Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SABRA LANE: The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was in the Senate Chamber for last night’s vote and he joins us now. Minister good morning and welcome.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be here.
SABRA LANE: How much is it costing to keep Parliament here for another day?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is democracy at work. We have a job to do. Specifically, we took a plan to the last election to strengthen growth, create more jobs by boosting investment and productivity through a more competitive business tax rate. It is very important for our future economic success that the Senate does its job today.
SABRA LANE: But most of the debate last night was about 18C. Was that to give yourselves more time to crack a deal on getting an agreement on the corporate tax rate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are two debates which we have always said we wanted to conclude this week. One was our proposals to improve the operation of Section 18C. The other was that we wanted to finalise the debate on our ten year enterprise tax plan in the Senate. We are on track to achieve that.
SABRA LANE: Why persist with 18C though? It has not been a secret that the Government was not going to get the numbers on this. None of the crossbencher have been backward in coming forward and telling you that they are not going to vote for it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We were very keen to give it our absolute best shot to persuade the crossbench to join us in strengthening anti-vilification laws, in joining us to improve the procedures that currently apply and to improve the protections for freedom of speech.
SABRA LANE: At a time when things do not feel great for many voters. Wages are low, cost pressures are high they feel totally confused by the Government’s fixation on this. Something that really does not help them.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is an issue that has been debated for some time. There was a report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. It is an issue that among a whole series of other issues the Parliament has had to deal with. We are dealing with it. The consideration of it is nearly finalised.
SABRA LANE: Okay, is this it now with 18C? That part of it has been knocked on the head, will the Government keep pressing that until the next election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The debate is still to finalise today. I will let the Attorney-General make statements after the debate has been finalised as to what his future intentions are.
SABRA LANE: Alright, now to the tax package. Will you get agreement on something today or nothing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have said all the way through the Government is committed to legislating the package we took to the last election. We do understand that we do not have a majority in the Senate. It is no secret. That is why we have been working with non-Government Senators, specifically non-Government Senators on the crossbench, to get as much of our agenda through as we possibly can. We do believe it is important for our future economic success and for the future success of individual Australians for us to be able to get as much of our enterprise tax plan through as possible. Every reasonable person understands that a more competitive company tax rate will help us boost investment, will help us boost productivity, will help us create more jobs and will lead to increases in real wages over time.
SABRA LANE: Alright, by saying that reasonable people get it, those people who will not agree with you in the Senate, are you saying they are unreasonable?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I am saying is that Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers, Penny Wong, they have all made the case for lower company taxes quite eloquently in the past. Because they understand that a lower company tax rate will boost investment, will boost growth, will create more jobs … interrupted
SABRA LANE: Alright but they do not now …interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: ... and will lead to increases in real wages. The only reason…interrupted
SABRA LANE: But they do not now, so that is pointless isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: But this is my point. They are not being reasonable. They are not focused on the national interest. They are focused on a political strategy, on a destructive, reckless and irresponsible political strategy rather than to put the national interest first.
SABRA LANE: Alright, but you need your crossbenchers to come onside if you are to get this though. One Nation is now saying its benchmark is $50 million and it will not go lower. You have got the likes of the Xenophon Party saying they will agree on a threshold of $10 million and they will not get higher. How are you going to get one of those sides to yield?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The debate in the Senate is ongoing. This is democracy at work. The Government is focused on reaching a consensus among a majority of Senators. That work will be continuing today. At the end there will be a vote, sometime today I suspect. There will be an outcome.
SABRA LANE: You suspect? You still may walk away with nothing.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our intention is to finalise debate on the enterprise tax plan today and to reach a vote sometime today.
SABRA LANE: But you might walk away with nothing.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our commitment is to legislate the lot. If we are not able to achieve that our commitment is to get as much of our agenda legislated as we possibly can. That is what we are working on.
SABRA LANE: How hopeful are you that you might get agreement on the $50 million threshold?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt, I am not going to conduct negotiations through the media. What we are doing is we are working with non-Government Senators that have expressed an interest in working with the Government to achieve a consensus. We are continuing to work with those Senators.
SABRA LANE: Joe Hockey warned last night that the American people no longer have confidence in their traditional institutions, that they are protecting their interest. Do you think the same could be said about Australians, given that one in three are not voting for the Liberal or Labor parties? There is a perception that the LNP, your parties favour the big end of town over middle Australia with the enterprise tax plan. Now the case that you are advocating with the minimum wage.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject your assertion that we are favouring the big end of town. Firstly, our enterprise tax plan is geared in the first instance to small and medium sized businesses and it is geared to giving workers across Australia the best possible opportunity to get ahead. As Ken Henry as Treasury Secretary under the Labor government famously said, the principle beneficiaries of a lower company tax rate are workers. They benefit from the increased job security, from the opportunity to create more jobs and also from the increases in real wages that the additional investment and the productivity improvements that a company tax cut generates. They are the ones that benefit from that.
SABRA LANE: Alright, Minister we are out of time and I know that you have got another appointment. Thank you very much for talking with AM this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.