Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 8 July 2016
KIERAN GILBERT: With us now we have got the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, joining us from Perth. Finance Minister Cormann, the negative outlook, what is your reaction to that. The Treasurer seems pretty relaxed about it. Are you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What it confirms is that we have to continue to live within our means, that when we want to spend more on higher priorities we have to pay for it with savings in other parts of the Budget, which is what the Government has been doing. We have to stay the course. We can’t stick our head in the sand. There is a challenge there to be dealt with. We have to keep putting the Budget on a stronger foundation for the future. We have to continue to pursue policies to strengthen economic growth, so that we can afford the level of expenditure that we need to incur.
KIERAN GILBERT: So is there scope then, in that context, for moving further on health, like the freeze on the Medicare rebate? Is there any potential there, because the Prime Minister’s said that you have listened the concerns of the electorate. Does that mean a monetary response as well to this message you have received from the electorate at this election on health.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our plan is reflected in the Budget. As I have just said, if there is a decision to spend more money on a higher priority area, the way to deal with that is by identifying savings to pay for it. That is the discipline that we have imposed on ourselves as a Government since we came into Government in September 2013. At various times we have made decisions to increase expenditure, including and in particular in health, where we increased the expenditure, investment in public hospitals by $2.9 billion in the most recent Budget. We paid for that with savings in other parts of the Budget. When we increased funding for access to expensive pharmaceuticals, treatments for cancer in particular, through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we paid for that with savings in other parts of the Budget. Any decision in the future, if we want to spend more on higher priority areas we need to find ways to pay for it with savings in other pats of the Budget. The statement of Standard & Poors yesterday again confirmed the importance of that fiscal discipline.
KIERAN GILBERT: What do you say to the critics of your Government that this a reflection on your stewardship? The downgrade.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me just say that if we had followed the Labor party approach, either when we came into Government, the one that we inherited, or the one that they took to the last election, we would be in a worse position. We should never forget that Labor went to this election promising bigger deficits, to the tune of about $16.5 billion, higher taxes to the tune of more than $100 billion and higher debt. All of those things would have been bad for our AAA credit rating. All of these things would have been bad for investment, the economy and jobs. When we came into Government in September 2013, the economy was weakening, unemployment was rising, the Budget position was deteriorating. We are in a better position now. But we have to continue to work hard to ensure that our economy is as strong as it can be and that people across Australia have the best possible opportunity to get ahead.
KIERAN GILBERT: Christopher Pyne this morning has said that the election is won with 74 seats locked in, the support of Katter and likely in his view, a slim majority government. Do you agree with him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are quietly confident that we will be able to form a majority government. That is certainly… interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: He is not quietly.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is certainly the indication that we have from the numbers, the way that they are trending. There are 74 seats there that are certain and then there are another two seats or so that seem to be, based on the trends in the voting so far seem to be eminently achievable.
KIERAN GILBERT: But he is not quietly confident. He described you as an election winning machine. He is loudly confident as usual.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am quietly confident that we will be able to form a majority government.
KIERAN GILBERT: So, in that sense, what is being seen as quite a difficult and a disaster as described by Cory Bernardi this election campaign, and certainly surprised many in terms of the swing to Labor, do you feel that now, a few days on, that this has been a success for the Coalition? That you have ended up with a majority most likely?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We took the plan to the election that in our judgement was the plan that Australia needed, that was the plan that we needed to successfully steer our economy through the global economic headwinds that we are facing from time to time and to ensure that we are in the best possible position to put the Australian economy on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future. If indeed we are able to form a majority government, a win is a win is a win. That will mean that we are in a position to implement our plan for the economy and jobs. In the end that is the objective of any election, that you end up winning a majority of seats. If we have done so, then to that extent we have been successful. Is it as good a result as we would have liked? No, clearly not. I think that all of us have said that from the Prime Minister down. There will be a time to reflect and to ensure that we appropriately respond to the learnings and the messages that we received in this election.
KIERAN GILBERT: Given the Prime Minister hasn’t declared, or formally declared a win here, is it premature for Christopher Pyne to be saying out there that you are an election winning machine and you have won the election, given that some seats remain in doubt and you might end up only with 75?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My good friend Christopher is the eternal optimist. I think that he is just being very optimistic here. I am quietly optimistic too. The truth is the numbers are very much trending our way. Anyone who knows anything about the way these things trend would be quietly confident that the Coalition will be able to form a majority government.
KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of moving ahead from this point, you have said it is not as good a result as you had hoped for. Do you accept now with the reduced majority that you will have to be less ambitious in terms of, for example, your company tax cut plan? That you won’t get it all through?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree that we should be less ambitious. We always should be as ambitious as possible for Australia’s future. If we have a majority, then that means that we have a mandate to implement the plan that we took to the last election. We certainly will be pursuing all of the initiatives that we put forward in the lead up to the election. It will be a matter for the Senate to determine how they respond to the initiatives we… interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: And would you look at a compromise of say, tax cuts for businesses with turnovers up to $100 million for example? I could see Nick Xenophon maybe exceeding to that but not to the multinationals. Is that something that you are open to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will put forward the 10 year enterprise tax plan as we laid it out in the election campaign. We know that we will have to work through these issues with people in the Senate. I am not going to pre-empt how these conversations may or may not proceed. But self-evidently, there will be an engagement by the Government with all Senators. We will try to get as close as possible to the plan that we would like to see implemented for Australia’s benefit.
KIERAN GILBERT: The vacuum since the election day has left a whole heap of commentary around, criticisms internally and externally. Has it re-opened old wounds? Does the party in its entirety, the Parliamentary party support Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister on an ongoing basis?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes. We are a strong and united team. The party absolutely overwhelmingly supports Malcolm Turnbull. He has the strong and untied support of his Cabinet. He has the strong and united support of his Ministry. He has the overwhelming support in the party room. After an election like we have just had it is completely business as usual that there is a level of conversation about what went well, what didn’t go so well, what can be done better next time around. That is just the normal process that would take place after any election, in particular one where the result wasn’t as good as we had hoped for.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Malcolm Turnbull will remain Prime Minister for the next three years in your view?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely.
KIERAN GILBERT: Bill Shorten is holding a caucus meeting today. He has got the full support of his Party, while you guys have seen public sniping at one another. It is quite a contrast there.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was watching Anthony Albanese twisting and turning the other day, trying to refuse to rule out running for the leadership. I see that Bill Shorten is bringing on this caucus meeting while there are still five seats where Labor is hoping to be able to get across the line undecided. So either Bill Shorten has given up on those seats or he has deliberately excluded those candidates of his from being part of the deliberations in relation to the leadership of the Labor party. He clearly has brought this forward because he is trying to stop Anthony Albanese from having a run at the leadership. That is a matter for the Labor party. I think you will find that it is not all sunshine inside the Labor party right now.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, talk to you soon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.