Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Monday, 27 February 2017
FRAN KELLY: Federal Parliament is sitting again this week and the Turnbull Government is under pressure on a number of fronts. It is feeling the heat over the decision by the Fair Work Commission last week to cut Sunday penalty rates and then there is reports today of a concerted campaign by Tony Abbott’s supporters to undermine the Prime Minister. It is all feeding into, what is a pretty woeful Newspoll for the Government today, showing the Government has fallen ten points behind Labor on a two-party preferred. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. Minister welcome back to breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
FRAN KELLY: Before we get to the politics of the day, let’s go to the policy. A decision that will have real impact on the lives of workers, this penalty rate decision from the Fair Work Commission. Did the Commission get it right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is an independent decision by the independent umpire. It is a body that was set up by Labor…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Is it the right decision though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This body was given the job to review penalty rates by none other than Bill Shorten himself. The body was set up by Labor. The people who made the decision were appointed by Labor. Bill Shorten before the election said he would respect the independence of the Fair Work Commission, but clearly what we now find out, he only respects the independence of a body like the Fair Work Commission if they agree with him and if they pursue his …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: I understand all that, but I am wondering what you think of the decision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I think of the decision is that the Fair Work Commission was given the job to independently assess all of the facts, all of the information, all of the submissions and come to a conclusion about the best way forward in their point of view. That is their job. Labor set it up deliberately as an independent body. Labor took the view that this should not be a political decision of Government. It should be an independent decision and we respect the independence of the Fair Work Commission.
FRAN KELLY: I understand that, you accept the independence of the Fair Work Commission. Do you think they got it right? You are the Finance Minister of this country, did they get it right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I believe is that the Fair Work Commission and we as a Government support the fact that the Fair Work Commission was set up as an independent body. It is not for me to second guess the decisions that they have made. I have not reviewed all of the information that they reviewed. I have not reviewed all of the submissions and facts and figures they have reviewed. Bill Shorten wanted the Fair Work Commission to have this job. That was his decision …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: No, I understand that, I understand that. And Labor has now come out and said, and there are a lot of people who do not think that you should challenge the findings of an independent commission. But Labor is going to. It is going to put in a Bill. We have heard from Adam Bandt earlier. The Greens are going to put in a Bill. Does the Government have a view on this decision? Whether you respect the independent umpire, do you have a view on whether they got it right or wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten is a complete hypocrite. This is his decision effectively. What the Fair Work Commission is saying …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Well it is the Fair Work Commission’s decision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was Bill Shorten who gave the Fair Work Commission that job. He told us that they should be able to make that decision independently. What we now know is that the only way Bill Shorten accepts the independence of anyone is if they agree with him …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Okay but what do you think about it? This is a big decision, it is going to affect hundreds of thousands of people. What do you think about it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have told you several times what we think about is that the Fair Work Commission should remain independent, should make these decisions independently. We do not have any plans to support any attacks on the independence of the Fair Work Commission, even though opportunistically and clearly feeling the pressure from his own backbench, Bill Shorten now having pushed for the independence of this body is now jumping up and down trying to create an impression that he does not agree anymore with that fact that the Fair Work Commission was set up as an independent body.
FRAN KELLY: So presumably the Government if it comes to it would vote against any bills introduced by Labor or the Greens to try and limit the work of the Fair Work Commission? You would vote against any changes to freeze penalty rates?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do not support efforts to undermine the independence of the Fair Work Commission. That is a position that we have clearly spelled out for some time. Bill Shorten is the architect of the independence of the Fair Work Commission and he is a complete hypocrite.
FRAN KELLY: The Government does a have capacity to have some say in this, I mean you can make a submission. The Government chose not to do that in the original inquiry but now it is going to be looking at the transition period of the introduction of this cut to penalty rates. Will the Government intervene on that question?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The whole purpose of setting up the Fair Work Commission the way Labor set them up was to take the politics out of it, to make it an independent decision at arm’s length from the Government. There were very good policy reasons for that. They are policy reasons that the Government supports. Quite frankly, Bill Shorten is trying to have his cake and eat it too.
