Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 24 February 2017
KIERAN GILBERT: That developing news there in relation to Tony Abbott this morning, the Finance Minister’s with me. Mathias Cormann what do you make of that intervention from Mr Abbott, Finance Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I find it sad. As you know, I have been a long-standing, loyal and reliable supporter of Tony Abbott for the whole period of his leadership, from the very beginning to the very end. I am just saddened by what self-evidently is his decision to provide more and more destructive commentary. He is not helping our cause. He is not helping our country. He is not helping himself. Much of what he says is either wrong or inconsistent with what he did when he was Prime Minister. From the Government’s point of view, we have got a job to do. We remain focussed on the job at hand. We were elected at the last election with a clear agenda, which we are implementing. The party room doesn’t share Tony’s views. The party room is strongly united behind the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.
KIERAN GILBERT: So would you encourage him now to follow suit, to do what you say is the view of the vast bulk of the party room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am a great admirer of John Howard, both in terms of his record as Prime Minister and the way he has conducted himself as a former Prime Minister. I think Tony would do well to reflect on why John Howard has been such a magnificent success.
KIERAN GILBERT: This is obviously, for our viewers who don’t recall, but you were there with Tony Abbott right to the end of his Prime Ministership. In fact helping him try and sure up numbers. It is not like you were someone who capitulated in the face of the challenge. You were right with him to the end. So your concerns about his intervention obviously carry a lot of weight.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, not only was I there at the end, I was there in the beginning too, which you might not even remember. I was there literally right from the start and I was there right until the end. I was loyal and supportive and reliable all the way through. Let me say that I was flabbergasted by Tony Abbott’s interview last night. I was watching it live from my office in Perth. There is nothing good that comes from an interview like that. It was deliberately destructive. It was completely unhelpful. It was not designed to be helpful. He was not trying to help our cause or help our country. It was quite self-indulgent. I think it is very sad that Tony Abbott has chosen to go down this path. I certainly would like to think that he is going to reflect on what the better way forward would be for him and for our cause.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now you have touched on it earlier, but this has been put to me privately, but you are doing this publicly now, very publicly, live to air in relation to the contradictions of his critique in for example saying you need to cut tax when he proposed a paid parental leave scheme that would increase corporate tax. And there are other examples like the Racial Discrimination Act and immigration, where immigration rose under his watch. These are the contradictions that have been put to me privately by your colleagues.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was on your program last week and you asked me questions about Tony Abbott’s comments that we should never increase taxes. As I said to you then, I was the Finance Minister in the Abbott Government when we were forced to increase taxes and indeed did so. He has been saying we should abolish the renewable energy target, when the renewable energy target we have now was legislated under the Abbott Government in a bipartisan fashion with the Labor party. With 18C, there were quite a few of us who would have liked us to take action there. That didn’t happen under the Abbott Government. Now we are being criticised for not moving quickly enough, even though the Turnbull Government has initiated a process in relation to this that has got the best prospect in a long time to achieve some sensible change. So across a whole range of areas the criticism is not warranted, it is inaccurate, it is inconsistent with the record of the Abbott Government. I am very, very saddened that we are forced to have this sort of argument, but that interview last night was completely unacceptable really.
KIERAN GILBERT: And finally in relation to that before we move on, I want to ask you about the penalty rates debate because it is important to discuss that given the events of yesterday. But finally just in relation to that conversation that my colleague Samantha Maiden reported between Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi, does that change things at all? Do you think that is just something many of your colleagues probably had already assumed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have got no idea on what happened in a private conversation. Let me say I cannot see any scenario in which there is a return of Tony Abbott to the leadership of the Liberal party. There is very strong and united support from the party room for Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop. I cannot see that change in any scenario this side of the election.
KIERAN GILBERT: The penalty rates decision by the Fair Work Commission, is that a vulnerability now politically for the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It should be a vulnerability for Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten’s hypocrisy first of all has again been exposed. The Fair Work Commission process was set up by the Labor party. Bill Shorten himself personally initiated this review by changing relevant legislation to require a review of penalty rates by the Fair Work Commission. The people who made the decisions were appointed by the Labor party. Before the election Bill Shorten said that he would respect the independent decision by the independent umpire. Now he comes out and is critical of a process and a decision that he initiated and that he is responsible for. He is not going to fool people with that. People understand that this is actually Bill Shorten’s doing and that the Fair Work Commission, which was set up by him and his friends in the Labor party and which did what he asked them to do, made a decision that he said he would respect. He is now just clearly looking over his shoulder in the Labor party because he knows that people will remember that it is actually him who caused this change to take place.
KIERAN GILBERT: And in relation to this though, obviously while you can point to measures the Labor put in place when in government they will try and shift their position now in both a political and they will try in terms of Parliamentary strategy to legislate against these sorts of measures. In a political sense how do you respond to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor party thought they were being very clever when they legislated for these sorts of decisions to be made by an independent body at arm’s length from the Government. They clearly were worried that once they lose government that future governments would have the capacity to legislate certain outcomes, which they were intent on preventing. So they thought that they had sorted it all out by setting up the process at arm’s length from Government, by stacking out the Commission with their own people and by giving it the job to look after penalty rates. Those people who they appointed considered the facts, considered the information and made a decision on what in their judgment was the right way forward. Despite Bill Shorten and the Labor party having stacked all of the odds in their favour, they are now crying crocodile tears and suggesting that the whole system should be thrown overboard. The system that is there is a system that they set up. We are not proposing to change it.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister, thanks for your time, appreciate it.