Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
HAMISH MACDONALD: Right now the Turnbull Government is close to clinching a deal with Labor on around $6 billion of Budget savings. It’s also finalised plans for next year’s plebiscite on same sex marriage with both the yes and no camps to receive public funding to prosecute their cases. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is in our Parliament House studio. Good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
HAMISH MACDONALD: We understand that Cabinet has signed off on plebiscite plans, although it is still to go to the party room. Can you confirm that there will be public funding for the yes and no cases?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I can confirm is that Cabinet has endorsed a methodology for the conduct of the plebiscite. This has also been supported by our Coalition backbench committee. It will now be considered by the party room. As a courtesy to the party room it is not something that I will be able to go into detail on until such time that the party room has actually been able to properly consider this.
HAMISH MACDONALD: But the Cabinet has endorsed the idea of public funding hasn’t it for both camps.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Cabinet has endorsed the methodology for the conduct of the plebiscite, which we will now be putting to the party room. Once the party room has had the opportunity to consider what Cabinet is recommending then I would expect there to be relevant public announcements at that time.
HAMISH MACDONALD: What will it be used for? Any public money that goes to these campaigns? What are the terms of usage?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have just indicated to you, the Cabinet has endorsed a methodology for the conduct of the plebiscite. That question goes to the substance of the recommendation by the Cabinet to the party room, which is yet to be considered. These are the sorts of questions that we will be able to talk about once the party room has had the opportunity to consider what the Cabinet is recommending.
HAMISH MACDONALD: So you won’t give us any indication of how the money can be used?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not confirming at this point the details of what Cabinet is recommending to the party room, until such time that the party room has an opportunity to consider the Cabinet’s recommendation. That is proper and usual process. That is what I have always done.
HAMISH MACDONALD: What is your individual view then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am a member of the Cabinet. I am part of the team of people that is supporting a recommendation to the party room, which we will be discussing this morning.
HAMISH MACDONALD: OK. Will the party be bound to what the outcome is? There is a suggestion that many of your colleagues will ignore whatever the result of the plebiscite is anyway.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We went to the last election making a commitment to the Australian people that should we be successful that we would give them the opportunity to pass judgement on whether or not the definition of marriage ought to be changed in the Marriage Act. I am on the public record as saying I am someone that has always voted in favour of the current definition of marriage. I would be voting against a change in the definition of marriage, in favour of the current definition of marriage at the plebiscite. Should the plebiscite be carried and should there be a majority in favour of changing the Marriage Act then I will abide by that judgement of the Australian people.
HAMISH MACDONALD: And you would vote in Parliament to endorse the plebiscite?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If the plebiscite was carried, I would vote consistent with the wishes of the Australian people as expressed at the plebiscite, that’s right.
HAMISH MACDONALD: OK. Speaking to Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby this morning about how any public money would be used. He said that in terms of the campaign, there has been very little discussion, these are his words, about the consequences of how this might flow into schools. Into programs like Safe Schools, when you take gender out of marriage, you end up with genderless sex education. Is that ok to use that public money to campaign on issues around things like Safe Schools?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I am not going to get into the ins and outs of the methodology that was endorsed by Cabinet yesterday... interrupted
HAMISH MACDONALD: Sure but you have the opportunity to knock that suggestion on the head. It has been put forward by the Christian Lobby. What is your view of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator. We ... interrupted
HAMISH MACDONALD: You are a Minister in the Cabinet. I am asking you a specific question. Do you want to rule out the possibility of the money being used for that purpose?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into a conversation about the details of the methodology on the plebiscite that was endorsed by the Cabinet yesterday. These are matters that are appropriately addressed once the party room has had an opportunity to consider the recommendations that the Cabinet is putting forward.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Okay, maybe we will get some more detail from you then about the Omnibus Savings Bill. You have been negotiating with the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen. Have you come to terms?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The successful passage of about $6 billion worth of savings this week is a key priority for the Government. The savings that are part of the Omnibus Saving Bill are savings that both Labor and the Coalition supported in the lead up to the last election. We both reflected them in our respective Budget bottom lines. It is a matter of public record, we have been saying for some time, that we are engaging with Labor on securing the successful passage of this legislation. Both the Labor caucus and the Coalition party room today will receive reports on how these discussions have been going. Once our party room has determined its attitude to the outcome of these conversations we will be making some relevant announcements.
