Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
SANDY ALOISI: World leaders meantime are now meeting in Antalya in Turkey for the G20 summit. The annual meeting brings together the heads of government and central bankers of the world’s twenty biggest economies to discuss financial issues. But those issues are taking second place to security this year, in the wake of the attacks in Paris. In Turkey with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. He is speaking here to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann the leaders working dinner is now underway. That is expected to be dominated in Turkey by the security issue. Is that pretty much taking up all the attention in the summit at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has obviously overshadowed events here in Turkey. These were tragic events. Our hearts go out to the people of France: In particular the families of the victims. Yes, all of the countries represented at the G20 today very much expressed their solidarity with France and very much everybody is focussed on what needs to be done to more effectively fight terrorism.
MARIUS BENSON: In terms of what needs to be done on that score, do you expect anything specific from the G20 or just general sentiments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a conversation underway. At present our Prime Minister is involved in that conversation with all of the leaders of the G20. No doubt if there are some announcements to be made after that, the Prime Minister will make them.
MARIUS BENSON: People are pointing to immigration as sort of a new front line in security, that immigration security has to be increased. Do you believe that is the case?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is very much outside my sphere of responsibility. I am over here as one of the Ministers in the economic team. In Australia we have a very good immigration system. We have an immigration system that has all of the necessary checks and balances to ensure that people who come to Australia are checked on health, character and other grounds. That process is obviously a process that this Government and previous governments have implemented over the years. These things are always under review and if there are appropriate improvements that can be made, then they will be made.
MARIUS BENSON: It is taking you away from your area of ministerial responsibility, but obviously that is what has happened with the G20, that the economic focus has been changed to a security focus. Could I just ask you ...interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: There has been very much a focus at the G20 on where the global economy is at. There is very much a focus on strengthening growth, making sure that at a global level we pursue the necessary policies to ensure we have stronger, sustainable growth moving forward.
MARIUS BENSON: And on that economic front, in fact the Prime Minister has had meetings with the Japanese and the Indian Prime Minsters we understand as well as the European Council President and he is talking about commencing negotiations for a free trade agreement with Europe. Is that the next free trade frontier? What’s the outlook there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This was a very exciting meeting today. The Prime Minister indeed met with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Council President Donald Tusk. The European Council President essentially represents all of the member states in the European Union. What we did today was kick off the process to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union. There is some preliminary work that will need to be done throughout 2016. Europe is the biggest economy in the world as a bloc and it is the biggest source of direct foreign investment for Australia. In the wake of free trade agreements with China, Korea and Japan over the past two years, this is now one of the next very exciting opportunities for us to boost trade and as such strengthen growth and strengthen opportunities for people across Australia to get ahead.
MARIUS BENSON: Just a prospect though at the moment the Europe free trade. How distant a prospect?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think there is every likelihood that this will ultimately be successfully concluded. The meeting today with the European Commission President and the European Council President was very positive. They have recently concluded a free trade agreement with Canada. So we are very hopeful that we will be able to ultimately, as soon as possible in fact is the way European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed it today in front of the media, that we should be able to bring this to a successful conclusion.
MARIUS BENSON: And Jean-Claude Juncker a Luxemburg politician in the past found a particular rapport with you on a linguistic level given your own Belgian background.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, as a student I always used to drive across the border to get my petrol in Luxemburg where it was much cheaper than in Belgium. We did have a little bit of a joke about that, given that then he was the Finance Minister of Luxemburg. We both speak German, we had a bit of a chat in German. Always helps with the rapport.
MARIUS BENSON: Can I just go back to the security issue which is overshadowing everything else. President Obama was talking about redoubling efforts to eliminate Daesh and the Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull has also talked about Australian peacekeepers going to the Middle East as part of that. Is there anything definite in mind in terms of more Australian military presence in the Middle East?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters that the Prime Minister will address later today or tomorrow morning I am sure. I will leave it to him.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann thanks very much for speaking with us this morning from Turkey.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.