Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
DAVID SPEERS: You’re watching PM Agenda. The main announcement from the Government today and it is a significant one. A change to how we vote. Now this is to try and clean up the result of the last election, where we saw a myriad of crossbenchers elected to the Senate. And some of them on very tiny votes. One on about half of one per cent of the primary vote, but through a complex, intricate preference deal. Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party managed to get a seat in the Senate. So what has the Government proposed today? This follows a lengthy review by a Parliamentary Committee. It is saying that from now on it would like numbers across the top, when you go into vote in the Senate, you can vote up to six. One, two, three, four, five, six. Beyond that though, preferences won’t flow to seven, eight, nine, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, even one hundred. But you can if you still want, just vote one. To talk more about this, the impact it will have, the Special Minister of State and Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMAN: Good to be here.
DAVID SPEERS: Before we get to all of that, I just need to clear up on the Budget. Are we going to have an early Budget or will it still be at the normal time?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Budget is scheduled to take place on the second Tuesday in May. There is no proposal from the Government to make any change in relation to that.
DAVID SPEERS: Has it been discussed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Budget is expected and scheduled to be delivered on the second Tuesday in May. I don’t know what everyone and anyone might have been discussing anywhere. There isn’t ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: You’re not aware of this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. There is no proposal to bring the Budget forward.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. Now what is wrong with the Senate crossbench at the moment? Why do you want to make it harder for the likes of these minor parties to get in to the Senate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our focus is on empowering voters to clearly direct, not only their first preference but any subsequent preference as to what happens with their vote when they vote for the Senate, to ensure that the Senate election result reflects the intention of voters. After the last election, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, a committee of the Parliament, cross-party committee, considered the conduct of the last election. In particular the conduct of the last Senate election. They came up with some findings, unanimously. They came up with some recommendations on how the system can be improved, unanimously. That means, Labor, Greens, Coalition members of Parliament, looked at the conduct of the election, carefully considered how the system could be improved. Today we have responded to those recommendations based on some further consultation. The proposal is designed to empower individual voters to ensure that their vote goes to where they want it to go. Our message to voters is, we want to ensure that you determine where your preference goes not the political parties.
DAVID SPEERS: How do you know this Senate isn’t what voters wanted?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What is happening at the moment under the current system and if you look at the last election, 97 per cent of voters voted above the line. Once you vote one above the line, that is all you can do under the current system. All you can do is vote one. You can’t express a preference above the line. Once you vote one above the line, you lose control of where your preferences go.
DAVID SPEERS: See people know this and a lot of people I would imagine would be happy to leave it up to that party that they’re backing to make that decision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We don’t believe that is right. We believe that most Australians don’t fully appreciate what happens to their preference after they have voted one above the line. In particular, some parties have lodged as many as three different group voting tickets. So it is very difficult in that scenario for any voter to have a clear appreciation and understanding of what happens to their preference once they have voted one above the line. What we are saying to voters, it is up to you how you vote, who you vote for, who you vote for in terms of your first preference, your second preference and your subsequent preference. Just to correct something from your introduction. The guidance on the Senate ballot paper will be that to vote above the line, a voter should fill in at least six boxes, at least six boxes ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: So you can do as many as you like?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You can do as many as you like. It is entirely up to the voter. The voter can fill in every single box in order of their preference.
DAVID SPEERS: You essentially do what you do below the line, above the line.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is exactly right. But the important point here is and this to respond to the completely inaccurate and ill-informed foray from Sam Dastyari this morning. There is an appropriate voter savings provisions to ensure that there is not an increase in informal votes. That is that if a voter given the practice over the last thirty years, does what they did at the last election and that is to vote just one above the line, or one or two and less than six, that vote would still be considered formal, but it would be exhausted at the end of their allocated preference.
DAVID SPEERS: That is what I am saying. It would exhaust after your number one, if you it is not the person that is elected. So if I voted one, Family First for example, and they had a very small vote. My vote would just exhaust at that point. It wouldn’t go on to preference anyone.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In that scenario, if you only vote one for the Family First party, that is a vote for candidates that the Family First party puts forward in that particular State. If that is all you do then yes, consistent with your intention as declared on the ballot paper, that vote would exhaust after the Family First party.
DAVID SPEERS: So it is optional preferential voting.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is optional preferential voting, but with clear guidance on the Senate ballot paper, that to vote above the line, voters should number at least up to six boxes with their first preference the number one.
DAVID SPEERS: You also want to include party logos on the ballot paper. Is this because you think a lot of people voted Liberal Democrat at the last election, mixed it up and got it wrong, thought they were voting for the Liberal party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters considered this issue carefully. At the last election there was a view that there was a level of voter confusion based on parties with similar names standing for election. In order to remove that potential for voter confusion we believe, that to give political parties the opportunity at their discretion to have their logo included on the ballot paper, will help to ensure that the voter clearly expresses their intention as to who they want to vote for.
DAVID SPEERS: Again, it advantages those who have got good brand recognition, the major parties.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t believe that’s right. It just ensures that voters are very clearly and transparently aware as to who is in front of them on the ballot paper, who they can or might want to vote for. It is entirely up the individual voter to determine who they want to vote for and how they want to allocate their preferences.
