Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
PETER VAN ONSELEN: We are going to move back to domestic politics. As promised, we are going to talk now to the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, live from the nation’s capital. Thanks very much for your company.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Were you inspired by Donald Trump and his wife there, and everything that they might be able to offer the world and America were he to win the race?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The United States is going through a very long election campaign. Some people thought that eight weeks was a long time. But democracy in the United States is taking quite a bit longer than that. I wish them all very well.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Do you think that, obviously in a sense it is not appropriate for Australian politicians to get into the domestic goings on over there, but Trump has been so, if you like, outspoken and controversial in some of his outspoken remarks, you couldn’t imagine a character like that getting to the apex of a Parliamentary system’s majority party would you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is running to be President of the United States. It is a matter for the America people to determine whether he or Hillary Clinton get to occupy that very important office. From an Australian point of view, we have a very strong, very important relationship, with the United States. The Australian Government of any political persuasion will always work very closely with any American President of whatever political persuasion as well.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: You are a migrant to this country Mathias Cormann. What do you think of Pauline Hanson’s observations, indeed Sonia Kruger’s observations that all Muslims should not be allowed to migrate to this country?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have a non-discriminatory immigration program. We set the rules. We determine who can come to Australia and the circumstances in which they come. But it is a non-discriminatory immigration program. We have a non-discriminatory humanitarian program. That is good. That is the way it should be. The important point though is, Australia is an amazing country for migrants. If you come here with an attitude of wanting to do your best, wanting to help make this country an even better country, put your shoulder to the wheel and contribute, there is really no limit to what you can achieve. We are an incredibly successful and harmonious multicultural society with people coming here from all corners of the world. The important point is that anyone who does come to Australia has the responsibility and it is incumbent on them to come here to help make our country an even better country. Not to come here and bring troubles from other parts of the world to Australia.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Look, you are in a really unique position to offer an insight into all of this, because as I say, you are a migrant, you have come from Belgium which of course is one of the justification some people use in terms of what has happened over there and across wider Europe more recently in France, as a reason to justify trying to stem the flow of Muslim immigration. So you’re perfectly juxtapositioned as someone who has made one hell of a go of it as a migrant coming to this country yet has left the country that is now in the midst of a debate that is stirring up some of this animosity. Can you understand the sentiment that people deliver about Muslim migration. Or do you condemn it as being some sort of bigotry.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have lived in Australia for more than twenty years. I came here as a young man straight out of university. Australia has been very good to me. I have tried to do my best in whatever I have had the opportunity to do. What I would say to migrants coming here now from wherever they come, from all corners of the world, this is a country where if you join team Australia, if you put your shoulder to the wheel, you do the best you can to make a positive difference, there is no limit to what you can achieve in whatever your chosen field of endeavour. I am not going to provide lectures to people. People who come to Australia to make Australia their home ought to comply with our laws, or to commit themselves to making a positive contribution. That is the way I have sought to address it in my own way.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you about the Cabinet. Twenty-three, Senator, in Cabinet. It’s a pretty unwieldy lot. The gold standard according to John Howard was to have it in the high teens and even there, at most push eighteen. Bob Hawke had it as low as thirteen during his best years of Cabinet governance. How are you going to get anything done with twenty-three people in the room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are twenty-three hard working Cabinet Ministers who are all getting back to work implementing our plan for a stronger economy and more jobs that we took to the last election under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce. Having won the election and with the National party having done a bit better than the Liberal party as part of the Coalition team, the laws of arithmetic are what they are. So there was a small lift in the number of Ministers representing the National party. That is the way these things work. We are now all getting back to work for the Australian people.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But can I jump in on that Senator and ask you, there is that lift and the extra spot in Cabinet for example, but the Prime Minister didn’t seem to want to drop anyone from Cabinet, so he just expanded it. Is that a sign of weakness?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He made that promise in that lead up to the last election. He said to the Australian people in the lead up to the election that the team and the Ministry, the Cabinet that he was taking to the election is the Cabinet and the Ministry that he would seek to appoint after the election. A number of our colleagues, sadly, were not successful at the election, so there had to be some changes there, but the Prime Minister set out to keep faith with what he said he would do before the election. That is as it should be.