Transcripts → 2017


ABC TV - Insiders

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Sunday, 12 March 2017

WA election

BARRIE CASSIDY: For more on the wash-up from the State election, we are joined from our Perth studios by the Minister for Finance, Senator Mathias Cormann. Good morning. Welcome. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Good luck getting another preference deal with Pauline Hanson after that result.

MATHIAS CORMANN: The election result last night has been a long time coming. It is not unexpected. All of the published and internal polling indicated that this was the way it was going to go. As far as the preference deal is concerned, the Liberal party's consideration was looking at our primary vote long before the campaign got underway, long before any preference arrangements were entered into, our primary vote, according to internal polling was as low as 29 per cent. All throughout the campaign it has hovered at 29 to 31 per cent at State level. If we wanted to minimise losses, maximise our chances of holding onto seats, we needed to be able to source preferences. Clearly, these weren't going to come from Labor and the Greens. The State executive of the West Australian Liberal party unanimously decided to make the arrangement that has been much talked about.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But do you take my point that no matter what you might want in the future, Pauline Hanson won't be interested in any preference deal with the Liberal party?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Barrie, back in 2001, the Liberal party put One Nation last. As a result, One Nation put Liberal candidates and Liberal Members of Parliament last in every single seat. Labor was elected in 2001 on the back of One Nation preferences. This time around, we made a decision to put One Nation ahead of Labor and the Greens. That will help us in some seats. It will probably help us hold on in seats like Jandakot and Geraldton. These are judgements ultimately that are made on a case by case basis by relevant party organisations. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: But given the experience, you now rule out chasing a similar deal at the Federal level?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of chasing a deal. The circumstance at a Federal level is very different. We are in a strong and united Coalition with the National party. That was not the circumstance in Western Australia. Not because of us not wanting this. The National party in Western Australia took the view that they didn't want to be in coalition with us, they wanted to be more independent and only enter into an alliance. The National party in Western Australia has preferenced other parties ahead of the Liberal party, including One Nation incidentally, in the Upper House for years, all the way back to 2008. It has always been a unique circumstance in Western Australia, which is quite different to the circumstances at the national level. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: And because it is unique, are you able to say now deal or no deal with One Nation at the Federal level?

MATHIAS CORMANN: These are not judgements for me to make. These are judgements that will be made at the right time. I suspect what will happen in the ordinary course of events now is that the Liberal party organisation in Western Australia and the Liberal party organisation nationally will review the result. We will review all aspects of the campaign and the ultimate outcome. Relevant judgements will be made at the right time. I am personally very comfortable that Labor and the Greens should always be towards the bottom of our ballot paper.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, so when you make that judgement whether you do a deal with them at the Federal level, would you keep in mind how your supporters apparently read this deal you did in WA, it looks as if they didn't like it at all? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Barrie, that is your interpretation. You would have made that no matter what the result. It is not the evidence that we have seen. The evidence we saw was that our primary vote, before the campaign started, before any preference arrangements got underway, was very, very low. It was as low as 29 per cent. That compares to the primary vote that was achieved in the Federal election when Malcolm Turnbull was campaigning across Western Australia of 45.7 per cent and a two party preferred vote then of 54.7 per cent. Our primary vote going into this election was low. The overwhelming factor and the overwhelming reason for that was the time, the long period of time that Colin Barnett has been Premier and that the Liberal National party has been in Government. In the period that Colin Barnett has been Premier, we have had five Premiers in New South Wales, we had four Premiers in Victoria. In fact in Victoria, we had two changes of government and in Queensland we had two changes of government. There are only three Premiers in the history of Western Australia that served continuously longer as Premier than Colin Barnett. Overwhelmingly, across the electorate, as I was going from polling booth to polling booth, the feedback our volunteers were getting was that people wanted a change because of the long period of time that Colin Barnett had been in Government. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: But let’s go back to the preferences. Here is an interpretation from former Nationals Senator Ron Boswell. Now he knows the bush as well as anybody. He says by giving them preferences, you give legitimacy to One Nation. People feel as if it is safe to vote for her. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, the evidence is otherwise. The evidence is that fewer people ended up voting for One Nation than otherwise might. At the beginning of the campaign, our primary vote was on 29 per cent. The published polls were indicating that One Nation was on a 13 per cent primary vote. They have come in less than that. People will have all sorts of interpretations but, in the end, you have to look at the evidence.

