Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Monday, 20 February 2017
SABRA LANE: Joining us to discuss this and other issues is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann from Perth. Senator Cormann is jointly responsible with the Treasurer for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Minister good morning and welcome to AM.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
SABRA LANE: The Government is looking to lift the prohibition on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and also lower the threshold at which the green bank can invest in so called super critical plants, which the Minister can do without Parliamentary approval, but the first one, lifting the ban you need Parliamentary approval. By when is the Government hoping to achieve this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our focus is to make sure that families and businesses across Australia can have access to a reliable, secure supply of energy, which is affordable and which continues to help us meet our emissions reduction target. So in that context we are considering a whole range of options, including in relation to how the Clean Energy Finance Corporation could be helpful in helping us achieve that objective.
SABRA LANE: But how soon do you want these prohibitions lifted or removed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working our way through all the options at the moment. As soon as we are in a position to make relevant announcements we will make them.
SABRA LANE: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief executive Oliver Yates who is about to end his tenure in the job, recently said investment in new coal plants were a very risky proposition for taxpayers. Why should taxpayers money be spent on risky propositions?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We don’t agree with him. What is risky right now and the experience in South Australia has shown that, is the reckless and ideological pursuit of state-based fifty per cent renewable energy targets, which have put the stability of our energy system at risk, which has undermined energy security, which has driven up the cost of electricity for families and for business, which has made Australia less competitive internationally then we could be and we should be. So ... interrupted
SABRA LANE: Sorry, Minister, the Government has repeatedly made that point in the last week and a half, but I am asking you here about the point that the current chief executive makes. He says that this is very risky technology and a risky proposition for taxpayers. You yourself said in 2013 that taxpayers shouldn’t be spending money on risky projects.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The thing is we disagree with him. I am putting this into context. That is why I am pointing out the fact that what is risky is a state-based fifty per cent renewable energy target. Given what is happening in places like South Australia when it comes to energy security, given the blackouts that people and businesses across Australia have had to experience on the back of ideologically driven policies by Labor Green governments, what we are looking at is making sure that our policy settings can deliver a reliable, secure supply of energy in a way that is more affordable and that still helps us meet our emissions reduction targets.
SABRA LANE: It is risky technology because not even key energy companies like AGL and Origin want to put their money in these things. They will not build, finance or acquire new conventional coal fired power stations in Australia. Why does the Government want to build it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The reason why there has been no appetite for private sector investment is because of the policy settings that have been progressively put in place by Labor-Green governments. If you look at other parts around the world, high energy efficient and low emissions technologies when it comes to coal have been deployed, are being deployed, are being considered. We think that that needs to be considered in Australia too.
SABRA LANE: These major companies though have gone on the record though in the last three weeks since the Prime Minister made those comments at the press conference. These are quotes in the distant past. They are recent comments.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, all I can say is that from the Government’s point of view we are technology agnostic. We are focussed on making sure that Australian families and businesses can have access to an affordable, reliable and secure energy supply and that we do so in a way that still continues to meet our emissions reduction targets. We believe we need to step away from the ideologically driven policy prescriptions of Labor and the Greens and that we need to have a much more sober look at the options in front of us.
SABRA LANE: You said last week there was no such proposal by the Government to look at cutting the capital gains tax discount for property. MP John Alexander says the Government is working on plans, who is right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is no such proposal in front of the Government. We went to the last election promising no increases in taxes on investment, specifically no reductions in the capital gains tax discount, no changes to negative gearing. We stick to our commitments. It is only the Labor party that is proposing to increase taxes on investment…interrupted
SABRA LANE: Sorry Minister, I want to talk to you about the Government’s plans. You say that there are no plans right now, that may be publicly, privately behind the scenes you might be working on them.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not working on any plans I can assure you. The Government has no proposal in front of it. We have no plans, no intentions to do anything other than what we promised we would do in the lead up to the last election.
SABRA LANE: Are you sending your colleagues a message, that you will not stomach any change?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not sending any message at all. I am just telling you the facts.
SABRA LANE: The Banking Association late last week announced that Anna Bligh was going to be its new chief executive. What do you think of that appointment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is entirely a matter for the Australian Bankers Association. I wish her luck and success in the job.
SABRA LANE: The Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister James McGrath says Ms Bligh is quote ‘an incompetent economic vandal’. Is that intemperate, accurate or wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on comments made by colleagues and others. I will let James speak for himself.
SABRA LANE: It is reported this morning that the Treasurer’s office has cancelled meetings with the big bank CEOs in the next fortnight in response to this appointment, is that right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of that in any way shape or form.
SABRA LANE: There is a push for a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the banks. Nationals MP George Christensen says he will cross the floor to support a Royal Commission. If a vote succeeds in Parliament for a Commission of Inquiry would that also serve as a vote of no confidence in this Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There has been a lot of speculation on what may or may not happen in relation to various things. My good friend and valued colleague George Christensen has again made clear the other day that he is a loyal and committed member of the National party and of the Coalition. While there is a lot of speculation I would not necessarily assume that everything that is written in relation to these things is actually what is going to happen.
SABRA LANE: So do you think Mr Christensen is not going to follow through on this threat?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will let Mr Christensen speak for himself. But the Government’s position is very clear.
SABRA LANE: Minister, thanks for talking to AM this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.