HAMISH MACDONALD: The main sticking points seem to have been the proposed abolition of the clean energy supplement for new welfare recipients. Have you agreed to keep that payment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, that is the sort of detail that we will be able to announce assuming that our party room and the Labor caucus tick off on the outcomes of the discussions that have taken place.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Have you got anything you can confirm for us this morning?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I can confirm for you that the Government is quietly confident that we will be able to secure six billion dollars worth of savings through the Omnibus Savings Bill process this week. That was... interrupted
HAMISH MACDONALD: Sure, but are you going to tell us anything about how you are going to do that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will hopefully be able to make these sorts of announcements later today.
HAMISH MACDONALD: So you are close and you have clearly come close to reaching terms?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been having conversations with Labor, as I have said, for some time, for the last couple of weeks. We are hopeful that we will be able land something this week, yes.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Okay, can you give us any detail about, for example, the $4.40 for unemployed people, and just over $7 a week for pensioners?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The way the process works is that we will be putting the outcome of the discussions with Labor to our party room this morning. The party room will be making a decision on whether they support this.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Sure, but you could have just said you were having party room meetings today without coming on the programme. You are here. Can you give us any information? It seems like you are a bit uncomfortable to talk about either the same-sex marriage bill, plebiscite rather, or the Omnibus Saving Bill.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not uncomfortable at all. I am here because you asked me to come on, and... interrupted
HAMISH MACDONALD: Sure and I am asking you questions and it just would be good to get some substantive answers.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am answering them to the extent that I can give that the party room is yet to consider a number of the issues that you want to canvas.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Okay, so no more detail that you can give us on the Omnibus Saving Bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have said to you I am quietly confident that the $6 billion worth of saving that we intended to bank this week will be able to be banked this week. But in terms of the detail there is still a step in the process to go through. Namely, and it is a very important part of the process, that is the process through our Party Room. As soon as that has happened, we will be in a position to provide more detailed announcements.
HAMISH MACDONALD: You are not ruling out dropping the cut to energy supplements. Doesn’t that mean you are following Labor’s lead on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t accept your characterisation there. The savings that we put into the Omnibus Saving Bill are savings that both Labor and the Coalition supported in the lead up to the election. Certainly, the Coalition will continue to pursue all of the savings that are reflected in our budget. We will try to secure the passage of as many of those savings as possible this week. Whatever we can’t pass this week we will seek to secure in a separate process.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Just a separate question. These figures have been put out by some charities, UNICEF and Save the Children, about the cost of taxpayers of Australia’s offshore processing scheme for asylum seekers. They put the figure at $9.6 billion. Do you want to knock that on the head? Have you got an alternative figure to suggest?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I can tell you is that Labor’s failure to protect our borders caused an $11 billion budget blow out and that since we came into Government and have been able to stop the boats, we have been able to close about 17 detention centre, saving about $3 billion. The level of expenditure is less then what it was. It is less then what it would be if we were still having all these boats arrive here illegally, that arrived under the previous period of the Labor government.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Ok, but have you got a figure?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have just given you two figures. The blowout under Labor was $11 billion ... interrupted
HAMISH MACDONALD: Yeah but have you got a figure on how much you spend on processing people offshore?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not have the precise figure on how much we are spending on processing people offshore. What I can tell you is that it is $3 billion less than what it was because we have closed 17 detention centres since we have been able to stop the boats. We are not subject to the $11 billion blowout in the cost of border protection and processing of illegal boat arrivals that we were subject to as a country under a previous Labor government.
HAMISH MACDONALD: You can’t say I didn’t try to get some information out of you this morning, Mathias Cormann.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Thank you very much indeed. That is the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann speaking to us.