Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me here in the Canberra studio to discuss a number of the political issues around is the Finance Minister and Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann. Minister, thanks very much for your time, you’ve been leading the negotiations on the Senate electoral reform, can you give our viewers an update on where things are at this morning?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We announced a proposal for reform yesterday designed to empower voters to determine what happens not just to their primary vote in the Senate when voting above the line, but also to their second, third and subsequent preferences, instead of having political parties trade and direct those preferences as a result of secret backroom deals. That is a reform which responds to the unanimous recommendations of a Committee of the Parliament which inquired into the conduct of the last election. The intention here is to ensure that the result at the Senate election reflects the will of the people. We have calibrated our proposal on the basis of consultations across the Parliament and we are hopeful that it will achieve a consensus across the Parliament over the next few weeks.
KIERAN GILBERT: It’s been called political trickery by Madigan, one of the crossbenchers in the Senate. Leyonhjelm says it’s a dirty little deal with the Greens and Xenophon. How do you respond to those individuals?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we’ve done very carefully is to come up with a reform proposal which responds to the unanimous recommendations of a cross party committee of the Parliament. The recommendations which had the very strong support of Labor, the Greens, the Coalition and it is designed to ensure that the result at an election in the Senate reflects the will of the people. The way we’re doing it is by giving the voter the power to determine what happens to their vote and to their preferences, instead of having political parties through group voting and individual voting tickets, trade people’s preferences away in different directions in a way that is not transparent to the voter.
KIERAN GILBERT: You said you had Labor’s support, it doesn’t look like it’s going to have Labor’s support when it comes to a vote in the next few weeks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor Party is extremely confusing in relation to this. One of the strongest advocates for these reforms has been Labor’s Shadow Minister for this area, Gary Gray. As late as last week, he was on national television calling on Malcolm Turnbull to get on with it and pursue these reforms. I don’t really know. I suspect that Bill Shorten is just not strong enough to stand up for the national interest within his own Shadow Cabinet.
KIERAN GILBERT: It’s not just about boosting the Coalition’s prospects? Because according to most analysts, these changes of all the parties will benefit the Coalition the most.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t accept that. The result of the next election is a matter for the Australian people. What we are seeking to do is to empower the Australian people, to empower individual Australian voters, to determine what they want to happen with their vote, what they want to happen to their preferences, instead of having political parties trade these preferences in all sorts of different directions in a way that is not transparent. Some parties have been lodging three different group voting tickets, directing voter preferences in three different directions. How can any voter in those circumstances have a clear appreciation as to what happens to their vote once they voted one above the line.
KIERAN GILBERT: Once the changes are legislated, which they will be with the Greens and Xenophon supporting you in the Senate on this change, even without Labor. How long does the Electoral Commission need to implement the change? Does it need to get it into its system?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is obviously a question I asked the Australian Electoral Commissioner and the advice that he gave me is that they need about 3 months between passage of the legislation and implementation of these reforms at an election.
KIERAN GILBERT: So that would still keep open the option of a July 2 election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The timing of the election and the form of the election is a matter for the Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: Sure.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our intention is to serve a full term and for the election to take place in August or September, but these are matters for the Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: When do you want this legislated though, what is your timetable for that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We’ve still got a lot of things that we would like to get through the Senate, so with any reform of this nature, it will take as long as necessary and it will go hopefully as quickly as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: You’d want it through by the time that Parliament adjourns for the pre-Budget break?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The way the process works from now is that there will be a committee inquiry which will report by next Wednesday. The debate will start in the Senate next Wednesday and let’s see how long it takes after that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Just finally on tax, the Australian today, one of the political editors, Dennis Shanahan saying that the Treasurer has gone into witness protection, the Treasurer has been gagged?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That’s ridiculous. The Treasurer has not been gagged. That's just completely ridiculous.
KIERAN GILBERT: So, where’s the tax debate at then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The tax debate is in full force I would have thought. It's been in full force for some time. As a Government, in the last few months, we have been working our way through the tax system as a whole, looking for opportunities to build on what we have done since coming into Government to make our tax system more growth friendly, to raise ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Are tax cuts still a prospect here?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is very much our aspiration and we are currently working our way through how that can best be done.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is the Government contemplating halving the capital gains tax concession for super funds? Because yesterday the Prime Minister said in Parliament that increasing capital gains tax is no part of our thinking whatsoever. According to reports today it is at least when it comes to superannuation funds.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, the Prime Minister was very appropriately highly critical of Labor’s ill thought out policy, which would have very bad impacts in the economy and on individual families. Secondly, I am not going to be making our tax policy announcement today, I will be leaving that to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer when the Government is in a position to ...interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: The capital gains tax comments, were they just specifically relating to the Labor plan?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister yesterday appropriately was highly critical of Labor’s ill thought out tax policy proposals. The Government right now continues to work through our reform options, building on the tax cuts for small business which we delivered in last year’s Budget. Building on some of the reforms that we have pursued before that. Labor is looking at taxing more to spend more and to play catch up on all of their borrowings. We are looking at taxing less and better, in a way that is also fair, to raise the necessary revenue for Government in the best possible way.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister we have got to go. Thanks for your time.