Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
DAVID SPEERS: So the 45th Parliament is off and running. It is underway. The first real test is going to be over Budget repair and this so called Omnibus Bill the Government has put together, which includes it says, all measures that Labor said they would support during the election campaign. Spending cuts totalling $6.1 billion. Well, with me now the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Thank you for joining me this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
DAVID SPEERS: Now Labor has said it has only received the 600 page draft Bill today. When do you expect them to actually give you an answer?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor should know what is in the Bill because all of the savings in the Omnibus Savings Bill are savings that Labor decided to support before the election. The legislation will be introduced on Wednesday. It will be dealt with in the ordinary course of events. It won’t be dealt with this week. We will have a week off next week. When we come back to Parliament the following week we would expect to be able to deal with it swiftly.
DAVID SPEERS: It seems to me that if there is going to be any fight here, it will be to the cuts over the clean energy supplement where the Government does want to take away between four and seven dollars a week from pensioners, carers, those on Newstart. Remind me why you want to do that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor banked this saving. What we are doing here is we are removing carbon tax compensation, prospectively, given that the carbon tax has been abolished. We are leaving it in place for all those who have been receiving this carbon tax compensation for the last few years. But given that this is a tax which has been abolished, the carbon tax, the compensation is now no longer required ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: But, but, but you could say the same for the other compensation, the one with the carbon tax, the income tax cuts.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the income tax, the second round of income tax cuts that was linked to the carbon tax was not proceeded with for precisely that reason.
DAVID SPEERS: But the original one, the compensation for the carbon tax, that stays in place. It is just the pensioners that is going to miss out.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not quite right. We did not proceed with all of the income tax cuts that were linked to the carbon tax.
DAVID SPEERS: Well not all.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Indeed. In relation to pensioners, all those pensioners and all of the recipients of welfare payments that are currently receiving carbon tax compensation will continue to receive it. But given that we have removed the impost, there is no longer a need to keep making these compensation payments.
DAVID SPEERS: So if in the name of Budget repair you need to ...
MATHIAS CORMANN: Incidentally, Labor banked this saving in the lead up to the last election.
DAVID SPEERS: Indeed, and if this is all in the name of Budget repair and those changes need to be made there, what about superannuation. Will you stick to what you took to the election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have said several times now, we took a very clear policy to the election. We are committed to the policy. We have not only a mandate, but a responsibility to implement the policy. Since the election we have gone through a process of consultation, as we said we would before the election. That process continues. In the not too distant future there will be further steps in that process and there will be legislation ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: But the policy fundamentals won’t change.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely.
DAVID SPEERS: So what you took to the election, the $500,000 cap, the most contentious part of it that will stay?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have said, we took a policy to the election. We are committed to the policy. We are committed to implementing the policy. We are currently consulting on implementation arrangements. When that consultation process has come to a conclusion, further announcements will be made.
DAVID SPEERS: Which might include changing the policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, which will not include changing the policy.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We remain committed to the policy, which is focussed on making our superannuation system fairer and more sustainable and fit for purpose.
DAVID SPEERS: Do you accept if you did change it, then Labor would be entitled to say that we can change what we said.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are going into hypotheticals. I have just told you several times ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Right, you have ruled out any change to the $500,000 cap.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We remain committed to the policy. We are currently going through a consultation process... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: No change to the $500,000 cap.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have said to you several times, we took a policy to the last election. We have not made any changes to any part of that policy. We are committed to implementing the policy we took to the election.
DAVID SPEERS: Aright, is the backbench happy with that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have just indicated to you, we are continuing to go through a process of consultation.
DAVID SPEERS: Cory Bernardi has now convinced a majority of Coalition backbenchers, thirteen I think in the Senate and a further seven on the crossbench, to support his private Senators bill to change Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Now we have heard Scott Morrison say this isn’t a priority. You are a leading conservative in the Government, is it a priority for you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has no plans to make changes to Section 18C. Individual Members of Parliament, backbench Members of Parliament, are entirely within their rights to fulfil their responsibilities as they see fit. The Government has a very full program, implementing the commitments we took to the last election, implementing our plan for stronger growth and more jobs. The Governor-General has just outlined the Government’s agenda. We will get cracking with legislating all of the things that need legislating, including and in particular the savings measures that are part of our Budget.
