Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
FRAN KELLY: Federal Parliament returns this week, eight weeks after the July election. The scene is already set for squirmishes over Budget repair, the marriage equality plebiscite and a whole swag of industrial relations bills. Sound familiar? The Turnbull Government will try and seize the agenda with a blitzkrieg of twenty-five major bills to be introduced into the Parliament by Thursday. The success of the Government’s second term will depend by and large on the Senate, where Malcolm Turnbull will need nine out of the eleven crossbenchers to pass legislation that is opposed by Labor and the Greens. In a moment, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong joins us, but first Finance Minister and Deputy Government Leader in the Senate Mathias Cormann is our guest in Parliament House. Senator, welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Fran. Good to be here.
FRAN KELLY: Twenty-five Bills in just two days. Wednesday and Thursday is what we are reading. Almost the Government’s entire agenda. What are you trying to achieve with this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have a lot of work to do. In the lead up to the election we told the Australian people that we would like to continue to implement our plan for a stronger economy and more jobs. That is what we are setting out to do. We are introducing this week in particular legislation to deliver income tax cuts for hard working families, our ten year enterprise tax plan, our Budget Omnibus Savings Bill, and legislation to restore the Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations legislation. All things that we said before the election that we would do.
FRAN KELLY: Is it a tactical move though, putting them all in like this early and in a hurry because you are worried that crossbench support for some Bills, including the reinstatement of the ABCC for instance is starting to wane and the longer you leave it the less control you might have over this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have always said right up front that the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission for example, or the Registered Organisations legislation would be among the first Bills to be introduced alongside incidentally our proposal to protect volunteer fire fighters from the union attack that they have been subjected to in recent times. We are just getting on with the job, doing what we said we would do. But as a Government, we are giving the Parliament plenty of notice of the forward agenda. We expect that there to be a bit of work to do in relation to some matters. In order to be able to engage in the most constructive and productive fashion, we are giving everyone a lot of advance notice.
FRAN KELLY: On Friday Tony Abbott said that the Government is in office but not really in power. Do you agree with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If by that if he means that the Government does not have a majority in the Senate, well that is not a new phenomenon in Australian politics. Only very few governments ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Do you think that is what he meant?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is what he said he meant. From my point of view we have the power to pass legislation through the House of Representatives. That is where Governments are formed. In the Senate, we have to go through a process of convincing others to support our agenda. That is something that our Government has had to do in the past under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. That is something that most governments have had to do in the past ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Do you accept that you have to get better at it than you were under the Abbott Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We keep doing the best we can. We keep doing everything we can to persuade the Australian people and to persuade others in the Senate on what we are doing and why... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Do you, let me ask you about that because the Prime Minister said, and said again on the weekend that there has to be give and take for this Parliament to work, they have to meet in the sensible centre. And yet the Government show little inclination for instance to talk to Labor about its proposed compromises on superannuation changes the Government wants to make. It seems like you don’t mean any of this reaching across the aisle kind of talk. Here is Labor saying we agree with most of it but not every bit of it and you just say bad luck.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are certainly disappointed that Labor has decided to oppose measures designed to support, women in particular, with interrupted work patterns so they can play catch up on their superannuation... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: I understand that but in the nature of give and take, I mean, what does give and take mean if it doesn’t mean someone saying here is my policy. Someone is saying we like this bit but not that bit and then, doesn’t give and take mean that you two sit down together and try and work out where you can get it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran, let’s just let the process play out. There is still a fair way to go. We are at the beginning of the 45th Parliament. The Government, as we are duty bound to do, as we are honour bound to do, given the commitments we made in the lead up to the last election, we will pass our agenda through the House of Representatives. The legislation finds its way to the Senate. That is where we have to do some more work. That is where a lot of these conversations will have to take place in relation to those matters where there is not unanimous agreement.
FRAN KELLY: Yeah, sure. But ahead of that the likes of you as Finance Minister attacking Bill Shorten as wibble wobble, wibble wobble jelly on a plate, basically accusing him of flop flopping. I am wondering really about the climate of setting up these kinds of negotiations of give and take.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran, that was a very important question that I asked, because in the last Parliament Bill Shorten steadfastly opposed a whole series of savings measures. During the election campaign not only did he come out in support of a number of those savings measures but he banked them in his pre-election costings. The signals he was sending after the election was that again he is having second thoughts and not being all that clear. He opposed, than he supported them and then he didn’t quite know what to do. The question I asked is whether this is an indication of Bill Shorten doing what he did in the last Parliament which was to wibble and wobble like jelly on a plate. Hopefully he won’t. We want Bill Shorten to be true to his word, in particular when it comes to the savings that he put to the Australian people in the lead up to the last election.
FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, it is eighteen minutes to eight. Our guest is the Finance Minister and Deputy Government Leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann. Let’s talk about superannuation. Labor agrees with more of your plan than some in your own party room from where I sit, that is what it looks like. Is the Government prepared to compromise on the equity message on your changes and lift that non concessional tax contribution from $500,000 to $750,000 or even one million. Do you prefer that compromise to getting rid of the back dating of the cap to 2007 which is what is Labor’s offer.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government took a package of reforms to the election to make our superannuation system fairer, more sustainable and fit for purpose. We said before the election that after the election we would go through a process of consultation in relation to the implementation arrangements. That is what the Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer have been doing in recent weeks. That process continues. This is not legislation that will be introduced this week. So what I would propose to do is to let the process take its course. We remain absolutely committed to implementing the policy that we took to the last election... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But there will be some changes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are going through the process we said we would go through, which is to consult in relation to implementation arrangements.
FRAN KELLY: But there will be some changes. You accept that? I am wondering where you would prefer the changes, on the side that Labor is coming down or your own party room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt where the process will take us, except to say that we took a package of reforms to the election. Not only do we have a mandate to implement those reforms we actually have a responsibility to the Australian people to implement what we said before the election we would implement.
FRAN KELLY: One of the most contentious issues to come before this Parliament probably in the coming days will be the enabling legislation for the marriage equality plebiscite. It is sounding more and more like Labor will be joining the Greens and some of the crossbenchers to block that bill. I will be asking Penny Wong that in a moment. These people who are blocking it are not opposed to marriage equality, they are just opposed to a plebiscite. If they block it, will this Government continue to deny same sex couples the right to marry?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t agree that it is a given that the Parliament will block this. We went to the last election very clearly and very explicitly putting to the Australian people that should we be elected to Government, we will give the Australian people the vote to determine what happens in relation to this issue.
FRAN KELLY: But if you can’t do that, then we are still left with this issue of marriage equality.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s cross that bridge, if and when we get there. I don’t accept that from where we sit now that just because some people in the Labor party are giving some background briefings to that effect that that is the official position of the Labor party. Certainly, anyone who wants this issue to be dealt with in this Parliament will vote in support of our plebiscite legislation.
FRAN KELLY: Isn’t it the case though that Coalition MPs who, like yourself I think , who are strongly opposed to same sex marriage don’t want a vote in the Parliament because you know you would lose it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not right. I am in favour of the current definition of marriage. That is right. I voted to that effect on every occasion when it has come to the Parliament in the past. The reality is that it has come before the Parliament on a number of occasions. On each occasion the Parliament has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage. What we have said in the lead up to the last election is that in order for this to be settled on a more permanent basis we put this question to the Australian people. Whatever the Australian people determine will be accepted by the Parliament.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.