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: What about women serving in the Parliament, as well as serving on the frontbench. No women were promoted, either by the National party of by the Prime Minister from the Liberal ranks. There are fewer women in the Parliament now than there were in 2013, fewer still than there were during John Howard’s time as Prime Minister. When is the Liberal party going to take seriously trying to get more women into politics? It is not good enough just to highlight the individual good women that are there, you have got to have a larger quantum, surely.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, there is a challenge here for the Liberal party to ensure that we increase the representation of women in the Parliament. There is no question about that. But you are also right to point out that we have a large number of high quality women in the Parliament, indeed in the Cabinet and the Ministry more generally. Julie Bishop as our Deputy Leader and Foreign Minister, in a central position in our Government. Fiona Nash as the Deputy Leader of the National party in a central position in our Government. Marise Payne as the Defence Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer as the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. We do have Sussan Ley as the Minister for Health. We have a whole series of outstanding women performing key and central areas of public policy responsibility in our Cabinet. The Prime Minister when he became the Prime Minister promoted a number of additional women into senior positions in our Government. This is a work in progress, but we are very mindful of the fact that at the entry level, if you like, at the pre-selection level, that we need to do better moving forward.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But what are you going to do though in that space? Because we have heard a lot of talk, I have to say, in the time I have been observing politics, for decades now we have heard a lot of talk about the need to do more. But actually, the quantum of women in the Parliamentary party is lower now than it was decades ago when there was criticism and there was commentary by MPs that something had to be done.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Liberal party organisation at the organisational level will have to continue to work through how best to address this. My responsibilities as part of the Cabinet, as the Minister for Finance, is now to get to work to implement and help implement our plan for the economy, our plan for stronger growth and more jobs. Another outstanding woman in our Cabinet Michaelia Cash as the Minister for Employment will be central to some of our key initiatives when the Parliament goes back. The restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the reforms through our Registered Organisations legislation and indeed our commitment to volunteer firefighters in Victoria, to protect them from harassment and union takeover as promoted by the Andrews Government in Victoria. We do have outstanding women in key positions in our Cabinet. Moving forward I am very confident that the Liberal party will continue to take steps to improve the representation of Liberal women in the Parliament.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you a question that relates to your Finance portfolio, but also it also in a sense relates to the temporary portfolio that you held for a while there about Special Minister of State after Mal Brough stepped aside. Firstly, the Senate reforms that were pushed through ahead of this last Parliament, Pauline Hanson you may have heard last night thanking the Prime Minister for those Senate reforms because essentially by removing the preference swap arrangements and the amount of preferencing, her view is that even away from a DD election, she’s got better chances of continuing to win election because people always used to put One Nation last, whereas now the structure may well assist her. In the wider context of where that leaves the Senate, as the Finance Minister Senator Cormann, how confident are you of getting anything through the Senate? It looks like you’re going to need as many as nine crossbenchers to pass legislation. That strikes me as nigh impossible.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The very important objective of the Senate voting reform was to empower voters to determine what happened not just to their primary vote when voting above the line in the Senate, but also to their preferences to ensure that the Senate result reflected the will of the Australian people and was not the result of some lottery driven by secret backroom, non-transparent deals that were organised between micro, minor and major parties. Compared to the last Parliament, every single person that is ultimately elected to the Senate will be elected because a sizeable number of Australians either voted for them with their primary vote, or put them very high up in the order of preferences. That is the only way you can get elected. You are not going to be elected anymore with a very low primary vote as result of a lottery. In the end, people after a three year period of Parliament, after a six year period in the Senate for those Senators elected for six years, will be able to form a judgement on the performance of Senators that they have elected previously. They will be able to form a judgement on what they’re promising for the future elections. Ultimately it is up to voters to determine who they want to represent them in the Senate. That is what our Senate voting reforms have helped to achieve.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just very, very quickly, you say that and the Prime Minister said that it’s all about on with Government from here, but there is going to be less Parliamentary sittings for the rest of this year than was the length of the eight week campaign. Is that really getting on with business?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are getting on with business. We are hitting the ground running. Senate vote counting will continue for some time. The return of the writs is determined for the 8th August. Then soon thereafter the Parliament will return. We will get back into the usual pattern. That is the way you would expect it to happen.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Mathias Cormann, always appreciate you joining us on NewsDay, thanks for your company once again.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.