Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
CHRIS KENNY: Joining me now live from Perth is the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. First up Mathias, you now of course get to continue in Government as Finance Minister after waiting just over a week. Congratulations.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The job that I perform in the next Government is a matter for the Prime Minister. But yes, we are very pleased that the election result has been confirmed and that our team has been successful at this election.
CHRIS KENNY: Look we will never know, as I said at the outset, we will never know what would have happened if you had stuck with Tony Abbott nine months ago and gone to this election. But nine months ago, if someone had said to you or any of your colleagues in Government that you would go on to fight an election and you would stay in power with a narrow majority of one or two seats, you would have jumped at that with both hands wouldn’t you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have just gone through an election campaign where we have put forward our plan for Australia, our plan for our future. We have been successful. Our focus now is on making sure that Australia is the most successful we can be in the years and in the decades to come, to implement the plans that we took to the election. I will leave it to others to dissect all of the ins and outs of events in the past and what the various permutations may or may not mean. Our focus now is on the job at hand, to get back to providing good Government for Australia.
CHRIS KENNY: You don’t want to look back on history. Let me put it another way then. If someone said to you now at the next election in three years’ time, you can hold onto power by a margin of one or two seats, you would grab that with both hands wouldn’t you? A win is a win.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Indeed, a win is a win is a win. In a democracy like ours, the way you settle these sorts of contests is on the basis of who gets a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. We will have a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. We have got about 800,000 more Australians who voted for the Coalition with their primary vote, compared to the Labor party. On a two party preferred basis more people have supported the Coalition than the Labor party. So by any measure, we have won this election. We are now able to implement the plan that we took to the election in the next Parliament.
CHRIS KENNY: I wouldn’t want to start bringing vote counts, two party preferred or primary into it. It is all about the seats you win. It is the safest ground to stay on. I want to come to your program in a moment. But just one question on the message from the electorate. Obviously you have lost a lot of seats. Obviously it is a narrow victory. What lessons do you take? What message are you hearing from the electorate as far as the sort of Government that you have been delivering and been promising?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The judgement that is delivered at an election is a judgement in relation to the previous three years as well as the campaign itself. The best way to respond to the message that we have received at this election is to be the best Government we possibly can be, making sure that we implement our plan to put the Australian economy on the strongest possible foundation for the future. Making sure that we keep Australia safe and secure moving forward. People did express a view at this election that we do have to respond to and as a Government we will.
CHRIS KENNY: Well as I said in the opening as well, I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull really gave us in his speech today exactly what his top priorities are for the first term he won as Prime Minister. What would you say are the top priorities for Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been very clear all throughout the election campaign, that should we be returned we will be seeking to legislate our tax cuts for families, our tax cuts for small business, we will seek to legislate the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and also deal with the Registered Organisations legislation in order to ensure that ... interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: So just to, if I can interrupt, are they the fundamentals, are they the top priorities, that is the business tax plan that was the centrepiece of your economic plan, plus also of course those double dissolution triggers, the Registered Organisations Bill and the ABCC, the two union accountability bills. Are they the top order of business for the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our priority is to ensure that the economy is the strongest it possibly can be moving forward, so that people across Australia have the best possible opportunity to be successful and to get ahead. Our enterprise tax plan, our tax cuts for hard working families, our commitment to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to ensure that we address lawlessness on building sites across Australia and bring down the cost of construction, these are some of the top order issues that we will deal with as soon as the Parliament gets back. There is a whole range of other things as part of our program that we will continue to pursue.
CHRIS KENNY: Those three items though, that is the business tax plan and the two items of the union accountability that were the double d triggers ... interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: And the tax cuts for families.
CHRIS KENNY: Alright. Do you say that you have a clear mandate for those and that if the Senate blocks those it will be rejecting the will of the people?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We clearly have a mandate. By definition, you go through an election to put forward alternative agendas, alternative teams. The team that wins a majority of seats in the House of Representatives wins government and wins the opportunity to implement their plan. That is the Coalition in this election. We have put forward our plan. We have won the election. We have won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, when it is all said and done. Of course we will be implementing the plan that we took to the last election. We are realists of course. We know that in the Senate we will not have a majority in our own right. That means that in the Senate we will have to work with others in order to ensure that we get our agenda through the Parliament. That will happen in the ordinary course of events.
CHRIS KENNY: What is the chance the next election could also be a double dissolution sometime on those same measures, the ABCC and the Registered Organisations Bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think Chris, you are getting way ahead of yourself now. We have just gone through an election.
