Sky News – Saturday Agenda

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance






Canning by-election, Leadership, China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, tax reform

DAVID LIPSON: So that’s the state of play in the seat of Canning. Joining me now to discuss this further and the rest of the week’s dramatic events, the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Thanks very much for your time. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here. 

DAVID LIPSON: And great to be here for me as well. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Welcome to the West.

DAVID LIPSON: Thanks very much. Now what do you expect the result to be in the by-election this evening?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are not taking anything for granted. Andrew Hastie, who is an outstanding candidate, has worked very hard over the last few weeks to earn the trust and the support of the people of Canning. We are quietly hopeful that they will reward him with their support today, but we are not taking anything for granted. 

DAVID LIPSON: The poll in the West Australian seems to suggest he will make it easily.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s see what happens. This time tonight, we will start getting an indication as to what the actual result will be. 

DAVID LIPSON: Will you be looking at the swing and I know you’re not taking it for granted, but it does look like Andrew Hastie will get in, but the suggestions are that there will be swing against him. Is that normal, would you expect there to be a swing against the 11.8 per cent that it has on paper at the moment?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We’ve been working to win. That is the objective. What which result means for whom and for what, I’ll leave that to the commentators and the political analysts to dissect.

DAVID LIPSON: Are you looking at pre-polling as well, because there has been 11,500 pre-polls, 11,500 postal polls that’s about one-fifth of the electorate all up. Now assuming that all those votes were posted before the leadership change, is that going to muddy the waters a bit, the results a bit more unpredictable? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, it is not unusual for there to be high levels of pre-polls. Certainly in the West that is something that we see in general elections and in particular in by-elections. Again, our objective is to win this by-election. By-elections are always a bit more challenging for incumbent governments. Andrew Hastie and his team have worked very hard. The Liberal party here in Western Australia has run a very effective campaign. We hope that it will be rewarded with success later tonight. 

DAVID LIPSON: Well we can’t look at this by-election without looking back at the events of the past week. With Malcolm Turnbull now Prime Minister and Tony Abbott gone, does that make the Liberals job easier?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The campaign in Canning has been very much focused on who would be the best representative for the people of Canning in the Federal Parliament. We have put the proposition and we believe that that is Andrew Hastie. That he has the experience and the leadership qualities and generally the level of capability to be the best possible representative for the people of Canning. To be a strong voice for the people of Canning in Canberra. Everybody knows we did have a change in leadership earlier this week. Malcolm Turnbull is now our Prime Minister. By all accounts that change has been well received in the community. All together, I would like to think that tonight we will be celebrating a success.  

DAVID LIPSON: So the change has been well received you say. Some of the intel we were getting in the weeks leading up to well last Monday, was that Tony Abbott was not popular here. His name was not going well in focus groups and the like. Do you think that the factor that as you say, Malcolm Turnbull has been well received, is it that Malcolm Turnbull has been well received or is relieved to have seen the back of Tony Abbott?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going into the ins and outs of all of that. There was change, a decision was made by the party room on Monday. It is a decision that I support. I support the new leader. I support the new Prime Minister. But beyond that, I will leave it to the commentators and the analysts to dissect every entrail of what happened in the lead up to Monday night. I will just be looking forward to the job at hand. 

DAVID LIPSON: One of the more controversial elements of the campaign and this has really sparked up just the last couple of days was Andrew Hastie suggesting that when he was serving in Afghanistan he didn’t feel that Labor in government at the time had the soldiers’ backs. Is that a departure from the normal bipartisanship that we see when it comes to combat operations and is that sort of comment appropriate?

MATHIAS CORMANN: He is telling it as he sees it. When I first met him in the very early days, when we were looking at him as a possible candidate, that is a story that he shared with me then. That is his perception and his experience. I wasn’t there. He was there. He was putting his life on the line to defend the Australian way of life. He was leading a team of young men in a very dangerous mission in Afghanistan. That is his perception. He is saying it as he saw it. I think he is entitled to do that. He has earned that right, given the job that he did for Australia overseas.

DAVID LIPSON: How do you see it? Do you see it like that, that Labor didn’t have the troops’ backs at the time?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, Andrew Hastie had a very particular vantage point. He was on the ground, putting his life on the line. He was putting himself in harm’s way. He was ... interrupted

DAVID LIPSON: So you would agree with him?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I wasn’t there. This is what I am saying. I believe that he has earned the right to express his view, given his lived experience. He was responsible for a group of young men in harm’s way and that was his perception. So I don’t think it was inappropriate at all for him to share his view, given that he is talking with unique authority about what the circumstances were like when he was serving for Australia in Afghanistan. 