BARRIE CASSIDY: The other thing Ron said. It came about in part because you want Pauline Hanson's support in the Senate. He said, he told The Guardian Australia that he said to his people ‘stupid bastards’ is what he thought about that, that is short-term thinking? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again Barrie, in the Senate if we want to get important legislation through for our country, in our national interest, we have to deal with the people that have been elected by the Australian people into the Senate. The reality is that … interrupted

BARRIE CASSIDY: That was part of your motivation then? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, that is not what I am saying. I am just responding to your criticism that we are dealing with One Nation in the Senate. In the Senate, if Labor and the Greens are opposed to legislation like the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, we need to get a certain number of crossbenchers on board. We can't get any legislation through which is opposed by Labor and the Greens without the support of One Nation Senators. We have to work with One Nation Senators, as we have to work with Nick Xenophon team Senators, as we have to work with the Liberal Democrats and Cory Bernardi and others represented in the Senate. That is our duty and responsibility to do that. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, one of your colleagues, Dean Smith, said a lack of real GST reform haunted the Liberals ‘a failure to set a GST floor or even set a timetable cost Colin Barnett dearly’. Is he right about that? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to GST sharing arrangements, we did as much as we could in an appropriate fashion, bearing in mind that a national Government has got responsibility to act in the national interests. We did recognise that the Commonwealth Grants Commission recommendations to drop the Western Australia share of the GST down to 30 per cent was inappropriate. That is why we stopped that drop in the share of the GST from 2014-15 onwards by making unilateral Federal grants to Western Australia of half a billion dollars each year in 2015-16 and 2016-17. No national government can side with one State Government against every other State government and take money away from other state governments to hand it over to one State government. What we did was, as much as we could. The Prime Minister did set out a timetable on how this issue could prospectively be resolved. That is the appropriate way to go. Under the current GST sharing arrangements, WA's share of the GST will start to increase in the ordinary course of events. When that happens, under the current system, what the Prime Minister has indicated is that we should consider establishing a floor below the level that has been exceeded. That is still our position. That is the position that the Council of Australian Governments should… interrupted 

BARRIE CASSIDY: When will you do that? Because Senator Smith is talking about there will be losses at the Federal level if you don't do something about it between now and the election. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: This was a big issue in the lead-up to the last Federal election and we won 11 out of 16 seats and 54.7 per cent of the two party preferred vote. This is an issue in Western Australia, there is no doubt about it. By the same token, we have to be realistic on what a national government can do in relation to these sorts of issues. The timetable is determined by what happens with the GST sharing arrangements moving forward. There is a flow through effect, principally from the prices for iron ore and the royalty revenue that is generated on the back of iron ore exports. That will play out over the next few years. There is an expectation in the not too distant future, WA's share of the GST will start increasing again. If and when that happens, there are certain options available where a floor can be established without actually taking money away from any other State. That is the way it should happen. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: Away from the election, this talk about Scott Morrison and the Prime Minister stepping up and taking the lead in the run-up to the Budget, it wasn't just that. There was also suggestion around it that the ABC was backgrounded that he wasn't cutting through, that seemed to be the view in the Government. That is a bit embarrassing for him, isn't it?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not the view in the Government. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the whole Cabinet, we work as a strong and united team. The Prime Minister is the leader of our team. Scott Morrison is the leader of our economic team. He is a very strong and effective Treasurer. I very much enjoy working with him. We are all now focused on putting the Budget for the 2017-18 financial year together, which will be delivered on the second Tuesday in May. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: What are the prospects of you being Government leader in the Senate about three months from now?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am focused on the job I have got. I thoroughly enjoy the job that the Prime Minister has given me as Minister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. That is what I am focussed on. 

BARRIE CASSIDY: But, you are aware of the speculation that there could soon be a vacancy?

MATHIAS CORMANN: There is always speculation. I won't comment on speculation.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Alright and thank you for backing up so early this morning. Appreciate it.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.