Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Minister, I suppose run me through where we are at with the ABCC at the moment.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government was able to pass a very important and significant hurdle overnight, with the successful vote on the second reading of the ABCC Bill. Today we will be moving into the detailed consideration of the Bill, during the committee stages. That is when we will be debating the amendments that have been put forward by various Senators. This has still got a fair way to go, but the successful vote on the second reading was an important hurdle.
QUESTION: Nick Xenophon particularly outlined a number of amendments last night that he wanted. He is particularly concerned about protecting what he calls subbies. He is also concerned about getting some sort of judicial review amongst others. There were a number of changes he has wanted, can the Government agree to them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had very good and constructive conversations with Senator Xenophon. Those conversations continue. Consistent with established practice I will not be conducting those conversations through the media even at this doorstop.
QUESTION: Do you feel it is quite frustrating? You have got conditions being given to you by David Leyonhjelm, you have got conditions from Nick Xenophon, Derryn Hinch. Some of them seem unrelated even to the ABCC.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government is focused on achieving an outcome. The re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is very important in our national interest. It is important to bring down the cost of construction to improve economic growth and job creation. If infrastructure projects across Australia and construction projects across Australia can be delivered on time and on budget it will give confidence to investors to invest more. in more projects, deliver more jobs and delivering more infrastructure. That is a good thing for the economy and jobs. We are focused on the main game. We went to the last election promising that we would re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We have taken this to two elections, including a double dissolution election. The Government does not have the numbers in the Senate. We have got to work with the Senate as it was elected by the Australian people, by doing that in good faith, focused on the outcomes that we want to achieve. We respect the fact that Senators on the crossbench have equally been elected with their policies. We are engaging with them.
QUESTION: Is it all a moot point though if Senator Xenophon is not happy with what the Government offers on the Murray Darling Basin. He says he will not support any legislation.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government is fully committed to the National Water Plan. That is what I believe Senator Xenophon was looking for.
QUESTION: The Government has a number of Budget bills it still has not gotten through the Parliament. Will any of them actually be put to the Senate this week or will you end the year still without any of those Budget Bills through?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has made significant progress when it comes to legislating unlegislated savings measures. You would be aware that we were able to successfully pass about $6.3 billion worth of savings through the Omnibus Savings Bill. We have been able to pass all up more than $20 billion in Budget improvement measures. Yes there is still a bit further to go, in particular in the social services space. These are matters that we are already on the public record as saying that we would pursue during the sittings in February.
QUESTION: Just back to the ABCC, we are hearing reports today that unions are ramping up campaigns on building sites against the legislation. Are you concerned that some of the independents might get cold feet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speak for others. The Government is very clear in terms of what we want to achieve. We want, in the national interest, to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We are working constructively and in good faith with all crossbench Senators. Clearly the Labor Party and the Greens under pressure from the unions took a position. It is not a position in the national interest. It just demonstrates that Bill Shorten is too weak to stand up for the national interest. We have got Cesar Melhem, one of Bill Shorten’s close allies, under investigation now by Fair Work Australia. We know that there is a lot of clean up that needs to be done that Bill Shorten would be too weak to pursue. We have got Bill Shorten criticising at the behest of unions the approach that we take to 457 visas. Then it is revealed that actually, when Bill Shorten was the Minister, record numbers of 457 visas were quietly approved. He tries to tell people it was because of the mining boom, but overwhelming these 457 visas went to hairdressers and to chefs and to various other professions. Less than 10 per cent of them actually went to workers involved in the mining industry.
QUESTION: Does it become harder for the Government to argue the need for the Senate to find Budget savings when you have things like Barnaby Joyce moving part of his Department to his own electorate at a cost of $25 million? Something that even the chemicals industry which deals with this part of his Department thinks is unnecessary.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That was a firm election commitment. This Government is in the business of delivering on our election commitments.
QUESTION: Even if it spends $25 million that you actually do not need to spend?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was an election commitment. We are delivering on an election commitment.
QUESTION: Do you think you are being effective with the ABCC Bill? Criticism of Shorten do you think is it starting to get to him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten is too weak to stand up for the national interest when the unions interest is involved. Bill Shorten has a long track record of not being able to stand up to the unions, demonstrating that he is too weak to stand up to the unions for the national interest. This is just another example. We do not expect him to do the right thing in relation to the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We do believe that we will need to continue to work with crossbench Senators in order to get this very important piece of legislation through the Senate.
QUESTION: Tony Abbott said on Sunday that the Government should work effectively, the Government should work harder to find savings and he suggested looking again at the 2014 Budget. Is the 2014 Budget such a roaring success that you would like to revisit it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working very hard to indentify savings where that can appropriately be done. Most of the 2014-15 Budget has been implemented. All of the measures out of the 2014-15 Budget that can be implemented have been implemented or are in the process of being worked through. I do not believe that we should be revisiting some of these measures that we have very clearly discarded in the past.