Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now to Canberra for more on the leadership speculation swirling around Prime Minister Tony Abbott. We are joined now by Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann, good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be here.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Why are six of your ministerial colleagues telling the ABC that the Prime Minister will face a leadership challenge before Christmas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don't accept that assertion. You're asserting that. As far as I'm concerned Tony Abbott enjoys the strong and overwhelming support of the party room. All of us in the Coalition have a job to do and that is to work as hard as we can every day to put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future. That is certainly what I am focussed on and that is what the Prime Minister and his leadership team are focussed on.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: These are the quotes given by the six to our political editor Chris Uhlmann, I think this time they will get him. Another Minister said said give me six months, this is what the Prime Minister said six months ago, well he said that six months ago and things have gone from bad to worse. How can the Prime Minister improve the situation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I certainly don't agree that things have gone from bad to worse. We came into Government in 2013 facing a range of challenges that we inherited from our predecessors. The economy was weakening, unemployment was rising, the Budget position was rapidly deteriorating and the previous government had lost control of our borders. Since then we have been working very hard to implement our plan for stronger growth, more jobs, to repair the Budget and to get control of our borders again. On all accounts, we are now in a better position than we were when we came into Government. There is more work to be done. That is certainly the job that we are focussed on.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: At the same time though Senator Cormann, two opinion polls say despite as you say, all those achievements as you put them the Liberal party is facing a 10 per cent swing against it the Canning by-election. What is coming going on with the sales message and does it come from the very top?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let's see what happens on Saturday. In Canning we have an outstanding candidate in Andrew Hastie. He has been working very hard to earn the trust of the people of Canning, to represent them in the Federal Parliament. All of us here in Canberra in the Coalition are focussed on doing everything we can to help him be as successful as he possibly can be on Saturday. Again, that is what I am focussed on. That is what I know my colleagues are focussed on.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you support the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Would you like Malcolm Turnbull to say the same thing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support the leadership team of Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, which took us successfully from Opposition to Government. Malcolm Turnbull is a highly valued senior colleague, I work with him closely on a range of issues. I enjoy working with him. He is a senior contributor. I am not going to give advice to any of my colleagues through the media. All of us, we are professional politicians, all of us know what we need to do in order to do our job to the best of our ability.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: According to reports, Malcolm Turnbull was getting free advice from the Government whip, Andrew Nikolicto do that just last Friday. Surely as a Cabinet Minister and on the principles of Cabinet solidarity you would expected him, wouldn’t you Mathias Cormann to come out today and say he fully supports the Prime Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN:I am not going to get into this sort of commentary on gossip. As far as I’m concerned ... interrupted
MICHAEL ROWLAND: It is not gossip. I am just asking you should Malcolm Turnbull stick to the principles of Cabinet solidarity and publicly and fully endorse the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I would say is that all of us in the Cabinet know what our responsibilities are. All of us in the Cabinet know what Cabinet solidarity means. As I have indicated to you, I am very confident that the Cabinet supports our Prime Minister. I’m very confident that the party room overwhelmingly supports our Prime Minister. As far as I am concerned, there is a job to be done. I am focussed every single day on doing the best I can to do my bit to help put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What would you say then to those Ministers, your Cabinet and Ministerial colleagues clearly briefing the media against the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to get into providing gratuitous public advice. What I will say is that all of us in Government were elected to do a job. We were elected to fix the disasters that Labor left behind. We were elected to take some of that lead that Labor put into our economy out of our saddlebag, by getting rid of the mining tax and the carbon tax, which we’ve done. By reducing the red tape costs for business, which we continue to do. By rolling out our record investment in infrastructure, which we are continuing to do. By pursuing an ambitious free trade agreement, which we are doing. There is no doubt that there is more work to be done. We are focussed on our tax reform agenda for a second term. There are other reforms of policy where we need to keep working. I am confident that all of my colleagues are very mindful of the need to keep doing what is right by Australia, and in particular this week to do what is right by our outstanding candidate in Canning, Andrew Hastie.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you worry that the last week of campaign will be compromised by another round of leadership speculation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very confident in Andrew Hastie's capacity to work hard and to do everything he needs to do to earn the trust of the people of Canning, to represent them in the Federal Parliament. He is the most experienced. He has the best leadership abilities out of all the candidates that have put themselves forward in Canning. He is the one best equipped to be a strong voice for the people of Canning in the Federal Government. That is what we hope he will be after Saturday.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: If it came to it, Mathias Cormann, would you serve under a Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am just not going to get into that sort of speculation. I support our Prime Minister Tony Abbott. I continue to support the leadership team that took us to the last election in Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop. They took us successfully from Opposition into Government after what was a comparatively short period in Opposition. Moving forward, I hope that we will be this strong and united team that so successfully got us from Opposition to Government. That is very important for our continued success moving forward.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just a question on tax reform before you go, Mathias Cormann. Deloitte as you would have seen this morning has come out with a very comprehensive plan saying if the GST rate was bumped up to 15 per cent that would provide a) enough compensation for low income earners, but also allow the Government to cut a number of other unfair taxes and the company tax. Is that a valuable proposition to you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me say right upfront that Deloitte made a high quality contribution to the tax reform conversation that is taking place across Australia right now. As far as the Government is concerned our focus is to continue to lower the overall tax burden in the Australian economy. After we got rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, reduced company tax for small business and decided not to proceed with Labor’s bank tax. But moving forward we want to continue to lower the tax burden. We want to focus on what we can do to bring down personal income tax and company tax. But in order to be able to achieve that we have to focus on what needs to be done to keep spending growth under control even better and how we can improve the tax mix overall. These conversation s are ongoing and between now and the next election the Government will be putting forward our plan for a second term on how we believe that our tax system can be improved along those lines.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.