Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let’s go to Federal politics now and two key pieces of legislation, the backpacker tax and the construction watchdog bill are continuing to dominate Parliament’s final sitting week of the year. For more we are joined by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister good morning, welcome to News Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Has support for the ABCC Bill and also the backpacker tax, has that now been secured?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When it comes to the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, we did pass a very important first hurdle overnight, the so-called passing of the second reading. We are now going into the detailed debate on the amendments and the detailed debate on the bill in the so-called committee stages of the bill. This has still got a fair way to go. We are not taking anything for granted. The conversations across the Parliament, in particular with the Senate crossbench continue.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: A fair way to go, that is sounding less positive then I would have expected at this stage given you just have a few sitting days left in this final week of the year.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Certainly, our intention is to successfully pass this legislation this week...interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: No I get that. Sorry to jump in Minister, I guess I just expected you to sound a little more confident this morning. What is the sticking point?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We never take anything for granted. Everybody knows that the Government does not have the numbers in the Senate. We need eight crossbenchers to vote with the Government, given that Labor and the Greens are opposed. So those conversations are still ongoing with some of the crossbench Senators.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: One of the key ones, of course, is Nick Xenophon and if what he wants done in relation to water to South Australia can be achieved, then you've got his support. So how unhelpful has Barnaby Joyce been on that front when you look at this whole thing politically?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the National Water Plan, it is certainly true that Nick Xenophon is keen to see that the Government remains fully committed to the National Water Plan and we are. That issue certainly, we believe has been resolved.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, given that you're saying that, and you believe that, and that's what Nick Xenophon wants, that goes to my question. You've had a bump in the road with Nick Xenophon that you probably didn't need to have if it wasn't for Barnaby Joyce's intervention. What's your response to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide a running commentary. There was an issue that was raised ... interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I thought that's why you were here, for running commentary.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I am not here to provide a running commentary. I am here to explain what the Government is doing and why. The Government is pursuing the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission because we want to bring down the cost of construction across Australia, because we want to give confidence to investors in infrastructure projects that they can be delivered on time and on budget, so they will invest in more infrastructure, create more jobs and help us grow the economy more strongly. So I am certainly not here to provide a running commentary on others.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I would have thought a discussion of how you achieve your legislative outcome would have been germane to what we do this morning. But in any case, is the horsetrading that we have seen, or I guess more like the so-called earmarking of bills that you see in the US Congress in America. Is that essentialy the way of the future? I'm looking at a list of requests from Nick Xenophon, David Leyonhjelm, Derryn Hinch and everyone else that runs past the tens.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is very simple, the Government has not got a majority in the Senate. Given that Labor and the Greens took an ideological position against this very important legislation, we have to ensure that we can find eight crossbench Senators to support this very important reform that the Government has put forward. So we are going through those conversations in good faith. We are making judgements on what can be accommodated and what can be accommodated in the context of wanting to pass a reform that is very much in the national interest.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But in that context, can you actually carve out a meaningful and coherent legislative agenda in the year to come?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been. If you look at what we have been able to achieve since the election, we have been able to secure the passage of the Omnibus Savings Bill. We have been able to secure the passage of our superannuation reforms, making our superannuation system fairer and more sustainable, when people thought that could not be done. We have been able to establish the Registered Organisations Commission, ensuring that union officials and officials in other registered organisations have to comply with similar accountability and transparency standards as company directors. We have got a very substantial to do list of commitments that we took to the last election. We are getting on with the job of implementing our plan for the economy and jobs. This week is no different. We have a number of objectives we want to achieve this week. We are working our way through it in an orderly and methodical fashion.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Mathias Cormann, the OECD is urging Australia to be more bold on tax reform, bigger GST and the like, land tax, don't you need that for budget repair?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are focused on making the tax system more growth friendly, because a more growth friendly tax system will help to strengthen revenue flows. The best way to increase revenues on the back of stronger economic growth. That is a matter of public record, that was a very substantial part of the conversation that we had with the Australian people in the lead up to the last election ... interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sure, but if I can just jump in there, if I can get you to focus specifically on what the OECD has recommended overnight, do you see any merit in what they're saying?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had a debate in this country about the merits or otherwise of making changes to the GST. We have decided against it for reasons that we have spelled out in some detail in the lead up to the election.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And this doesn't cause you a rethink?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. These issues are well and truly settled. They were settled in the lead up to the last election. The Government is delivering on the commitments that we made and that includes a commitment to reduce our business tax rates to make them internationally more competitive, which is even more important now that the United States has flagged very substantial reforms in this area.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The organisation also said in that report that there's room for spending increases and borrowing money if it's spent on infrastructure and also investing in skills. I know you've got an infrastructure program in place so we don't need to go there, but do you agree with that? Can you imagine more borrowing for newer infrastructure projects?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The key point the OECD is making is additional investment in infrastructure...
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes.
MATHIAS CORMANN: ... and we are pursuing additional investment in infrastructure. What we are looking at in particular is to look at more innovative ways of leveraging additional private sector investment into infrastructure development. The core proposition that we ought to invest more in infrastructure, in productivity enhancing economic infrastructure to strengthen economic growth into the future, we support that. But that is another reason why we need to ensure we get our operational expenditure, our recurrent expenditure, our expenditure on day-to-day living expenses under control.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yeah, but they're talking about borrowing. That doesn't sound attractive to you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The thing is, you are in a better position to borrow for infrastructure if you don't have to borrow for day-to-day living expenses. Right now, as a result of the spending growth trajectory that we inherited from Labor, which we are still working to get fully under control, that reduces our capacity to borrow money for other purposes.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just a final question this morning. The story on the front page of the Canberra Times, headline ‘Fortress Canberra’. Do you believe there's an argument for restricting visitors and members of the public from going over on the grassy roof of Parliament House? For cordoning off those areas and increasing security there at the building?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not an expert in these matters. I trust that the experts make sensible decisions, appropriately balancing the need for access with the need for sensible security arrangements.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Do you feel unsafe in Parliament House?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Personally, I don't. But again, I am not an expert in these matters. It is a matter for people with relevant expertise to make these sorts of judgements.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Children rolling down the hill, yes or no?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think children rolling down the hill is a fantastic thing. I am sure that children rolling down the hill is not a security risk to the Parliament.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Okay.
MATHIAS CORMANN: But as a general proposition, I think it's a matter for people with relevant expertise to make these judgements.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Mathias Cormann, I don't know if we'll speak before Christmas. Happy Christmas if we don't. But we hope to get you on soon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The same to you and your family.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Thanks so much.