CHRIS KENNY: But there is not much chance of them getting through. There is not much chance of them getting passed is there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I would not necessarily say that at all. I was listening very carefully to an interview that Pauline Hanson gave, I think on Sky News. Her comments were very encouraging when it comes to our proposal to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission. People will make all sorts of assumptions. There will be all sorts of commentary. From our point of view, we took an agenda to the election. We put a plan to the Australian people at the election. We have won the election. We will now set out to implement our plan. That includes putting forward a proposal, to the House of Representatives initially, to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission. That will go through the usual process. If the Senate again rejects that legislation to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission it would go to a joint sitting. There are a whole series of steps between now and then. But I would not make any assumptions whatsoever. We certainly will do everything we can to see that legislation get through the Parliament successfully.
CHRIS KENNY: Look what about the big issue, and that is Budget repair, fiscal repair. We had Standard & Poor’s come out this week offering their judgement, putting our AAA credit rating on a negative watch. They obviously think your job has become harder to deliver Budget repair. How are you going to get spending cuts through the Senate? Is that suddenly harder than it was even before the election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have to keep to a fiscal discipline. We can’t spend money we haven’t got. We have to make sure that we live within our means. We have to continue to implement a plan that brings us back to balance in the projected timetable.
CHRIS KENNY: But the Labor party and the Greens who are going to have the numbers in the Senate are quite prepared to spend money we haven’t got, so they are going to thwart you at every turn to try and cut back on spending.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The first point is that we forced Labor during this election campaign to backflip and roll over in relation to a whole series of savings that they have steadfastly opposed in the past Parliament. So we would now expect the Labor party to stick to what they said to the Australian people in the course of this election campaign and to support all of the savings that the Government has put forward in the last Parliament unsuccessfully, but which Labor during this campaign now have said that they would support. We expect that Bill Shorten will deliver on his commitments there. That means that we will make some further progress if he is a man of his word…interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: He did. Bill Shorten did say today that he wanted to be constructive so there is room to move on some of those issues.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That was my second point. That was my second point. We take him by his word when he says that he wants to take a constructive attitude and approach into this Parliament. We will engage with him ... interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: Does that mean there will be a bit of give and take on your behalf, for instance might you agree as Labor proposes to keep the debt levy in place in order to get Labor agreement on some other spending cuts.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our plan is reflected in our Budget. That was a temporary Budget repair levy. Something that Labor incidentally initially opposed. I’m not going to make future decisions on the run. We as a Cabinet under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull will make judgements on the best way forward down the track, depending on what challenges or opportunities are in front of us. That is what we always would do in these sorts of circumstances.
CHRIS KENNY: Alright, two more questions briefly. On superannuation, Labor effectively abandoned its policy during the campaign and said they’d look into it afterwards. Your policy has been blamed as one of the big reasons you put your base offside. Will you revisit superannuation policy in light of the election result and in light of wanting to try and do a deal with Labor?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We don’t believe that our efforts to make our superannuation system fairer and more sustainable were the reason for the election result. If you look at what actually happened on a seat by seat basis, seats like Curtin which would be more concerned to the extent that there is concern, there was actually a swing towards the Liberal party. Similarly in other seats where perhaps people will be more affected by some of the changes we’ve put forward and on the other side …interrupted
CHRIS KENNY: Sure, but you can do a deal with Labor on isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: And the other is true also. Those seats that were less affected by super, we had strong swings against us. We have put forward a plan, which is reflected in our Budget. Our intention is to implement the plan that we took to the election. If you take a Budget to an election and you win the election, your starting position is that you will give it your best to implement what the people have endorsed. Depending on what happens in the Parliament, depending on what happens with the conversations moving forward, we will make relevant judgements as required.
CHRIS KENNY: Well I reckon given that Labor led the way on that policy issue, if you’re looking to make some changes, it might be a prospective area for you to negotiate with Labor. You can just take that as a comment if you like Mathias Cormann. I just want to finish off with a question and that is whether or not you would like to see your former leader Tony Abbott back in Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. The make up of the Cabinet is a matter for the Prime Minister. I just note that Tony Abbott himself has said that he is not seeking to get back into the Cabinet. He has played a very positive and very constructive role during this campaign. He is setting out what he seeks to do in the Parliament as the Member for Warringah as a highly regarded and highly respected elder statesman of the party. He has been very clear in terms of his intentions, but the make-up of the Cabinet is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister.
CHRIS KENNY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us again on Viewpoint.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.