Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
DAVID SPEERS: Well to talk more about all of these matters, the Finance Minister and Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann is with me. Thank you for your time this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I just pick up on this issue, because there are a couple of questions that related to you at the end of Question Time there in the Lower House. In your role as Special Minister of State, Mark Dreyfus was asking will you direct the AEC, the Australian Electoral Commission to report on whether any organisations that receive donations from the Free Enterprise Foundation complied with Commonwealth Electoral laws?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Electoral Commission is a statutory agency, which appropriately acts independently from the political level of Government. The Electoral Commission will do what it needs to do in its judgement consistent with the Commonwealth Electoral Act. So... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: But his point is that you have the power as the Minister to ask them to do this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was not in Question Time in the House of Representatives. I was in Question Time in the Senate... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Okay, but you do have this power, will you use it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will have a look at what question was put. Let me just say that the Electoral Commission appropriately should be acting independently. There should not be political interference in the activities of the Electoral Commission. I will have a look at what Mark Dreyfus has said in the House of Representatives today, which I haven’t seen or heard.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay, but you are open to considering a special request of the Electoral Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t know. I will just look at what has been said. I will make a judgement on that basis.
DAVID SPEERS: But with regardless of Labor, you’re the Minister, you have the power to ask the AEC to do this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will have a look at what has been said.
DAVID SPEERS: You’re open to doing that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will have a look at what has been said. But my general point is the Electoral Commission is an independent statutory agency, which ought to act independently.
DAVID SPEERS: As in shouldn’t be directed by the Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There should not be political interference from Government. I have come straight here at your request from the Senate. I am not aware of what was said in the House of Representatives. If you want ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: But this issue has been around, Labor doesn’t take decisions, make decisions for you. This has been around a while.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is the first time this proposition has been put to me.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright, well the other issue raised by Mark Dreyfus was the New South Wales Electoral Commission clearly believes the New South Wales Liberal party breached electoral laws. Does the Federal Liberal party therefore deserve electoral funding if that is the case?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I am not responsible for the NSW Electoral Commission. Secondly, as the Prime Minister has said, as all of us have said, the Liberal party organisation must comply with all relevant laws. That is our expectation.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. Let’s get to the issues before the Senate then. The ABCC, the CFMEU is running an ad campaign you might have seen today, comparing an ice dealer to a building worker, saying an ice dealer gets better legal protection than a building worker would. Is it the case that a witness before the ABCC would have to answer questions or produce documents even if it does incriminate them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The powers for the ABCC that the CFMEU is objecting to are the powers that are available to any regulator, including regulators that were set up by the previous Gillard government. This is just a furphy. It is just part of the dishonest campaign that the union movement has been running against our efforts to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, because our objective is to bring down the cost of construction, to ensure that as we transition from resource investment driven growth to broader drivers of growth we are as competitive and as productive as possible. The CFMEU clearly does not support that effort. They want costs to remain high. They want Australia to not be as competitive as we can be. That is not our view. We will press ahead with ...interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Okay, their other concern is access to a lawyer. It is true isn’t it, that under the ABCC Bill you wouldn’t necessarily get the lawyer of your choice.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, the arrangements under the ABCC Bill are the same arrangements as are in place when it comes to ASIC, as are in place when it comes to APRA, as are in place when it comes to the ACCC, indeed as are in place in relation to the industrial relations related regulators that the Gillard government set up. There is nothing new or novel here. This is an established process. I have never heard the CFMEU pick on the various industrial bodies that were set up by the Gillard government, with the exact same powers and the exact same processes and procedures.
DAVID SPEERS: Let’s turn to the trucking issue. Different union, the TWU says there have been a lot of crashes lately. Ten lives lost just over the weekend, including two girls. You have argued that you don’t think higher pay is the answer to safer roads. But what is the answer?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Safety on the roads is a very important issue. There is a regulator that has got specific responsibility for this. To the extent that there are things that can be done better, we are always interested in doing this better, to ensure that road safety is improved. The truth is, this road safety tribunal, so-called with an Orwellian name given to it by the Gillard government, is not about road safety. It is purely and simply an attack by Labor and the unions on small business owner operators in the trucking industry. If it was genuinely about safety, why is this order, why is this approach that they took when they were last in Government, why is it targeted at small business owner operators. This is a very blatant and transparent attack by the union movement on small business.
