. That is what we’re trying to achieve. When you are engaged in trade there are always a range of issues in the cross border transaction. We sought to remove as many of them as possible. The deals that we have got with China, Korea and Japan are very good deals for Australia indeed.

MARK PARTON: Okay, the latest we’ve heard in terms of Bill Shorten’s campaign against this free trade agreement as it stands, is that he’s going to seek explicit legislative guarantees that Chinese firms will be subject to labour market testing on major projects before being allowed to import foreign workers. If that is the case do you see that as a major impediment?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten is getting desperate because he is increasingly isolated. All of the senior and responsible leaders in the Labor party from Bob Hawke to Bob Carr to Simon Crean, all of the state Labor leaders including the Premiers in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland have all come out unequivocally, in favour of the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement, saying it is a good deal. The things that Bill Shorten says now he is seeking are already guaranteed. There is already a requirement for labour market testing if any Chinese project company investing more than $150 million in a project in Australia wants to bring in temporary skilled workers out of China. They are already required to offer these jobs to Australians first. If there are sufficient Australian skilled workers to do the jobs, they are already required to be offered these jobs first. The whole campaign that the CFMEU and the union movement has been running is based on a complete lie. Bill Shorten would know this, he has sought to attach himself to a populist, racist and dishonest campaign, a political ...interrupted

MARK PARTON: Racist, it’s a racist campaign?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Racist, because the CFMEU is seeking to play to concerns that somehow there will be hordes of Chinese workers coming to Australia taking away Australian jobs and it is just not true. It is just not true. Bill Shorten knows it’s not true. He is too weak to stand up to this sort of dishonest campaign against our national interest by the CFMEU. So unlike other responsible Labor leaders, from Bob Hawke to Bob Carr to Simon Crean and others, he is being too weak to stand up for what is right. He is quite frankly, treating our national interest as if it doesn’t matter.

MARK PARTON: The Canning by-election is close, it's a couple of weeks away, are you going to be spending some time in that neck of the woods? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have been spending quite a bit of time with Andrew Hastie already, campaigning with him. He is working very hard to earn the trust of the people of Canning to represent them in Canberra in the Federal Parliament. So yes, I intend to spend a bit more time in Canning over the next couple of weeks. 

MARK PARTON: Are you personally in trouble if somehow Hastie gets rolled there?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Andrew Hastie is an outstanding candidate. He is working very hard. We are working to win. This is not about me, this not about any of us individually. In relation to the by-election it is about who is the best candidate to represent the people of Canning in Canberra. I am very confident that is Andrew Hastie. In terms of everything else we do, it is about putting Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future ... interrupted

MARK PARTON: I’m just asking, if he gets rolled, do you think it would put pressure on your position?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We’re working to win. I am not concerned about my position. I am concerned about doing the best I can as part of a team to help put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. 

MARK PARTON: Hats off to you for joining us, it’s just after 5am West Australia time. Thanks for coming on the radio.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.