Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deupty Leader of the Government in the Senate
Date: Tuesday, 22 March 2016
FRAN KELLY: Well the latest showdown with the Senate will see the Budget brought forward a week to the third of May. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann sounds like he needs a glass of water. He joins me in the Breakfast studio now. Mathias Cormann thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be here and good be here in the studio.
FRAN KELLY: The gauntlet has been laid down with this double dissolution threat from the Prime Minister. The Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill is pivotal. In August last year, it went down by just one vote. 34-33. Why can't you get them across the line. It is your job isn't it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is legislation which we said we would introduce when we went to the last election. Restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission is a central part of our plan for stronger growth. It is part of our productivity agenda. You are right, the Senate has previously voted against it. The Senate has also sent it to several inquiries now. The third such inquiry by a Senate committee reported on the 15th of March. The Senate will now have an opportunity to pass judgement. In the end, our preference is for the Senate to support that very important legislation. If the Senate doesn't, then there is a mechanism in the Constitution to help resolve the deadlock.
FRAN KELLY: What about Senator Lazarus' point there though, the plea to the Prime Minister to roll up your sleeves to trying to work this out. Have you rolled up your sleeves and sat down and tried to get these guys across the road. One vote since August. Will you be able to shift them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Senate has had ample opportunity over the last two and a half years to... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But you haven't brought it back since then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have brought it back actually. When we brought it back the Senate decided by majority to send it to yet another inquiry. The same legislation that has been previously been inquired into. No change. The same legislation, which had previously been debated for hours by the Senate, when it came back to the Senate, the Senate decided to send it to yet another inquiry. This is one of the procedural games that we have had to deal with all the way through. What we are saying now is, enough of the games. It is now time to get on with it. This is not an ambush. This is not blackmail. This is saying to the Senate, this debate has been going on for long enough. You should now make a decision, either in favour or against, whatever the decision is. If it is a decision against, then we will be asking the Australian people to adjudicate about the merits of this legislation at the next election. That is the process that is envisaged in our Constitution.
FRAN KELLY: What about talking before then though. Some of the crossbenchers have amendments. Is the Government prepared to consider reasonable amendments because the Attorney-General said this Bill must pass in its current form. Are you open to amendments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are open to reasonable amendments. If the question is whether we are open to reasonable amendments, yes. But as Senator Cash has said the other day, we are not prepared to entertain amendments that are fundamentally going to change the Bill. There has been a lot of water go under the bridge over the last few years as this legislation has come before the Senate and has been sent to several Senate committee inquiries already. It is a matter now of dealing with this legislation. We will engage in good faith. There are three weeks that the Senate will be sitting. There will be three weeks where we can have lots of conversations, lots of conversations about whether there are reasonable things that we might be able to do. Our preference is to see this legislation pass, but we are not just going to accept any ambit claim and any last minute significant change in order to prevent the inevitable putting this before the Australian people for resolution.
FRAN KELLY: No, but if here are some minor amendments even if that would mean that the Bill is no longer a double dissolution trigger.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the scenario where the legislation passes, this is the whole point, if some reasonable amendments were to help secure the passage of this legislation, of course we are going to consider it, because our preference is to secure its passage. The point is, we are not going to accept any amendment that fundamentally changes and weakens what we believe is very important legislation as part of our productivity agenda.
FRAN KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. It is nineteen minutes to eight. Our guest is the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann, let's go to the election itself. Because there is a good chance if we take the crossbenchers on their words at the moment, most of them are going to dig in and they are not going to support your Bill, which means as the Prime Minister has said quite clearly we are headed for a double dissolution election. Tony Abbott had some comments to make about that election campaign last night. He said it is very easy for me to campaign for the re-election of the Turnbull Government, because the Turnbull Government is running on the Abbott Government's record. Is that how you see it? Are you running on the Abbott Government's record?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Inevitably there is a lot of continuity between the Abbott Government and the Turnbull Government. The Prime Minister was a senior Minister in the Abbott Government. I was a senior Minister in the Abbott Government. A whole number of us, the Treasurer, the Foreign Minister, a whole number of us were senior Ministers in the Abbott Government. So yes, of course there is a lot of continuity. We were part of much of what was decided and put forward by the Abbott Government. But by the same token ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Yes but at that time, the polls didn't like what the Abbott Government was doing so you changed leaders presumably because you thought that voters might prefer a change in direction. Has there been a change of direction?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There has been a lot of continuity and there has been change. The Prime Minister went through that in some detail last night with Leigh Sales. The innovation agenda, the approach to media reform, the approach to Senate reform, the Defence White Paper has been released, the cities agenda. There is a whole range of issues where the Prime Minister is putting his own emphasis on things and is pursuing the agenda that in his judgement is required to successfully transition the Australian economy from mining construction driven growth to broader drivers of growth. I'm very proud to be part of that. But yes, of course there is continuity and there is change. That is as you would expect it to be.
FRAN KELLY: So how are the voters to make sense of this? Tony Abbott is saying, well this is my record that you are voting on, are they voting for Tony Abbott or are they voting for Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The voters will vote for the team that offers the best plan for the next three years. Pointing to our past record is part of putting forward the plan for the next three years. People will want to know what it is that we are going to be doing over the next three years and they will pay some attention to what we have done over the last three years in order to judge whether what we are promising has credibility.
