Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
FRAN KELLY: A rare special sitting of Parliament opens this morning setting the country on course for a July 2nd double dissolution election. The Prime Minister has reaffirmed that both Houses of Parliament will be dissolved in the Senate fails to pass legislation reinstating the Australian Building and Construction Commission. It all comes down to crossbenchers and they’re convinced a double dissolution is now virtually unavoidable.
DAVID LEYONHJELM: Frankly I don’t think the Government even wanted it to pass. I don’t, this is the weirdest way of negotiating I have ever encountered the way they have gone about it.
NICK XENOPHON: I think it is unlikely to go through. I think it is almost inevitable that we will have a July 2nd election.
JACQUIE LAMBIE: Michaelia Cash, she doesn’t want to go, she doesn’t want to change any of that legislation. So as far as I am concerned it needs to go. They don’t have the numbers and it is finished. Absolutely I think it will be rejected. So I guess we are all going to double D in about eight or ten weeks time.
FRAN KELLY: A ten week campaign essentially and counting down. Is that where we are at? Crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm, Nick Xenophon and Jacquie Lambie there. In a moment we will be speaking with the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong. But first the Finance Minister and the Government’s Deputy Senate Leader, Mathias Cormann joins us in our Parliament House studio. Minister good morning, welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Before I go to today’s sitting, can I talk to you about polls? The two major polls today have you 50-50 or 49-51. You’re virtually locked into an election timetable. Is this the worst possible scenario for the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What the polls show is that the Australian people will have a very important choice to make, in a very tightly contested election. The choice will be between our plan to successfully transition the Australian economy from resource investment driven growth to broader drivers of growth in a more diversified economy and Labor’s plan to increase taxes to spend more and to undermine that transition that we are currently engaged in.
FRAN KELLY: Are you shocked by where you are in the polls right now and if you zero in and burrow in to some of these polls the Ipsos poll shows big drops in voter sentiment on a range of leadership attributes for Malcolm Turnbull, on strong leadership, vision and getting things done. Getting things done a 25 per cent drop in six months. Also on the perception of Malcolm Turnbull as a leader who can get things done. Are you shocked by this and why do you think voters are so disappointed in Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australian elections are always closely fought. Malcolm Turnbull is a leader that gets things done. Malcolm Turnbull is our leader who is leading the charge in successfully transitioning ...interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But why don’t the voters see it like that then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s see what the voters decide on election day. As I said, come the next election, people will have a clear choice between our plan to successfully transition our economy into a more diversified new economy, or Labor’s plan to just increase taxes to spend more. Increase taxes for example, on investment, reducing the level of investment into our economy by increasing the Capital Gains Tax by 50 per cent. By making ill thought out changes to negative gearing, which will drive down the value of property and which will increase the cost of rents. So as the debate unfolds, people will become increasingly conscious of the choice in front of them.
FRAN KELLY: Well, as you just said, these polls suggest the election will be close. If you win, it is increasingly unlikely looking at these numbers, that you will have the numbers at a double dissolution sitting to pass the blocked legislation. The ABCC, the Registered Organisation. This sitting of the Senate that we are going into today, is all about. Are you concerned that this whole bold strategy is unravelling?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran, I think you are getting way ahead of yourself. Right now we are in this special sitting of Parliament in order to ensure that the Senate has the opportunity to conclusively deal with legislation, which so far has been prevented from being dealt with by the Senate. We believe that the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is a very important piece of legislation to help bring down the cost of construction, to help reduce the level of lawlessness in the construction industry. It is an important part of transitioning our economy, successfully transitioning our economy, from resource investment driven growth to broader drivers of growth. In these next three weeks, the Senate will deal with it one way or the other. If the Senate rejects this piece of legislation for the second time, then we will be putting this disagreement between the House of Representatives and the Senate on this important piece of legislation to the Australian people. It will be up to the Australian people to decide and we will accept their verdict.
FRAN KELLY: We heard earlier from a few crossbenchers they don’t think that this ABCC Bill is going to pass. Nor does it seem they think that the Government has been terribly serious about the negotiating with them on this Bill to reinstate the ABCC. Here’s a fourth now, Ricky Muir, doubting your negotiation on this Bill, let’s have a listen.
RICKY MUIR: How serious the Government is actually about passing this Bill or whether this is more just a operation for them to be able to get to a double dissolution is really the million dollar question at the moment. It does feel like we are on the final countdown.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you think they are serious or that we are just going through the motions here?
RICKY MUIR: I think we are going through the motions to be quite honest.
