Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is dismissing reports of a renewed leadership challenge against Tony Abbott as anonymous gossip. He has reaffirmed his support for the Prime Minister and disagrees with the views of some of his colleagues that a leadership challenge is inevitable regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s by-election in Canning. I spoke with him a short time ago.
Senator Cormann welcome to the program.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What do we make of all this leadership talk again? The issue certainly hasn’t been put to rest has it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As far as I am concerned I am focused on the job I was elected to do and that is to do everything I can as part of the economic team to help put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: We will come to the economy shortly, but the general view seems to be this morning that it is no longer a matter of if the Prime Minister faces a leadership challenge, but when. Do you agree?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree with that.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You don’t agree with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No I don’t.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So the talk coming from a number of people including a collection of Ministers is wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a lot of anonymous gossip around at the moment. As far as I am concerned all of us in the Government, we are focused on the important task of strengthening growth, creating more jobs, making sure that Australia is safe and secure and …interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well how do you put this to rest? Do you want Malcolm Turnbull, should he come out and reaffirm his support for Tony Abbott as some have suggested, rule out a challenge?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is a very senior member of the Government. He is an outstanding contributor as part of the team. I am not going to give any public advice to any of my colleagues except to say that all of us in the Government are focused on doing everything we can to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future and on Saturday we have a very important by-election. It is incumbent on all of us to do all we can to help our outstanding candidate, Andrew Hastie, to win that by-election on Saturday.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: With that in mind, does it surprise you that this has come out again, come up again now at this point?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator. I’ll leave you…interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: No, but you’re a member of the Liberal party.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ll leave you to make the commentary. As a member of the Liberal party and as a member of the Government, I am focused on doing my job, I am focused on doing the right thing by Australia and I am focused on doing the right thing by our team. The right thing by our team is to do everything we can to win the by-election in Canning on Saturday. To do the right thing by our country is to do everything we can to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Clearly some in the Liberal party are focused on the poll position, on the leadership and on Tony Abbott’s impact on all of that. You have been in a losing position in the polls now for 18 months. It doesn’t seem that anyone is listening anymore.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop as the leadership team that successfully took us from Opposition to Government in September 2013. We came into Government at a time when the economy was weakening, unemployment was rising, the Budget position was deteriorating and the previous government had lost control of our borders . We have implemented our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to stop the boats ... interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You don’t seem to convince the electorate of that though and the statistics don’t really back that up. Unemployment was 5.8 per cent when you got in it is now still sitting around 6 per cent. Growth was 2.5 per cent it is now 2 per cent. The Budget deficit was $30 billion it is now a lot more than that. People don’t seem to be buying the fact that you are actually fixing the economy.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I know you would like us to be in a winning position every single day between elections, but when you are in Government you do have to make difficult and necessary decisions along the way. The time for the people across Australia to pass judgement on our performance and on our plans for a second term agenda is at election time next year. As far as the economy is concerned, as far as Budget repair is concerned, we are absolutely heading in the right direction now. If we had not shed some of that lead that Labor put in our saddle bag, if we had not got rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax, if we had not reduced red tape costs for business, if we had not pursued an ambitious free trade agenda, if we had not rolled out a record infrastructure investment program, the economy today would be in a weaker position. As far as the Budget is concerned we are now on a path back to a believable surplus and that…interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well every Government says they are on a path back to surplus.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Look at the facts. When we came into Government, spending growth was at 3.7 per cent above inflation. We have been able to bring that down to about 1.5 per cent. We were never going to be able to fix six years of bad Labor government just in 5 minutes. This was always going to be a marathon not a sprint.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, there’s an electoral test coming this weekend, as you well know in Western Australia. Now you say the big one obviously coming at the general election. But this one will inevitably been seen in the light of what’s going on at the moment. A trigger point for the leadership as well do you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Saturday is an important by-election. It is about the people of Canning choosing who they want to represent them in the Federal Parliament. In our judgement, Andrew Hastie, our candidate in Canning, is an outstanding candidate who is best equipped ... interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And not to pass judgement on the Government as it stands at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: At any one point in time when people have the opportunity to vote, they will pass judgement on all sorts of things. But what we would say is that Andrew Hastie is best equipped to follow in the footsteps of Don Randall, who was an outstanding local member of Parliament.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The latest polling shows you’re likely to hold the seat, but there is a ten per cent swing against you. Is that acceptable and if that happens, is that a trigger point for the leadership.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I’m going to let the political commentators analyse which result means what for whom. From our point of view, we are working hard to win the trust of the people of Canning again, to represent them here in Canberra. We are working to win.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You’re all watching it pretty closely aren’t you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m working very hard, along with Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott and many of my colleagues to help Andrew Hastie win that by-election on Saturday.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: A new report from Deloitte Access Economics says the Government could raise up to $30 billion a year through changes to the GST, even after the lowest income earners have been compensated. Why not do it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think the report released by Deloitte Access Economics is a high quality contribution to the debate about tax reform. The Government is focussed on the next phase of our tax reform agenda. That is why we have initiated the conversation, which is currently underway about the best possible tax reform priorities into the future. Since coming into Government we did get rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax. We did reduce taxes for small business. We decided not to proceed with Labor’s bank deposit tax ...interrupted
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But you’ve still got a fiscal problem don’t you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are now heading in right direction. Spending growth is getting under control. The Budget position is improving. It is true that we want to ensure that our tax system is the most competitive it can be. That we can reduce the overall tax burden in the economy and raise the necessary revenue for Government in the most efficient, least distorting way in the economy in order to facilitate the strongest possible growth.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The report also calls for a cut to the company tax rate to boost investment, wages and living standards. Are you considering something like that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to continue to reduce the overall tax burden in the economy. We want to raise the necessary revenue for Government in the most efficient, least distorting way possible because we do want to facilitate stronger growth. There are many elements to this. This is why we need to get spending growth further under control. That is why we need to have the conversation about the best possible tax mix.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Chris Richardson from Deloitte says that politics is a problem. Do you concede that the political environment at the moment is a problem?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I don’t concede that at all. I don’t think that politics is a problem. Politics forever and a day, as it should be, has been a battle of ideas. When there is a new idea on the table or when there are a range of new ideas on the table they ought to be properly debated, they ought to be scrutinised, they ought to be challenged. That is ultimately how we end up with the best way forward and that is the process that we are currently engaged in.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.