Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks for your company. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is refusing to buy in to speculation his leadership is once again on the line, despite the increasing likelihood of a challenge possibly as early as this week. Tony Abbott has been campaigning in Canning ahead of Saturday’s by-election, which is seen as a crucial test of his leadership. It come as the latest Ipsos-Fairfax poll shows the Liberal party in on track for a win in Canning, albeit much narrower than the last Federal election. With me this morning to discuss this and the other issues of the day the Finance Minister, Senator Mathias Cormann. Minister thanks very much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
KIERAN GILBERT: What do you make of this comment to me by one of your Ministerial colleagues, that a challenge is inevitable and quote ‘it’s coming like a freight train’?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is very hard for me to comment on anonymous commentary. As far as I am concerned, I am focussed on doing the job that I was appointed to do, which is to work as part of the economic team to help put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future. This week all of us, on the Coalition side of the Parliament are focussed on doing everything we can to help and support Andrew Hastie, our candidate in Canning, to achieve an important victory. This by-election on Saturday is about electing a new representative for the people of Canning and it is very important that we give Andrew Hastie the best possible chance to be successful.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Liberal sources have reminded me that in 2009 there was a leadership spill replacing Malcolm Turnbull with Tony Abbott, four days before by-elections in the seat of Higgins and Bradfield. And they won both of those.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to get into this sort of commentary. As far as I am concerned I continue to support the leadership team that took us successfully from opposition into Government. I believe that our current leadership team of Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop continues to enjoy the overwhelming support of the party room and all of us have a job to do and that is to focus on doing what is right by Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the prospect of an election after the Canning by-election this is something Laurie Oakes reported last night, apparently spooked some of your colleagues, that Mr Abbott would be considering an election, a snap election after Canning?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The next election is not due until next year. We still have a lot of work to do. When we came into Government we inherited a lot of challenges from the previous Labor Government ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: It would be crazy to have one after Canning, I mean the polls are ...interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: We still have a lot of work to do. The economy was weakening when we came into Government. The economy is now in a stronger position than it would have been if we hadn’t removed some of the lead that Labor put into our saddle-bag like the carbon tax and the mining tax and red tape costs for small business ... interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So no chance of an early election, a snap election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters that are beyond my pay grade. But lets ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Not far beyond ...
MATHIAS CORMANN: As far as I am concerned and as far as the Government is concerned and indeed as far as the Prime Minister is concerned we continue to have a lot of work to do and the election is due some time next year.
KIERAN GILBERT: Some of your colleagues again and this is public now via various reports but I was advised that Andrew Nikolic sent a text message to Malcolm Turnbull urging him to issue a p[public statement of support. This was on Friday after the Daily Telegraph reports of a reshuffle. What do you think of that intervention by Mr Nikolic.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not aware of the intervention in terms of what motivated it. As far as I am concerned all of us whether we are Cabinet Ministers, whether we are backbenchers, all of us right now ought to focus on doing the right thing by the country, continuing to work to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. Continuing to work to ensure Australia is safe and secure and continuing to work to ensure we have the best possible chance to win the by-election on Saturday. I know Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull, myself, all of us, all of us in the Coalition Party Room want to see Andrew Hastie do well on Saturday.
KIERAN GILBERT: You say to do the best thing by Australia, do you accept that there is a fair chunk of your party that believes to do that you need to change leader?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again I am not going to get distracted by this sort of commentary. As far as I am concerned we went to the last election with a leadership team which was successful in getting us from opposition to Government, which has been successful since then implementing our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to repair the chaos that the previous government had created at our borders. There is a lot more work to be done. We are currently working on the agenda that we would want to take to the next election and preparing ourselves for a second term agenda. That is going to be an important conversation between now and the next general election.
KIERAN GILBERT: Who do you blame for all the leadership talk then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to get into a blame game. As far as I am concerned I am doing my job. I am doing the best I can every day. I am sure that all of my colleagues are focused on doing the best thing they can every day as well.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about in terms of the last few weeks, the Canning by-election. We have seen the result there has been a 10 double-digit swing against the Government from the outset well before this latest bout of leadership speculation. Do you accept that the Government itself, that the Prime Minister regardless of the talk that he is on the nose with the electorate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: By-elections can be difficult for incumbent Governments. We will know on Saturday what the result is going to be. Right now Andrew Hastie, who is an outstanding candidate, is working very hard to win the trust of the people of Canning, to represent them in Canberra and all of us are working hard to support him in that effort.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, so nothing to see here basically.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am just saying that the important point right now is that the Government continues to focus on doing everything we can to strengthen growth, create more jobs and to ensure Australia is safe and secure …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: I admire your discipline in staying on message, but talking to all of your colleagues, a lot of your colleagues, I shouldn’t say all, but a big chunk of your colleagues, they are consumed by this right now.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am saying the same privately as what I am saying publicly and that is we ought to do everything we can to…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister will be Prime Minister at the election.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes absolutely.
KIERAN GILBERT: Tony Abbott will be?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. To the Financial Review finally we should look at this proposal, very interesting proposal or analysis by Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics, that the GST increased to 15 per cent could both provide compensation to low income earners and cut the company tax rate to 25 per cent. That sounds quite appealing, doesn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Look the contribution to the tax reform debate by Deloitte Access Economics today is a high quality contribution there is no doubt about that. From the Government’s point-of-view, we are committed to continue to go down the path of lowering the overall tax burden in the economy and to look at raising the necessary revenue for Government in the most efficient, least distorting way in the economy. That is why we have got rid of the carbon tax and the mining tax, reduced company tax for small business and that is why we are not proceeding with Labor’s bank tax. Moving forward, we are very conscious of the fact that in Australia we have too heavy a reliance on personal income tax, company tax is too high by international standards but in order to pursue medium to long term tax reform, to improve the competitiveness of our economy, we have to have a conversation about how we can continue to get spending growth under control and how we can improve the tax mix overall.
KIERAN GILBERT: This would be an improvement, wouldn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that this is a very good contribution to the debate and the debate and the conversation is ongoing. Between now and the election the Coalition will finalise our tax reform agenda for a second term and this is obviously a good input into our considerations.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it a hint as to where you are heading as well? In terms of Chris Richardson, the very good analyst of the Budget and the tax take.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a very high quality input into the Government’s consideration, yes.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks so much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.