Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On the same day it lost its advantage in the polls, the Turnbull Government has raised the stakes for the 2016 election. It has introduced legislation to overhaul the Senate voting system and make it far more difficult for so-called micro-parties to win seats. The reforms would also clear out most of the existing Senate crossbench if a double dissolution is called and we’ve heard that it’s again on the cards. Mathias Cormann is the Special Minister of State and it’s his job to get these reforms through Parliament, he joins us now, welcome.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good evening.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The main proposal here is for optional preferential voting, numbering one to six or even further above the line on the Senate ballot paper. What does that achieve other than making it harder for the smaller parties and independents?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What it achieves is, it empowers voters to direct their preferences according to their wishes instead of having preferences allocated by political parties according to theirs. So right now, if you look at the conduct of the last election, about 97 per cent of people voted above the line. Right now under the current system, all you can do when voting in the Senate above the line is vote one. As soon as you do that, you lose control of what happens to your preference allocation after that first vote. Through a complicated and non-transparent system of group and individual voting tickets, these preferences are then directed in a number of different directions. Some parties lodging more than one ticket for the allocation of preferences in relation to votes for them. Some parties lodging as many as three different tickets. So it’s not clearly apparent to the average voter as to what happens to their preference after they vote one above the line. What we are proposing to do, and this is not us outside of any context by the way…interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: No.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is us responding to the recommendations from a cross-party committee of the Parliament, which unanimously recommended certain improvements to the system. So what we’re doing here is we’re empowering voters to determine what they want to happen to their preferences after voting one.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. Your savings provision means that a ballot won’t be informal so long as there’s at least a number one above the line. Now that might prevent informal votes, but we would see more votes exhausted and effectively counting for nothing, wouldn’t we?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well not counting for nothing. Every vote is counted. But it’s a matter for the individual voter to determine how they want to vote in the Senate. The guidance on the Senate ballot paper, consistent with the legislation, will be that the way to vote above the line is by numbering at least six of the boxes above the line in the order of your choice, with number one of course as your first choice. We think it’s important, given that people have voted just one above the line for more than 30 years now, under reforms introduced by the then Hawke Government, not to just turn around and say if you’ve done what you’ve always done, your vote will no longer be counted at all. The guidance on the ballot paper is that people should vote at least one to six, they can of course decide to fill in every box above the line. That is a matter for the individual voter, but we certainly do not want to discount a vote completely, when there is a clear voter intent, just because less than six boxes have been filled in.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: On RN Drive, my guest is Senator Mathias Cormann, he is the Special Minister of State and also the Finance Minister and a deal today revealed on Senate voting. You won’t get those huge papers anymore. 0418 226 576, what do you make of this deal? The Greens have signed off on it, and Nick Xenophon also supports it. 0418 226 576 is our number. David Leyonhjelm who is about to join us to share his views, but he says you’ve done a dirty little deal with the Greens and Nick Xenophon. Ricky Muir has tweeted that he’ll return the favour for being singled out by the Prime Minister. Are you worried about a backlash?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We haven’t done a dirty deal. What we have done is we have responded to the unanimous recommendations from the Committee of the Parliament which has been given the job by the Parliament to enquire into the conduct of the last election and to make recommendations on how the system can be improved. These recommendations were unanimous recommendations from Labor, Greens and Coalition Members of Parliament. What this is all about is making sure that individual voters can clearly and transparently determine where they want their Senate vote to go. Where they want their first vote to go and where they want their subsequent preferences to go. We think that the result of the election should reflect the decisions of voters, not the decisions of individual parties determined behind closed doors.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I just want to ask you a question on another topic. Today the Prime Minister ruled out changes to capital gains tax. So now you have ruled out, GST changes and also capital gains tax changes, are you heading towards ruling out all changes to negative gearing next, is that the next one you are going for?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The process that we clearly set out right at the beginning was that we would continue to consider how our tax system could be improved. How we can make it more growth friendly. That is what we pursued on coming into Government. That is why we got rid of the Mining Tax and the Carbon Tax which reduced our international competitiveness. That is why in last years’ Budget we reduced taxes for small business and that is why we said we would have a comprehensive look at all parts of the tax system, to assess where there might be sensible opportunities for improvements. As we form judgements, as we work our way through all of the potential options that have been put on the table by various people across the community, we will make these judgements as we consider appropriate. The overarching…interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Can you honestly wait though till the May Budget, you have said today, I have seen you in a previous interview, say that the Budget is going to still happen in May. There was some speculation in reports today that it might be brought forward, but you say it will happen in May when it is meant to happen. Are you going to wait for all the tax reform to be announced there? Given, look at the Newspoll today, people clearly think that you are drifting. Will you bring some of these ideas forward so that we really have a contest on policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the timing of announcements on tax reform proposals, that is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. You would be aware that as Finance Minister my focus is very much on the spending side of the Budget, making sure we spend as much as necessary but as little as possible and that we spend our money, the taxpayers money, wisely, effectively and efficiently, so that we can ensure that we can keep taxes low instead of increasing taxes to fund more spending as Labor is proposing to do.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just finally, it is hard to believe that your changes to the Senate voting isn’t about clearing out the Senate crossbench with a double dissolution potentially, because without a DD you would have seven out of the eight same crossbenchers until 2020. So what is the last day to get these changes passed into law if you want a double dissolution.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well firstly, there is an election due in the second half of this year in the ordinary course of events. The timing of the election and the form the election may or may not take is very much a matter for the Prime Minister. Irrespective, these recommendations to improve the Senate voting system were made by a Committee of the Parliament some two years ago. There has been some comprehensive consultation in the meantime and now that we get closer to an election it is important to get these matters dealt with.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How quickly will you get the laws through? I saw Jacquie Lambie saying that while she wasn’t against, that’s the Senator Jacquie Lambie, while she wasn’t necessarily against your reforms, she didn’t want to see them rushed through. Are you planning to rush them through?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. As with all legislation that we put forward always, the Senate will have ample opportunity to debate these proposed reforms thoroughly. What is happening at the moment, we have introduced the legislation into the House of Representatives earlier today. It has now been referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for enquiry and for a report back to the Parliament by next Wednesday and then the legislation will come to the Senate for debate and it will take as long as it will take.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this evening.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.