Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
STUART BOCKING: So Malcolm Turnbull’s new Ministry is being sworn in today. One person who voted for Tony Abbott but keeps his job as Finance Minister, although he has been elevated to become the Government’s Deputy Leader in the Senate, is Mathias Cormann, West Australian Senator and I’m pleased to say he is on the line. Minister, good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good morning to your listeners.
STUART BOCKING: Thank you very much for your time. When did you find out you would be holding on to your portfolio of Finance?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister rang me yesterday morning. It was great news. I’m very pleased and very honoured to be continuing in my role. I’m feeling very privileged that the Prime Minister has also asked me to serve as Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.
STUART BOCKING: Did you have some concerns, given you were one of those along with Peter Dutton and some others that were very forthright in your support of Tony Abbott? That that might count against you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Everybody knew how I was voting in the leadership ballot last Monday. The party as a whole will put the events of last week behind us and move forward in a united fashion. Malcolm and I, we have always had a good personal relationship. We have always had a good working relationship. I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to help make his Prime Ministership and to help make his Government the most successful for the Australian people that it can be.
STUART BOCKING: What do you make of some of the claims around Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop, their role in the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull? What do you say in light of the fact that you are now all working together as part of this new Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not a commentator. I’m not a political analyst. I’m a player on the field. All of us who are players on the field in the Government, we have a responsibility to provide good and effective Government for the Australian people. As Liberals we have a responsibility to work as a team doing everything we can to win the next election. We all need to put the past behind us. The party last Monday made a decision. The party made a decision to support Malcolm Turnbull as our leader and as our Prime Minister. That is a decision that all of us now ought to support and unite behind.
STUART BOCKING: How difficult is this task of unity going to be. Do you think he’s gone some way towards doing that, given that people like Josh Frydenberg, Peter Dutton, yourself, you remain in Cabinet along with some like Greg Hunt and others who voted for Tony Abbott?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think he made a significant effort to reach out across the party to ensure that all the different parts of party from the classical liberal perspective and from the conservative part of the party are appropriately represented in the Cabinet. He is very much focused on renewal of the Government, making sure that this is the best possible team to take our Government to the next election and beyond.
STUART BOCKING: Tell me, as a player, what do you say, you must have heard the comments in the past week or so, many particularly conservative liberals have said there’s no way I can vote for the Liberals while ever Malcolm Turnbull’s the Prime Minister. The idea that conservative liberals can’t trust Malcolm Turnbull. What do you say as someone who is a key player now in this Government in terms of your message to those Liberal supporters.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I understand why people have views in relation to the events of last week. In the end, as a Government, our job now is to win the trust of all people across Australia, including those with a conservative perspective. In the Government, I’m one of the representatives of the conservative tradition within the Liberal party. I’ll be doing my best to ensure that the conservative voices from across Australia are well represented inside the Cabinet. I guess what I would say to people across Australia is work with us, give us some time to earn your trust and give us a chance.
STUART BOCKING: We saw what Malcolm Turnbull had to say about the Government’s economic messaging last week when he made his play for the leadership. Now you’ve been a key player within that economic team, along with Joe Hockey, Josh Frydenberg and others. Given that you’ve retained your role as Finance, what do you think needs to change given some of the criticism from Malcolm Turnbull last week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What the Prime Minister said last week is that we could and should be doing better in explaining the economic challenges, the opportunities in front of us and the reasons for our economic reform agenda. Why we are making certain decisions to put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future. I agree, we can always do better. I am very privileged that the Prime Minister has asked me to be part of his economic team moving forward to do exactly that.
STUART BOCKING: I mean, the point about it is, it seems that there was almost a belief that having won office, people were prepared to just accept whatever you were doing in terms of Budget repair, surprises in that first Budget. Then you guys were surprised suddenly that people didn’t take to it. Is that part of that messaging, that part of bringing the people with you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’ve got to continue to explain what it is that we are doing and why. We’ve got to continue to explain the challenges that we are facing as a nation. The scenario that we will be facing down the track if we didn’t take effective action to strengthen growth, create more jobs and to repair the Budget. The truth is that when we came into Government we did confront a very challenging situation. We were bequeathed by our predecessors a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a Budget position that was rapidly deteriorating. In the six years of the previous Labor government, at a time when clearly we were about to face significant global economic headwinds, the previous government decided to put more and more lead into our saddle bag, slowing us down instead of making us more competitive internationally. Given that we are a trading nation, given that we are nation that very much depends on the success of its export industries, at a time when prices for our key commodities are falling strongly and our terms of trade have experienced the biggest fall in about fifty years, we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing the best we can to be the most competitive we can be. To continue to bring down the cost of doing business. To focus on innovation as an engine for our future economic success. That is certainly what we will be doing moving forward.