FRAN KELLY: How helpful is Tony Abbott being with his interventions from the sidelines and are you happy for them to keep continuing? I'm thinking he came up with that line, Labor is all about clobbering our economy with five new or increased taxes, and he listed them, the workers tax, the seniors tax, the housing tax. At that point, did he narrow the Government's options there on what you can do?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He didn't narrow the Government's options. Tony Abbott is a former Prime Minister and as a former Prime Minister he is entitled to express his views on a whole range of issues. I am not concerned about any of his public statements.
FRAN KELLY: So would a tax on cigarettes be a workers tax?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let's just see what the Government announces as part of the Budget. We will explain all of the reasons why, and what, at that time.
FRAN KELLY: Talking about the Budget, it's going to be a week earlier, when did you learn the Budget would be brought forward one week to the 3rd of May?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The decision was made yesterday, the formal decision was made yesterday and the Prime Minister announced it soon thereafter.
FRAN KELLY: Scott Morrison was saying just half an hour before the Prime Minister made that announcement that it would be on the 10th of May. He's the Treasurer, looks a little chaotic doesn't it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don't think that's right. Until such time as there is a change in decision, until such time as a decision is changed, all of us were working towards the 10th of May. Then yesterday morning we decided to bring it forward by a week and the decision changed.
FRAN KELLY: And is that ok? The Federal Budget sort of become the political plaything of the Government? It's always on the second Tuesday of May isn't it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When you say a political plaything of the Government, the Federal Budget is the Government's plan, the economic plan, for the next four years, the Government's economic and fiscal plan. In the circumstances, the judgement that we made, was that it was important for the Parliament to have the appropriate time to scrutinise and for the Leader of the Opposition to provide the Budget reply speech in good time. Given that we want to secure passage of the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation and Registered Organisation Commission legislation, it was important putting that timeline together to bring the Budget forward by a week.
FRAN KELLY: Not a lot of time to scrutinise though, there will be a Budget and a week later it looks like we could well be in an election campaign. Given that, the proximity to the election, is it going to be a 'real Budget'? I'm putting inverted commas around that, because won't it be temporary? Or could voters be forgiven for wondering whether it will be temporary to tide you over until you perhaps win the election, you're back in power, you start another three year term and then you can do all the things you really would like to do, but thought wouldn't be electorally palatable?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a real Budget. Of course it is a real Budget. Every Budget gets updated at the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and at the subsequent Budget. This is a real Budget the same as last year's Budget was a real Budget and the Budget before that was a real Budget.
FRAN KELLY: So you wouldn't foresee a mini Budget after the election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
FRAN KELLY: You're listening to Breakfast it is fourteen minutes to eight, our guest is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Still a bit of confusion, well a lot of confusion I think around the Government's tax plans. Will we get the Government's tax plan before the Budget or will voters have to wait for the Budget and only know the Government's tax plans a week before heading into an election perhaps?
MATHIAS CORMANN: People will know our tax plans in good time before the election. As you have just indicated, there is a Budget on the 3rd of May and the Budget... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Is that good time before an election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is more than seven weeks before an election, if the election is on the 2nd of July. As you have indicated, if the election is called on the 11th of May, that is seven weeks. That is a longer campaign than is usually the case in Australian politics. So people will have more time than they normally would have, to actually properly assess the ins and outs of our proposed tax policy.
FRAN KELLY: It seems as though the Government is talking about their idea of business tax cuts as a generator of growth and jobs, not personal tax cuts in this election. Why would the voters accept that priority, give the tax break to big business and not to hard working Australians? How are you going to sell that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I'm not going to speculate on what is in the Budget. I will let you do the speculation. I will let the commentators do the speculation. Currently, we are assessing a whole lot of information, a whole lot of advice. Our focus, as we have said for some time, is to facilitate stronger growth and more jobs, to continue to manage a successful transition from mining construction driven growth to broader drivers of economic activity and growth. In that context, one of the things we are looking at is how we can make our tax system more growth friendly. These are the conversations we are currently having and in the Budget you will see what it is that we are proposing to do.
FRAN KELLY: I think we are all in campaign mode, I use the we loosely there. You're in campaign mode, I'm just observing here and commenting on it and following it. But, the polls have you, some polls have you 50:50, or 51:49, do you think it's that tight? Do you believe the polls?
MATHIAS CORMANN: To be frank, I'm not actually all that focussed on the polls right now. I am focussed ... interupted
FRAN KELLY: What the mood you're getting when you go back home to the electorate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The mood is good. All of the things I have heard yesterday from people across Western Australia is that they support what it is that we are trying to do. They support the Prime Minister's initiative to put the Australian Building and Construction Commission before the Senate the way he has. People accept that we need some resolution in relation to these sorts of important matters related to our economic transition. We will work very hard between now and election day to put out case to convince as many people as possible to support us for another term, but ultimately it will be a matter for the Australian people to decide.
FRAN KELLY: Minister thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.