Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Date: Wednesday, 16 September 2015
PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you found Monday night’s political drama bewildering, you weren’t alone. Even Tony Abbott’s closest front bench allies didn’t seem to appreciate what was unfolding. That includes Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who denied Mr Abbott was in trouble right to the end. Minister, let me start by playing a bit of what you told me on Monday, just a couple of hours before the leadership ballot was held.
MATHIAS CORMANN [EXCERPT]: In my judgement Tony Abbott is the best person to lead our team and to lead our country. I am very confident that Tony Abbott will remain. I’m backing the Prime Minister. I believe the Prime Minister will prevail. I believe the Prime Minister should prevail.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So were you being creative with the truth or did you get the numbers in the party room that far wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Everybody knows how I voted on Monday. Everybody knows that I was a supporter on Monday of Tony Abbott to continue as leader. But on Monday night, the Liberal party room made a decision and I support the new leadership team that was elected on Monday night ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But why did you think you had the numbers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to go into a running commentary on the ins and outs of what happened before Monday night. On Monday night, a decision was made by the Liberal party room. I support our new leader in Malcolm Turnbull. I support Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister. I will do everything I can to help him be the best Prime Minister he possibly can be and help him lead a successful Government.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you still believe Tony Abbott should have prevailed though? Would it have been the fair thing to let him run out his full term?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You can ask me that question whatever way you want. We made a decision on Monday night as a party. I support the new leader. We all in the Liberal party now need to move forward. We need to ...interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But I think Australian people do expect some explanation from very senior people in the Government as to how this all happened. Sure the analysts are putting out explanations of their analysis of what happened, but how do you explain what went so horribly wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I explained my views on Monday in relation to the party room meeting. On Monday night the party room had a vote. A decision was made. I support the new leader, the new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. We have a responsibility to the Australian people to provide good and effective Government. We have a responsibility to the Australian people to do everything we can to win the next election as a team. I will contribute to that effort in whatever way our Prime Minister sees fit.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well how does the Prime Minister see fit? Has he contacted you? Have you expressed that you would like to stay in the Finance portfolio?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has already indicated publicly that he expects to make announcements about new Ministerial arrangements by early next week. I have had a number of conversations with our new Prime Minister. These are private conversations. He will make the relevant announcements in due course. That is entirely a matter for him ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Have you told him though, that’s right is entirely a matter for him, but you can express your own side of the equation. Do you want to stay in the Finance portfolio?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have expressed my side of the equation. That is that I am committed to doing everything I can to support Malcolm Turnbull in leading an effective Government ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you want to stay a senior Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will serve in whatever capacity the Prime Minister sees fit.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But it is your desire to stay as a senior Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you can ask that question whatever way you want. I have put myself forward, supporting Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister. I have put myself forward as being prepared to do everything I can to help support the new leadership team that has been elected on Monday night. It is a matter for the Prime Minister as to what position he feels I can best contribute in moving forward.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: If Joe Hockey goes, and he almost certainly will lose the Treasury portfolio. Looks like Scott Morrison will gain that portfolio. Everyone is saying it and the Prime Minister’s not denying it. Why shouldn’t you also go? Given one of the things that the Prime Minister has said and has pitched is that the economic message you were running as a team was muddled, was not well executed and you didn’t have a vision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are all matters for the Prime Minister’s decision down the track. He’s already indicated that he will make relevant announcements by Monday next week ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah ok, but let’s talk not just about him. Because people want to hear you and you know Mathias, let loose. Show us the other side of Mathias Cormann, because there is another side. I mean, what do you think about your contribution to selling the economic message? Do you think you did some things wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not a commentator on myself. I will leave others to make judgements on my performance. In the current context ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think the Government made some policy mistakes that that ...interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I can answer your question. As far as I’m concerned, I’m a member of a team. I’m a member of the economic team for the Government. Every day I do the best I can to help implement our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to repair the Budget. Every day I do the best I can to explain the decisions that we have made and why. I will continue to do that in this role or in any other role that the Prime Minister feels I can best contribute to the team effort in. Whatever way that you want to put this question, I’m not going to provide a running commentary on my own performance. It is a matter for the Prime Minister ...interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Not even your performance, but the set of policies, because the new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made it clear that he wants to take a different economic direction. I’m wondering what that direction might be and how you think that some of the policies can be altered? For instance, do you think you should be campaigning more vigorously on the GST, on tax reform, on competition reform, are these the sorts of things that should be given a greater push by the new team?