FRAN KELLY: But people are going to lose a lot of money here Minister, some between $77 and $120 a week for many hundreds, maybe even hundreds of thousands of workers. People will be angry that any Government that allows that to happen and probably angry at any Government that does not have a view on that, wouldn’t you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Hang on Fran. Let’s just put this decision into perspective. It is a decision in relation to a few awards and it is a decision to adjust the penalty rates on a Sunday, not abolish them, adjust them …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But adjust down.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Adjust them down, in relation to a small number of awards. Penalty rates remain. It is just that they are not quite as high as what they have been before …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: So do you think that is alright?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I think is that Bill Shorten felt it was important for the Fair Work Commission to review these penalty rates, to review them independently, to consider all of the information and to make a judgement on the best way forward. Now the Fair Work Commission having reviewed all of the information has come to a view that in the interest of job creation in particular across those industries, that certain adjustments are warranted …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: I will leave this in a moment, but the fact that the Government will not have say on this. I mean you were happy to weigh in on say the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal or the firefighters dispute in Victoria, they were all made by independent bodies weren’t they?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a body which Bill Shorten specifically tasked with reviewing penalty rates. They have done what Bill Shorten has asked them to do. He thought that he had stacked the odds in his favour. He thought that surely a body that he set up, where all of the relevant people were appointed by Labor and he gave them the job to review these penalty rates, he never thought that they would do anything other than pursue Labor party policy. But they have shown their independence and Bill Shorten and the Labor Party do not like it when these bodies show independence.
FRAN KELLY: And presumably if the Government is not speaking out against it, presumably the Government thinks it is relaxed about this decision.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We respect the independence of the Fair Work Commission. As we respect the independence of the Reserve Bank and various other key economic independent bodies.
FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, it is 17 minutes to eight. Our guest is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister, what about this story in The Australian newspaper this morning revealing the existence of a ginger group of conservative MPs agitating for a return of Tony Abbott or at least Tony Abbott’s agenda. They are calling themselves ‘the deplorables’ apparently, have you heard of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I had not heard of it. I do not agree with your characterisation having read the article. It does not look like they are agitating for any such thing at all.
FRAN KELLY: According to the report, I do not know this story, but according to the report it was set up by some with that in mind and certainly coordinating a campaign against Malcolm Turnbull on issues like safe schools, 18C, same sex marriage. Whether or not it existed in exactly the terms it has been represented, this adds to internal tensions in your party doesn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think your interpretation went further than what is represented in that article. But let me just say, the people that are mentioned in the article, they are all good people, they are valued friends and colleagues. There is nothing wrong with discussing policy matters internally. There is nothing wrong with discussing policy matters internally with a view of participating in the overall policy debates within the Liberal party.
FRAN KELLY: Perhaps I did misspeak, perhaps their only agenda was to get him back into the Cabinet.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I do not know what every single person’s agenda was, but if you read that article it does not sound to me as if that was the agenda for most of the people involved, certainly isn’t at present.
FRAN KELLY: You were an ardent Abbott loyalist at the time of the last leadership change. On Friday you took him down. It was well reported you said he was being ‘deliberately destructive and completely unhelpful’. Now there is talk of this campaign by a group of Liberal conservatives, do you think Tony Abbott is out to blow up the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have said what I have to say in relation to these matters last week. I do not really have anything to add. From our point of view, the Government has got a job to do. We were elected less than ten, less than eight months ago to implement our plan for a stronger economy, more jobs and I am focused and the team is focused on doing that every single day.
FRAN KELLY: As a former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has the right to speak his mind and his former Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin says he cannot afford not to. She said yesterday he is not after his old job, but he is trying to stop the Liberals bleeding votes. Hence his policy prescription. So she said the Liberal party is “on life support” and looking at today’s Newspoll, it is looking like that isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I am not going to commentate on commentators. As far as the Newspoll is concerned, it is not a surprise after the internal conversations that we have had through the media in recent days that people mark us down for that. The truth is we are getting on with the job, people want us to get on with the job, people want us to deliver what we promised before the last election we would deliver. They want us to focus on making Australia stronger, better, safer, a more secure place and a great place to live. That is what we are focused on.
FRAN KELLY: And just finally Minister can I ask you, negotiations over the omnibus savings bill. We know that the Nick Xenophon Team, One Nation will vote against the bill as it stands. How much are you going to be able to salvage and when will you split it up and get at least enough cuts through to pay for the childcare package?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As always with these matters and that has been our past track record, we always try and get as much of our agenda through the Senate as possible and part of the recipe in order to help us achieve that is not to conduct negotiations through the media.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.