DAVID SPEERS: The crossbench not surprisingly don’t like this at all. They say this will entrench a two party system making it very hard for minor and micro parties to get into the Senate. Bob Day even calls it a deal with the devil that has been done between the Government and the Greens on this, who are going to back you. What sort of retaliation are you expecting from them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, what we have done today is respond to the unanimous recommendation of the Committee of the Parliament that has been given the job to enquire into the conduct of elections. They have made some recommendations, which we have supported. We have then conducted some further consultation. We have put forward the proposal we have put forward today. Ultimately it will be up to the Parliament to determine whether they support the proposal put forward by Government. In relation to the approach by crossbench Senators moving forward, we would like to think that they will consider individual issues on their merits on a case by case basis. But ultimately that is a matter for them.
DAVID SPEERS: If they decide to boycott Government legislation, other Government legislation, what would be your message?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, all we can say is please consider every piece of legislation, every proposed measure on its merits. If you support it vote in favour. If you are against it vote against. That is the way democracy works. But in relation to this proposal to improve Senate voting arrangements, we think that we have come up with a well-balanced and very carefully put together proposal, which will empower voters to see their preferences reflected in the Senate election result.
DAVID SPEERS: Why shouldn’t some of those, who have made it into the crossbench be there? There is an argument that these aren’t people that have come up through the usual major party route. They are ordinary Australians who come from different walks of life who can contribute to the Parliament.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t at all. In the end at every election all of us put ourselves forward for consideration by the Australian people. The election result ultimately, at every election, is a matter for the Australian people. So it is the Australian people who decide who goes into...interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: You’re helped by a major party machine. They have to work with each other to do preference deals to make sure that an alternative voice gets in.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What is happening at the moment and the alternative to empowering voters to express their preferences is to have 97 per cent of Australians vote one above the line and then lose control of what happens with their preference and have that preference negotiated in backroom deals, behind closed doors, without voters transparently appreciating what happens to their preferences. When you’ve got three different group voting tickets lodged by different individual parties, when you’ve got a circumstance where new parties are set up with the same party officials as other parties, where these party officials are negotiating with themselves how they channel preferences to themselves, then that is not a desirable circumstance. What we want to ensure is that people across Australia clearly know and clearly understand who is in front of them, who they are voting for, and for people across Australia to have the opportunity to express their preferences and to have their preferences allocated according to their wishes.
DAVID SPEERS: Given this was always going to upset the crossbench, it was seen as probably one of the last things you’d do before dissolving Parliament and calling an election. So, is it a sign an election is now around the corner?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The election in the ordinary course of events is due in the second half of this year. The specific timing of the election is a matter for the Prime Minister to determine. Irrespective, this is a reform that was recommended some two years ago by the Committee of the Parliament that inquires into these sorts of matters. We have considered it very carefully. We have consulted. This is in the public interest. This is something that needs to happen in good time before the next election so that the Electoral Commission has got enough time to properly implement it.
DAVID SPEERS: Let me just finally ask you to put your Finance Minister hat back on. Tax reform, the Prime Minister has ruled out doing anything on Capital Gains Tax, GST has been ruled out as well. Can I just get back to the basic question, why do we need tax reform?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The basic question is that we have always got to look at whether we can make our tax system more growth friendly in order to strengthen growth and strengthen job creation and to do so in a way that is also fair. What we are doing as a Government, we are working our way carefully through a range of options. When Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister in September, the commitment was that we would look with an open mind at all of the options that were on the table then and progressively as we are working through the various options, the various relevant bits of information, we are making judgements and that is what you would expect a good government to do.
DAVID SPEERS: And Capital Gains Tax is now off the table?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Representatives today is a very clear statement.
DAVID SPEERS: Is that a decision taken in the Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of these matters are considered by the Cabinet. All of these matters are considered through the proper process.
DAVID SPEERS: Was there a decision to rule this out, or was this just the PM on the fly?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister never just makes comments on the fly. These are very carefully considered judgements. Let me say that as a Government, our focus on pursuing reforms including in relation to the tax system that help us maximise growth and job creation in a way that is also fair.
DAVID SPEERS: Have other decisions been made, yet to be announced?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We make decisions every day. We announce them when we are in a position to announce them.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright, I think you’ve got another Cabinet meeting tonight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have a Cabinet meeting once a week in general terms. No doubt if there are announcements to be made after that, they’ll be made.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. But Capital Gains Tax is gone, negative gearing hasn’t been ruled out, superannuation hasn’t been ruled out, but whatever you do, it will boost growth.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working our way carefully through various options. It is not just the tax system incidentally. If you look across the whole of the Government’s agenda, whether it is our proposal to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, whether it is our ambitious free trade agenda, whether it is our ambitious infrastructure investment program, whether it is our focus on how we can improve our tax system to make it more growth friendly, across the board, whether it’s our innovation package that was released before Christmas, across the board, we are working very hard to maximise growth, to strengthen job creation and to do so in a way that is also fair.
DAVID SPEERS: Mathias Cormann, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.