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe that that Prime Minister has said that we need a fundamental change in economic direction. I think that what he has indicated is that we need to do better in explaining the decisions that we are making and the reasons why. We need to explain better our economic reform agenda. I certainly agree that we can always do better. I will do everything I can, to do the best I possibly can to contribute to that effort.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On RN Drive my guest is the current Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. The new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that by Monday we will know who all the new Ministers are, including whether Mathias Cormann keeps his position or is given another position. 0418 226 576 is our number. What sort of shake up would you like to see? You can also tweet us at RN Drive. Mathias Cormann, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja has said that the future unity of the Liberal party depends on how Malcolm Turnbull treats the party’s conservatives, like yourself, in the Ministry reshuffle. Do you agree with Zed’s assessment there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I saw that interview that Zed Seselja gave. He also said that he was very confident that the Prime Minister will take all of that into account. I’m equally confident that the Prime Minister is very conscious of the fact that the Liberal party is the custodian of both the classical liberal and conservative political traditions and I’m sure that the Prime Minister will be weighing up the best possible composition of his team moving forward and will be weighing up to ensure that there is appropriate balance in the team that is in Government moving forward.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On the deal with the Nationals, that the new Prime Minister has signed up to, there must have been detailed costings involved with that package, especially the family tax benefits and student allowances. I covered this area for many years and I’ve got to say, the figures, you would think that the Finance Department or something was involved. Were you surprised to see that level of detail?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was not surprised. I was involved in this process in the appropriate way as you would expect. You have got to realise that the agreement with the National Party was essentially a formal reconfirmation of existing policies and existing Budget commitments. As far as that part of the agreement which deals with additional support for lower-income families is concerned that is something that Minister Scott Morrison has been putting forward as a proposal to Senators Matt Canavan and other Senators on the crossbench like Senator Bob Day and Senator John Madigan for some time. It is part of a broader, revised families package on which I have been consulted as Finance Minister every step of the way ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And so where are the savings?
MATHIAS CORMANN: ...so I am right across the costing and the additional funding for support for lower-income families will be fully offset within the revised package and as such will be Budget neutral. So now you’ve asked me ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Where will the offsets come from?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When we are in a position to make a formal announcement on the revised package then I will be able to answer questions on that for you. The usual process is that any decision that is made by Government which has Budget implications will be reflected in our half-yearly Budget update later this year. That is the normal process. The broad and general commitment that the Government has made and continues to be committed to is any new spending on identified higher priority areas will be fully offset with spending reductions in other comparatively lower priority areas. That approach will continue. The updates, in terms of what that means overall for the Budget bottom line are made twice a year, at Budget time and in Budget update at MYEFO.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Nationals leader Warren Truss has said this afternoon that he is in favour of an effects test for competition saying the current arrangements have failed. What do you make of that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the agreement, in the Coalition agreement with the National party, what the Prime Minister again reconfirmed is that we would have a full Cabinet consideration of the relevant recommendations of the Harper Review into competition policy. That is ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Will you change your view on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: ... which is appropriate. I will participate in the policy conversation inside the Cabinet and inside all of our relevant forums of the party. Once we have made a decision that decision will be announced. I am very confident that after a full internal discussion on the best way forward, that we will be making the right decision.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And finally, this is the second day that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott didn’t come to question time, do you think he should return?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m sure that he will return. I think we should give Tony Abbott a bit of a break. He lost his job on late Monday night. There are now some issues involved in terms of the transition. I think that we should give him some space.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Have you spoken to him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have had a number of conversations with him, yes.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How is he going?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What would you expect? He lost his job, a job that he cherished and enjoyed performing. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear me say that he is very disappointed of course. But he I believe is dealing with the situation that he is confronted with in a very classy and statesman like fashion.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And is he in Canberra?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. Finally Canning is on Saturday. Do you think you are going to do better now under Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In Canning we have an outstanding candidate representing the Liberal party in Andrew Hastie. Andrew Hastie has been running a very effective campaign. He has been working very hard to win, to earn the trust of the people of Canning to represent them in the Federal Parliament. I am quietly confident, well I am hopeful and quietly confident that he would be successful on Saturday.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yes it will take some time to find out. Mathias Cormann, thank you for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.