Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SANDY ALIOSI: Federal politicians are back in Canberra today ahead of the first sitting of the 45th Parliament tomorrow. There are not many clear areas of agreement between the Coalition and Labor before Parliament sits. But both sides agree that Budget repair, a return to surplus is a top priority. To look at that and other issues in this first sitting of Parliament since the July vote we are joined by the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann and he is speaking to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: Are you ready for the 45th Parliament of our Federation? The fighting forty-fifth?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am looking forward to doing everything we can to put Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future. There is lots of work to be done. We are all ready to get stuck into it.
MARIUS BENSON: Now there is agreement in terms of budget repair being key priority from all sides in Parliament. The Prime Minister has spoken about reaching across the aisle and there is some common ground. In fact it is likely that Labor will back the omnibus bill for measures that would provide $6.5 billion in savings. But it seems to have been one way traffic. That Labor has been agreeing with you. Are there any Labor savings proposals, Labor’s proposals for negative gearing or capital gains tax discounts to be trimmed back, are there any Labor areas that you can nominate where you will be prepared to cross the aisle to meet Labor?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, what you have just mentioned now are not actually savings proposals. They are proposals for tax increases, which we have explicitly ruled out during the election campaign.
MARIUS BENSON: Well that is sort of arguable, negative gearing and capital gains, it is winding back tax breaks. They are not quite tax increases.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are manifestly tax increases. They are measures to increase revenue. I am very happy to go into a technical conversation with you. Everybody who looks at Budget matters very clearly can see that these are measures to increase revenue, not to reduce expenditure. Savings measures are measures to reduce expenditure. The point that I would just make is that when it comes to the Omnibus Savings Bill, that is actually a piece of legislation to implement savings that both the Labor party and the Coalition took to the last election. So it is not a matter of Labor here having made a significant effort to join... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: No I said it was shared ground, but I was asking you, can you nominate anything Labor proposes that you are prepared to cross the aisle and reach across and embrace?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The first point is that we should swiftly implement those savings that we both agree on. There are $6.5 billion worth of savings that we both took to the election. We certainly expect that this will be passed swiftly by the House of Representatives and the Senate. In relation to other matters, our savings measures, our proposals for spending reductions are reflected in the Budget. We will be progressively introducing them and passing them in the House of Representatives and then enter a process in the Senate. I am not going to pre-empt where that process will take us. But there is a process that is underway.
MARIUS BENSON: In the party room, in your own party room meeting today, it is expected that the people who are proposing or opposing changes to superannuation will bring up those issues again. Are you, or is the Treasurer, prepared to give ground on those demands from within the Liberal party for changes to the trimming back of tax breaks, for example the setting of a ceiling on non-concessional lifetime contributions beyond $500,000 or is it set at half a million?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt what may or may not be raised in the party room today. From the Government’s point of view, in the party room today we will be dealing with legislation that is expected to come up this week... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: But I am just asking you about your position. Is it flexible or not flexible?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have made the point repeatedly on the public record. We took a policy to the last election. We won the election. We now have a responsibility to implement that policy. The Treasurer and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer have been consulting with colleagues, have been consulting widely in recent weeks in relation to implementation arrangements. We are focused on implementing the policy that we took to the last election. But as we have always said ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: So, have I got that right, no flexibility there.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is your ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: No, I want your words.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I gave you my words. My words are that we are doing what we said we would do before the election. That is that we are consulting on implementation arrangements. That process is currently underway. We will continue to follow proper process.
MARIUS BENSON: On gay marriage, can I just make it clear, your own position is that you are against gay marriage. That’s right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support the current definition of marriage. That is right.
MARIUS BENSON: Yeah and if there was a vote in Parliament tomorrow you would vote against it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every time this has come to a vote before the Parliament I have voted in favour of the current definition of marriage. But ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: Can I just move onto the plebiscite because that is under discussion now. As I understand it, from what you have said to me in previous interviews. If there was a majority returned in the plebiscite in favour of changes to the Marriage Act, you would not vote against changes in Parliament subsequent to that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have said that several times on the public record... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: I just want to clarify that. That’s good. Can I ask you then, if the plebiscite is blocked in Parliament what then. Is the issue off the agenda? Is the issue off the table while the Coalition is in power?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a complete hypothetical. I don’t accept the premise of that question at all. We went to the election, promising to the Australian people that this matter would be resolved by a vote of the Australian people. We will be putting legislation to the Parliament to give effect to that commitment... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: But it is an important question because people are deciding now, particularly crossbenchers, if they will support the plebiscite. Can I ask again, if the plebiscite is defeated and the Coalition is the governing party, if the plebiscite proposal doesn’t go ahead, if there is no plebiscite, is that in the Coalition’s view the end of the issue, it is off the agenda for the Coalition’s term?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As the Prime Minister said yesterday, those who want to have this issue dealt with swiftly should be supporting our plebiscite legislation. That is what we are setting out to do. I am quite confident that when it is all said and done the Parliament will vote in favour of the plebiscite.
MARIUS BENSON: Why is a plebiscite being insisted on. Labor is putting that question again and Anthony Albanese is saying you don’t have a plebiscite on health, on education on tax, you don’t have it on going to war, why on this issue of changing the Marriage Act insist on a plebiscite?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Marius, that is a question that I have answered on your program several times as well. Because this question on the definition of marriage has come before the Parliament on several occasions. On each occasion the Parliament has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage. But clearly that has not resolved the matter. So what we have said and what we have taken to the last election as an election commitment, is that in order to facilitate a more permanent resolution of this issue, we would ask the Australian people to pass judgement. That is what we intend to do.
MARIUS BENSON: Okay, but can I ask you, because twelve years ago the Marriage Act was changed by John Howard, without ...
MATHIAS CORMANN: With bipartisan support, incidentally.
MARIUS BENSON: ...without a plebiscite, with bipartisan support. When he said that a marriage would voluntarily entered into, a union of man and woman. Can I just quote a little bit more of John Howard. We’ve decided, said John Howard to insert this into this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of marriage, man and a woman. And also to make it very plain that the definition of marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the Parliament of the nation. The Parliament of the nation change the Marriage Act, not a plebiscite.
MATHIAS CORMANN: And ultimately, it would be a vote of the Parliament of the nation. But the point is this ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: Then why have a plebiscite if it is ultimately the vote of a Parliament of the nation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Marius, I have answered that question. Because every single time since the Marriage Act was changed to the effect that you have just outlined, the Parliament has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage. That has not properly resolved the issue, clearly, because we continue to talk about it. That is why we have decided to put this question to the Australian people for the Australian people to settle on a more permanent basis.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann. I will leave it there, many thanks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.