STUART BOCKING: Would you expect in light of Canning over the weekend that Labor now will back down on its opposition to the free trade deal with China?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I certainly hope so. The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is unambiguously good news for Australia. It will help strengthen growth and create more Australian jobs. It is a centrepiece of our economic success into the future. The campaign that the CFMEU and Bill Shorten have run against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is irresponsible, it is reckless, it is based on dishonest assertions. The assertion that somehow Chinese investors would be able to send hordes of Chinese workers into Australia, to take Australian jobs as a result of that free trade agreement is wrong. It is completely dishonest. Bill Shorten knows it is. I certainly hope that he will now change his approach and he will back what is a very important agreement in our national interest.
STUART BOCKING: Are you confident that you would have won Canning whether Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull was the leader?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The truth is we will never know the answer to that. We had an outstanding candidate in Canning in Andrew Hastie, who is now the Member for Canning. He worked very hard to earn the trust of the people of Canning to represent them in the Federal Parliament. We are very pleased that he was successful. This was a great victory for Andrew Hastie personally and it is a great victory for the Liberal party under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.
STUART BOCKING: Had the cabinet process broken down under Tony Abbott? Had it become unworkable with the captain’s picks and all the other things? Was there disquiet among Cabinet given so many of them eventually broke away in the leadership ballot?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to be a commentator on the past. I was an active participant in Cabinet processes under the leadership of Tony Abbott. I will be an active participant under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull. I very much look forward to what lies ahead. I will continue to do the best I can every single day, to help put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future, to provide good and effective Government and to help our team win the next election.
STUART BOCKING: Key to so many of the fortunes are going to rest with those crossbenchers in the Senate. Given now your leadership role within the Senate, what do you think has to change trying to ensure you have a better strike rate in terms of passage of legislation past those crossbench MPs where Labor won’t play ball?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’ve had a good working relationship with key Senate crossbenchers. I will try and continue that into the future. In the end, with all things the key to success on that front is communication. Talking to people and trying to understand exactly where everyone is coming from and to find areas of common ground to move forward. Certainly, we will continue to try and do it with the Labor party where appropriate. We will continue to try and do that with the Greens. We will continue to try and do that with the relevant crossbench senators. We have an agenda that we want to pursue. We’ve got an agenda to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. We will work with anyone in the Senate that is of good faith that wants to work with us constructively, to help achieve good outcomes for Australia.
STUART BOCKING: Do you worry in light of all of this that there has been too much focus within your side and opposition to Malcolm Turnbull and not enough on the opposition to Bill Shorten?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of us within the Liberal National Party Coalition are completely united now behind Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. We are focusing on providing good and effective Government, on explaining to the Australian people the risks of the alternative. Bill Shorten is a weak and ineffective leader of the Labor party. He is not able to do what needs to be done to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. We will be focussing on doing everything we can to win the trust of the Australian people at the next general election.
STUART BOCKING: Well look I appreciate you coming on this morning and congratulations on your reappointment, I wish you well.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you Stuart, always good to talk to you.
STUART BOCKING: All the best to you, the Finance Minister and remains so, despite the fact he did vote for Tony Abbott in that leadership ballot. He does take on a leadership role within the senate as Deputy Leader in the Senate behind George Brandis, who replaces Eric Abetz as the new Government Leader in the Senate. It’s a significant appointment because much of what Malcolm Turnbull is now hoping to achieve is going to come down to some sort of consultation, cooperation, with those crossbench senators. It seems Tony Abbott was rather dismissive of those, just expecting they were the Government, and they should just pass it. Communication is the key to it. There is a big challenge because Malcolm Turnbull last week did identify some problems, in terms of the messaging of the Government’s economic leadership. The point is that Mathias Cormann was a key player within that, remains as such but things obviously will have to change.