FRAN KELLY: That is Ricky Muir speaking this morning on ABC TV’s News Breakfast. Minister that is how he sees it and Ricky Muir is on the record as being open to passing your legislation. So no one thinks you are trying.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That’s just not right... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: That’s not how they see it
MATHIAS CORMANN: This legislation has been in front of the Senate now for a number of years. Procedural games have been played to frustrate its successful passage. It has been rejected once before and the Senate sent this piece of legislation to three different Senate inquiries. The same legislation... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Are negotiations underway again this morning?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our position is very clear. We would prefer to pass this legislation now, but not at any cost. We would accept reasonable amendments, but not the sort of amendments that would fundamentally change the legislation. This is just a continuation of procedural games that have been going on for many, many months now. As the Prime Minister has said, the time for games is now over. We want this to be brought to a head. If the Senate doesn’t deal with it in these next few weeks, then we will be putting it to the Australian people for their decision.
FRAN KELLY: It’s eighteen to eight on Breakfast, our guest is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormannn, also Deputy Government leader in the Senate. Minister, the ABCC Bill is scheduled to go first up into the Senate. Jacquie Lambie and some of the others want the Government to allow the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal Bill to be debated and voted on first. Will you facilitate that? Because you also want that passed.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal so-called, but that is a piece of legislation which has to be initiated in the House of Representatives. It will be initiated in the House of Representatives today. The first order of business today after the opening of Parliament this morning that we want to deal with after the address in reply is the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. The Senate will get the opportunity to support our legislation to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which was a Labor-Bill Shorten attack together with the unions on small business owner operators in the trucking industry.
FRAN KELLY: Does it get a bit tricky for you Minister if the ABCC Bill goes in first and it is voted down, then Malcolm Turnbull has the trigger for a double dissolution election, and he has told us that will trigger an election? That being the case, is there any point, or perhaps right or correct for the Senate to then keep passing Bills like the one to scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal Bill, which is contested, Labor and the Greens don’t support that, if we know we are heading into an election? We are sort of in quasi-caretaker mode aren’t we?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are not in quasi-caretaker mode. Yes it is right for the Senate to deal with the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal abolition. We have known for three years that there will be an election in the second half of this year. That doesn’t mean that for the last three years we just sit there waiting for the election and not do anything, but we ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: No, but we now know this triggers an election, we know the date of that election.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had triggers, we have had double dissolution triggers for some time too, so there is nothing new there. I am not quite sure the point that you are trying to make here. Until such time that the Parliament is dissolved, the Parliament continues to function. We do have an important piece of work to do in relation to making sure that owner operators in the trucking industry are protected from this outrageous attack that Labor and the unions have inflicted on them. We will ensure that happens.
FRAN KELLY: There will also be a move by the Greens, supported by Labor to bring on a Bill legislating for a Royal Commission into the banks. The Ipsos poll today shows 65 per cent support for Labor’s proposed Royal Commission into the banks. Have you been outplayed by the Opposition on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is not about politics. Our focus is on what is the right thing to do and what is economically responsible. The truth is that a Royal Commission would not achieve anything new. There have been a series of inquiries into the banking system. There have been a series of inquiries into the financial system. ASIC, as the corporate regulator has got all of the powers of a Royal Commission and indeed, they have more powers to the extent they are actually able to take action if and where the wrong thing has been done. So ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: So if that’s the case, all of the powers, does that mean the Government doesn’t need to give it more funding, more resources or more instructions? Are you happy with where it is or will Cabinet instruct ASIC to hold some kind of general enquiry into the banks as a way of heading off a Royal Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We initiated in July last year a capability review into ASIC. That is something that the Government is in the process of considering. In the lead up to any Budget and indeed any Budget update, we review the resourcing of all the agencies of Government to ensure that they are adequately and appropriately resourced to fulfil the functions that we need them to fulfil.
FRAN KELLY: The PM confirmed last night the Treasurer has quote, been in conversation with the banks. Now Bill Shorten says the Government is taking in writing instructions from the big four to reject a Royal Commission. Now you might say he would say that wouldn’t he... interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Indeed.
FRAN KELLY: I’m wondering whether you think NAB in this climate should be co-sponsoring Liberal Party fundraisers? Because there has been a report that it is doing exactly that, for a Budget fundraiser organised for the Higgins 200 Club, Kelly O’Dwyer’s electorate.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to be a commentator on what the banks do and don’t do. I’ll leave the banks to talk for themselves. I don’t think there is anything remarkable about the Treasurer of Australia having conversations with banks or indeed with other major players in the economy.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.