Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
MARIUS BENSON: Federal Parliament is back today for the final two sitting weeks of the year, even if in the absence of the Prime Minister who is still over there in Peru for APEC. And the Government is hoping to chalk up some wins for the next two weeks to end the political year on a positive note. For a Government view on the final two sitting weeks, I’m joined by the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann, Good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: Apart from the demands of Parliament, you are preparing a Budget statement, which comes out in a month on the latest figures for how the economy is faring. Deloitte Access has been looking at that. And it says that things are getting worse, particularly in terms of the deficit. You are not going to be delivering the deficit you forecast in the Budget. Is Deloitte’s right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be providing the half yearly budget update as you say, in December. The reason we are doing it in December is because we are looking for the data from the third quarter National Accounts, which is due to come out in the second week of December. So we will not pre-empt what those findings are going to be. But the general thrust is right. The Parliament needs to continue to pass our savings measures, to ensure that Australia is on the strongest possible fiscal foundation for the future.
MARIUS BENSON: When you say the general thrust is right, I presume you are referring to Deloitte’s there. Deloitte says the deficit is worsening and the numbers are generally heading south.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying is that the point Deloitte is making really echoes the comments that the Government has been making for some time, which is drawing attention to the impact of lower growth in wages and profits on Government revenues. The report also correctly puts into perspective the impact of recent commodity price movements on Budget revenues and overall points to the importance of passing the Government’s savings measures through the Parliament in order to ensure that we are on a strong fiscal foundation for the future.
MARIUS BENSON: Is it fair to be critical of the Government and to say that two elections ago you came into to fix a debt and deficit disaster? Debt and deficit are both worse and at the same time you have delivered record low wages growth. And that is not what you promised.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have made that point several times and it is wrong, because the Budget is in a much better position now than it would have been if we had not made the many changes that we have made, if we had not implemented $250 billion in... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: When you say it is wrong, can I just clarify the point that you ...
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may finish ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: ... say is wrong, because the debt and deficit are worse than when you came into office aren’t they.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If you could for once let me finish my answer ... interrupted
MARIUS BENSON: I was just shocked that you said I was wrong.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are, because the Government always has to deal with a number of external factors beyond our control. What I am saying is that the Government has implemented more than $250 billion worth of savings in net terms, over the medium term. That means that that is $250 billion in debt that would have had to have been incurred under Labor, that doesn’t have to be incurred under the Coalition.
MARIUS BENSON: But this is so theoretical. You are comparing yourself to what might have happened had Labor won an election four plus years ago.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is nothing theoretical about it. With global economic headwinds the way they have been, with global commodity prices falling as they have, any Government would have had to deal with those consequences. No Government controls what happens to global prices for our key commodity exports. However, given all of the additional challenges that we face, the economy continues to grow strongly at 3.3 per cent, stronger than any of the G7 economies, stronger than when we came into Government. The Budget is now on track back into balance. The debt position is much lower than it would have been if we had not changed the policy settings that we inherited from Labor.
MARIUS BENSON: The High Court is considering the position of Senator Rod Culleton today and the legality of his election. That is under a cloud. Will the Government accept Rod Culleton’s vote while that is resolved or will you, as you previously did it in another place, in the Lower House refuse to accept a vote that is under a cloud?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Rod Culleton continues to be a Senator for Western Australia until such time as a decision is made otherwise. It is up to the High Court to determine his eligibility. It is up to Senator Culleton to determine how he handles his vote between now and then. The situation is quite different, Senator Culleton is a crossbench Senator. He is not a member of the Liberal National party Coalition. The case of Craig Thompson that you refer to there was where the then Gillard Government relied on a Labor vote that was more than under a cloud.
MARIUS BENSON: And can I ask you about the other issue, Malaysia there are talks going on with the Prime Minister and Malaysia, ith Malaysia being an option for transfer of asylum seekers. Can you shed any light on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As Peter Dutton has said on many occasions, we have many conversations with many countries in relation to potential resettlement matters. There is nothing specific that I would be able to shed any light on here.
MARIUS BENSON: And the key legislation for the Government are the two industrial relations bills. The Prime Minister said previously you would introduce those when you thought they had their best chance. How good are the chances of getting them through, the ABCC and the Registered Organisations Bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My colleague Michaelia Cash has done a lot of work working with the crossbench on explaining the reasons for these bills. But also engaging in relation to potential amendments to those bills. We are not taking anything for granted. We never take anything for granted until such time as the vote actually has taken place. We are quietly confident that there is the necessary support for these very important reforms.
MARIUS BENSON: Mathias Cormann, thanks for joining us this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.