DAVID SPEERS: And can you just clarify, do the Liberals get a free vote if there is a private Senators bill on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not the way it works. Government Ministers and anyone who is a member of the Ministry is committed to the Government’s policy positions. Backbenchers ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: That is to vote no on changes to 18C?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are making assumptions as to ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: I am just asking.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If and when a piece of legislation comes forward, it will go through a process. The Coalition party room will make a decision on how to deal with it. What I am saying to you is ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: So, there is no fixed position?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has made a decision not to progress with any changes. That is a position that has been in place since 2014 under the Abbott Government... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Alright I appreciate that, but if it is a private Senators bill from Cory Bernardi, there is no position yet on which way you have to go?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Any piece of legislation put forward by anyone will go through a proper process. I am not going to pre-empt what the party room might decide in the context of any piece of legislation being put on the table. What I would say is that the Government has very clearly made a decision not to pursue changes. We do not have any plans to pursue changes. That is the Government’s position.
DAVID SPEERS: The process that you have outlined there, Private Senator’s bill then the party considers its position. Same apply with same sex marriage? If there is a private Senators bill or private Members bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is precisely what happened in relation to same sex marriage. The party room made a decision how to deal with it in the last Parliament. That is a position that we took to the last election.
DAVID SPEERS: And that holds for this term as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely. That is the policy position that we took to the election. That is the policy position that we will implement. Absolutely.
DAVID SPEERS: So for the rest of this term, Government Members are expected to vote against same sex marriage?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Government Members are expected to vote in support of a plebiscite to give the Australian people the vote to settle this issue once and for all.
DAVID SPEERS: But if there is a private Members bill on marriage equality, your position is? I’m just clarifying your position.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our position is in favour of a plebiscite. Our position is that we will give the Australian people the vote to settle this issue and not for the Parliament to settle this issue before the Australian people have spoken …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: I accept that, but Bill Shorten is now saying he will introduce a private Members bill, what would be the Coalition’s position?
MATHIAS CORMANN:The Coalition’s position is that we will support a plebiscite. We will not be voting in favour of any such …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: Why won’t you answer this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have answered it.
DAVID SPEERS: Is there a position?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a position. The position is that we will not be, I don’t understand why you don’t understand …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: I totally understand your position on the plebiscite, I’m talking about something different, a Parliamentary vote on same sex marriage.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will not be voting in favour of any such Parliamentary …interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: That’s what I was after.
MATHIAS CORMANN: ... it is what I have been saying now for a little while.
DAVID SPEERS: So Government MPs have to vote against it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Government MPs will vote in favour of a plebiscite.
DAVID SPEERS: And against a Parliamentary vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I doubt that that will come up for a vote before the plebiscite legislation is dealt with. I doubt that this will come for a vote before the Australian people have actually had the opportunity to have their say as they should.
DAVID SPEERS: Unless some of your own cross the floor? Or abstain? Enough of them abstain.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t foresee that happening.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay. Remind me what are the rules and consequences around abstaining or crossing the floor on things like this or 18C? It is a pretty free party isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If you are part of the Executive, you support Government policy. That’s ... interrupted
DAVID SPEERS: And if you’re from the backbench?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If you are a backbencher then there are certain courtesies in terms of advice to be provided to the party room but you have got liberties that a member of the Ministry doesn't have.
DAVID SPEERS: Final one on this, not sure if you have seen it, it has only come out today, there is an ICAC report in NSW damning findings about political donations and so on. The bigger issue here, do we need a Federal ICAC? And do we need tighter donation laws?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We believe that the donation laws at a Federal level are appropriate, are adequate. They provide for the open and transparent disclosure according to the provisions in the legislation of relevant donations. The matters that were investigated by ICAC are matters for the NSW Government to deal with. Premier Baird has responded to those findings today.
DAVID SPEERS: The argument for real-time disclosure if often run, that when someone makes a donation it is straight away on the website.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are issues that are appropriately considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which after every election considers these issues. No doubt they will come to a view. It is a cross party committee. That is not something for me to volunteer an opinion on today.
DAVID SPEERS: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.