DAVID SPEERS: There are conflicting bits of advice and views on this issue whether pay helps improve safety, there’s a Price Waterhouse Coopers report released by the Department of Education that does indicate higher pay rates would reduce truck crashes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We don’t believe that there is a link. We believe that road safety is important. There are always, it is always important for us to keep looking at how road safety can be improved in a sensible fashion, but we don’t believe that the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, this Orwellian named Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is the way to go. Its only purpose is to essentially go after small business truckies. We stand with small business truckies. We want them to continue to be able to get ahead and pursue their livelihoods.
DAVID SPEERS: Let me turn to the banks, do you agree there have been too many troubling incidents in the banking sector?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our banking sector is very well regulated. Don’t take my word for it. That is what Bill Shorten used to say not that long ago when he was the financial services minister... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: We’ve seen a few incidents since then though.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There have been troubling incidents... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Too many?
MATHIAS CORMANN: And there have also been many inquiries... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Too many?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Indeed it was the Coalition that initiated the Financial Systems Inquiry. Something that Labor opposed... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: We’ve seen troubling incidents since then haven’t we, that is the point the Prime Minister was making. He said, there have been too many troubling incidents.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister was of course right with what he was saying. We do have ASIC as the corporate regulator with all of the powers of a Royal Commission. But not only that, actually also the powers to investigate, to enforce, to pursue and to prosecute. This ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: So you don’t need to do anything further?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We certainly don’t need a Royal Commission, because a Royal Commission actually doesn’t help to resolve in these circumstances the issues that have been put on the table. We have had several inquiries. We have had Senate inquiries. We have had the Financial Systems Inquiry. The Government has initiated last year a capability review into ASIC… interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Is that enough? ASIC doesn’t need to hold any further inquiry?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, ASIC has got a job to do under our corporations laws, which it does independently. It’s a statutory agency which does its job according to its judgements. We believe ASIC has got the resources and also the powers in order to pursue wrongdoing if and where that occurs.
DAVID SPEERS: They don’t need more resources? More power?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is something that is always under review.
DAVID SPEERS: That’s what I’m asking, do they need more resources or power?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have indicated, we initiated a capability review. We did that. That is something that is currently being considered by Government. We will, when we are in a position to make announcements in relation to that, we will make them.
DAVID SPEERS: You also took out $120 million from ASIC on top of the efficiency dividend. Was that a mistake?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor actually imposed an efficiency dividend on ASIC just before... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: And after that you took out $120 million
MATHIAS CORMANN: We always make judgements on what the appropriate levels of resourcing is. That is something that we are reviewing in the lead up to this Budget as we have in the lead up to ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Sure, was that a mistake?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We made the judgement that was required at the time. We are now looking at what the appropriate level of resourcing for ASIC, and indeed for any other agency across Government is, as we put the finishing touches to this Budget. You can expect some announcements to be made in relation to that.
DAVID SPEERS: So we might see more money put back in.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Budget will be delivered on the 3rd of May. I would expect that some announcements in relation to resourcing for ASIC and other agencies around Government will be made in the context of the Budget, as there always are.
DAVID SPEERS: Let me finally ask, it is a big week in the Senate, you are the Government’s Deputy Leader there, are you expecting any late night sittings or further fireworks like we saw around the Senate voting reforms?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s see how the week unfolds. We brought the Senate back because the time for procedural games on the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is well and truly over. This is legislation which was first introduced more than two years ago. It has been sent to three different Senate inquiries. Labor has been filibustering this for some time. We want the Senate to deal with it one way or another so that if the legislation is not passed we can then ask the Australian people to pass judgement on it at a double dissolution election.
DAVID SPEERS: Has there been a serious effort would you say, to win over the crossbench?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is legislation, which has been before the Parliament for more than two years. There has been a whole series of procedural games, which has delayed dealing with this piece of legislation. We now have made available three weeks for the Senate to deal with this. As the Prime Minister said, the time for procedural games is well and truly over. We need to deal with this one way or the other so that if the Senate doesn’t agree to support this Bill, which we would like to see passed, then it will be up to the Australian people to decide.
DAVID SPEERS: Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister and Special Minister of State, thanks very much for joining us and no doubt we will be hearing from you further throughout the week.