DAVID LIPSON: One of the other things that has come out of this poll in the West Australian, just going back to that, its a Reachtel poll, it looked at the free trade agreement and the impact of that with China, on this Canning by-election, and it appears that voters were spooked by the campaign run by the unions and Labor. 52.5 per cent of Canning voters believe that the free trade agreement with China was a threat for local jobs. Is that a worry for you as a member of the finance team and the Government? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: What it shows is that populist scare campaigns do work to a degree. The truth is, the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement is unambiguously good news for jobs and growth in Australia. It will most definitely deliver more Australian jobs, not less. The claims that are made by the union movement, by the CFMEU and others are inaccurate and racist. This proposition that somehow as a result of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement that there will be hordes of Chinese workers coming to Australia taking Australian jobs away is false. All of the safeguards in our immigration system continue to be in place. Nothing in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement impacts on that in any way shape or form. In fact the safeguards that are in place when it comes to temporary skilled workers are safeguards that were put in place by the previous Labor government. All of these arrangements continue to be in place. There is no change whatsoever. On the face of it, it appears that this dishonest, populist campaign has had a level of political success. That is no doubt why this was pursued. Bill Shorten should hang his head in shame quite frankly, for having associated himself with this.

DAVID LIPSON: Tomorrow we’re going to see an announcement of Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet. Do you expect to retain your Finance portfolio?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is entirely a matter for him. He knows how I voted on Monday night. But I have also indicated to him that now that the party has made the decision to support him as leader that he has my full support as our leader and as our Prime Minister. I will do everything I can to help make his Prime Ministership the most successful it can be. I’ve indicated to him that I will serve in whatever capacity he sees fit. It is entirely a matter for him now to make a decision on where he believes I can best contribute to our overall team effort. 

DAVID LIPSON: And would you be happy to work with Scott Morrison as Treasurer. I know you are very close to Joe Hockey. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have a very good working relationship with Joe Hockey. I have a very good working relationship with Scott Morrison. I have a very good working relationship with all of my colleagues. I have a very good personal and working relationship with Malcolm Turnbull. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. There is a job to be done. The job is to put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future. I will contribute to that job in any way shape or form that the leader sees fit. 

DAVID LIPSON: You were a very strong supporter of Tony Abbott. In fact you were helping with the numbers for his side less than a week ago. Now since then of course, you’ve pledged full allegiance to Malcolm Turnbull. But do you excuse the voters for looking at that and thinking that it does look a bit awkward, it looks a bit strange for you to be such a strong supporter of Tony Abbott, of one Prime Minister, then a couple of days later there’s a change and all of a sudden you’re on team Turnbull? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: My view and my position in the lead up to Monday night's vote was there for all to see. I was very open, very transparent. I was very open and very transparent with Malcolm Turnbull in relation to that. In the end we do have a responsibility. All of us in the Coalition party room have a responsibility to put the past behind us, to reunite behind the new leadership team and to focus on the job that we were elected to do. That is to do the right thing by Australia and to do the best we can to win the next election. That is what I am totally committed to help achieving. 

DAVID LIPSON: So looking forward then, there has been some suggestion that under Malcolm Turnbull a GST may be a good idea. Is that something you would be happy to fight for in the lead up to an election?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s see what happens. Right now we are involved in a tax reform conversation with the Australian people. For some time now, we have indicated that we believe that there ought to be as part of that conversation, a look at the tax mix and whether there is a way that we can improve the way that we raise the necessary revenue for Government in a more efficient, less distorting way in the economy. That conversation, no doubt, will continue for a period. At some point between now and the next election we will be putting forward our policies for a second term agenda.

DAVID LIPSON: So no major change in direction as far as you’re concerned when it comes to potentially raising the GST?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We went to the last election with a policy agenda and with a series of commitments that we made to the Australian people. We have been working our way through implementing our plan for stronger growth and more jobs, including our tax reform agenda for a first term. We have always said that we would also have a conversation in our first term with the Australian people on how best to improve our tax system in a second term. That process continues to be underway. Over the next few weeks and months as issues arise, as challenges come up and as opportunities present themselves, we as a Government under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull will make judgements on how best to deal with those challenges or respond to those opportunities.   

DAVID LIPSON: Finance Minister, Senator Mathias Cormann great to talk to you. Thanks for that. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to be here.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth