Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
ANDREW BOLT: The Government seems confused. Malcolm Turnbull suggests Sunday penalty rates, which kill jobs, may have to be cut. The Treasurer Scott Morrison won't discuss it. Morrison says taxes should be cut, but Turnbull's economic summit this week talked instead about raising taxes on super. Morrison says spending must be cut, but the Government then freezes Tony Abbott's plan to deregulate university fees, which would have saved a lot of money. Tony Abbott, not happy.
TONY ABBOTT [EXCERPT]: I am disappointed by it and, frankly, I'm a little disappointed, Neil, that more of the people who keep saying we need reform, we need cuts in government spending, we need long-term structural change, did not get behind the 2014 Budget.
ANDREW BOLT: Joining me is Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister under Abbott and now under Turnbull. Thanks for your time. Sorry about the West Coast loss, mate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Ah, you know. Next time.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, let's clear up some of these confusions. Penalty rates, you know, is this a big issue you're going to tackle? Or is it one you're putting in deep freeze?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is an issue that the Productivity Commission has looked at. This is, no doubt, something that has implications for small business in particular, particularly in the retail and services sector.
ANDREW BOLT: Absolutely.
MATHIAS CORMANN: But the way the system operates is that the Fair Work Commission has to make these sorts of decisions. Whether we will do any more as part of a second-term agenda that is something we will have to consider between now and the next election.
ANDREW BOLT: Well, that's the whole thing. There seems to be an argument within government about that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are always arguments within Government, as there should be, about the best way forward. In relation to any issue, you consider all of the pros and cons of particular opportunities and particular ways forward and then you make decisions.
ANDREW BOLT: What's your view?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will participate in the conversation constructively and engage … interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Let's have it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: ...inside the Cabinet. Inside the Cabinet.
ANDREW BOLT: OK, then. Well, another mixed message, Mathias. Your existing position, and particularly you too, is no to changes on superannuation right, the tax changes, no tax grab. Now, is that now changing? Because everyone at your summit this week came out talking hallelujah, we're going to raise taxes.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, the Government was very much in listening mode on Thursday. We didn't put any proposals on the table, but we were very much listening to what was being put forward by the leaders of the National Reform Summit. Now in terms of the Government's view, our view is that we ought to strengthen growth, create more jobs, improve our productivity, our competitiveness and innovation …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Who is against that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of the people we met with on Thursday were very much on board with that. Now the question is …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: They were all in favour of motherhood. That's really exciting.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is conversation that we will have on how …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Superannuation tax grabs.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our view is that we ought to have a conversation about how we can raise the necessary revenue for Government more efficiently and how we can improve the tax mix …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: I was told that we didn't have a revenue problem. We had a taxation problem. This is the whole thing. It's mixed messages. What is this tax grab? You were against it before.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We're not going to increase taxes as a share of the economy. We're not going to increase the tax burden in the economy. What we have undertaken is to keep all of the potential avenues to improve the tax system on the table. In the end, it comes down to how can we through the tax system, improve our productivity, How can we encourage people to work harder, save more and invest more. And … interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: A tax grab on superannuation is not about making people more efficient at work. It's a tax grab.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You're making an assumption.
ANDREW BOLT: I am. Because it was off the agenda and now it's on.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not on the agenda. We've just not taken anything off the table.
ANDREW BOLT: Alright, that tax summit where you get business and welfare and union leaders in to have yabber about stuff, there wasn't anything, no agreement on anything concrete, was there? Just lots more waffle. Have a listen to some of it.
JENNIFER WESTACOTT (EXCERPT): There's clearly an agreement that we need to focus on a skills agenda, we need to rethink the world of work in the face of digital disruption and technology.
ANDREW BOLT: Wow, wow, wow, that doesn't sound like a program to me.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a first meeting. It was the start of a new process. From our point of view, it was very important to have a great diversity of business community and union leaders around the table. All …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: It wasn't a great diversity. There was no Opposition voices there. You didn't have me there to talk about taxes!
MATHIAS CORMANN: From the Business Council, ACCI to the ACTU, you did have a pretty diverse group of people there and all of them agreed that we need to do more to strengthen growth and all of them agreed that we needed to balance the Budget …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Yeah, but who is going to go in there and say, no. I want lower growth. This is the thing, it was all just blather. Identify one concrete proposal to come out of that meeting? One concrete proposal.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We went into the meeting, clearly, not intending to put concrete proposals on the table. The whole purpose was to ensure we were on the same page in terms of the fundamentals and our starting position. I actually thought it was a very good meeting. I thought it laid a very good foundation for further processes from here on in which will lead to an outcome.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, Scott Morrison has pointed out that spending is the problem. It's still historically high at 26.2 per cent of GDP. You gave a great speech this week, Mathias, saying there wasn't anything really to be saved in cutting public servants any more, it's just 5 per cent of the costs. If we're going to save, it's got to be on the big government spending programs, you know, things like health and age and disability pensions, the NDIS, unemployment benefits, all that kind of stuff. OK, which area most needs cutting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Across the board, we've got to look for opportunities to spend better and spend less. It is not a matter of targeting one area in particular, but in a general sense, whether it is health, whether it is welfare, whether it is education, we do have a growing population and we've got an ageing population and there is a growing demand for many of these services. We've got to make sure that the limited resources made available by taxpayers spread further and spread as far as possible.
ANDREW BOLT: That makes sense but no particular area that you think wow that's a lot of fat there.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We've made a lot of progress over the last two years and …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: And where are those areas, we need more on.
MATHIAS CORMANN: And there is much more work to be done. We'll work that out as we go from budget to budget update.
ANDREW BOLT: Malcolm Turnbull, briefed journalists this week that Tony Abbott's language had offended, alienated Muslims and Turnbull would take a gentler tone. Hours later, a 15-year-old Muslim from Iran, shouting Allah. Shot a police employee in Sydney. Was Malcolm Turnbull unfair on Tony Abbott to sort of suggest that he was alienating?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not going to get into that sort of commentary. What happened in Sydney … interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Well, he did.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What happened in Sydney is tragic. It's very sad when a 15-year-old ends up in a space where they feel that this is the way to express themselves. It's awful. But in terms of addressing …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: It wasn't Tony Abbott's rhetoric that upset him.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course not. What I would say is moving forward we have to continue to do, as a Government, what we can to ensure the nation is secure, working as a team with all levels of Government as appropriate. But we do have to also engage with the Muslim community to ensure that we find ways to get to these sorts of young people before they get radicalised.
ANDREW BOLT: I didn't think the scapegoating of Tony Abbott was smart, but anyway. The Government this week refused to let an anti-abortion campaigner from America come into the country, right? He's a non-violent person, never been convicted of anything. I thought you guys believed in free speech.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do believe in free speech. I don't know the ins and outs of the circumstances of that case but I'm sure that Peter Dutton as the Immigration Minister would have considered all the relevant information and made a decision based on the evidence.
ANDREW BOLT: It was the wrong decision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don't know. As I say, I don't have all the information.
ANDREW BOLT: Doesn't it disturb you that some bloke whose opinion happens to be that abortion is murder that is enough to get him kicked out of the country?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The point is I don't know whether that is what caused that decision, because I don't have all of the information.
ANDREW BOLT: It is.
MATHIAS CORMANN: How do you know?
ANDREW BOLT: Because I know. Because that's what it said. This guy was going to be saying naughty things, nasty things. That's no good. You can't …
MATHIAS CORMANN: I would be surprised if he was kept out of the country just because he was going to say naughty things.
ANDREW BOLT: And if that's the case, I hope we'll hear from you because I know you're as strong on free speech as I am. Lastly, the bid to join the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, join the dictators and all that that are there to talk about human rights. China is there, Cuba is there, all that. Did that strange decision go to Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are ... interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Was it the captain's pick?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are a beacon of freedom and democracy around the world. I would have thought we don't want to leave the Human Rights Council just to the dictators, as you say. I would have thought it was a good thing to have Australia represented around that sort of table, if indeed we might be successful. I always think that …interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: Did it go to Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not going to get into what is before ... interrupted
ANDREW BOLT: It didn't, did it? It was a captain's pick?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don't talk about what is and what is not discussed in Cabinet because Cabinet confidentiality is very important.
ANDREW BOLT: Very cunning. Mathias if that was a captain's pick, I was a bit disappointed by it. But listen, I appreciate you coming here, straight-up guy.