Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who is in Washington for talks with the World Bank, the G20 and others. We will get to that in a moment, first though Mr Abbott has had his reflection on that man to man conversation. What is yours?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran I do not normally talk about private conversations, but given Tony has given his public interpretation, let me just firstly confirm that yes we did have a very direct conversation that day. But let me also say that I did not in any way step back from anything that I said that day. I stood by everything I said that day, as I stand by everything I said that day now. The other point that I made to Tony in that conversation was that I did previously talk to him privately about the concerns that I had about some of his public interventions. That did not have any effect obviously and hence the interview that we had some months ago.
KIERAN GILBERT: And those public interventions continue and now they will be on a very regular basis as well. Does that worry you? Do you share and reflect the same sentiment as you did in our interview a few months ago?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My view has not changed. All of us in the Coalition, we have a responsibility to work together as a team to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australia, for the Australian people. We have to ensure that working as a strong and united team, we do not inadvertently help Bill Shorten become Prime Minister. I guess Tony has to be very careful that he is not and he is not seen to be helping Bill Shorten become Prime Minister, because that would be very bad for Australia. Bill Shorten is running on an anti-business, anti-success, anti-growth agenda that would hurt jobs. He is pursing policies that would deliver higher taxes, higher electricity prices, less trade, all things that would be bad for families across Australia working to get ahead. So it is incumbent on all of us in the Coalition, all of us in the Liberal National Parties in the Parliament to work every single day on kicking goals for Australia, kicking goals for Australians and making sure that we can continue to provide good and strong and effective government for Australia for many years to come.
KIERAN GILBERT: You said at the time that it was a sad contribution from Mr Abbott that it was damaging. Last night David Speers spoke to your colleague and friend Peter Dutton and put that to him. He says ‘that was in a different context, the context this time has changed, that Mr Abbott should be applauded for his intervention’. What do you say to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not suggesting that Tony Abbott cannot make any public contributions, of course not. He is a Member of Parliament. It is a free world. Of course he can and should contribute to public policy debate as appropriate. Tony is also a former Prime Minister and that gives him a particular responsibility. All of us would love to more strongly be able to focus on the significant positive legacy of the Abbott Government. I would like to be able to do that. Some of his interventions in the past sadly have been somewhat destructive and were able to be interpreted as undermining our efforts to provide strong and effective government and to maximise our chances of being successful at the next election.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Abbott has done interviews recently where the interviewer has referred to you as a bedwetter, one of the bedwetters is how it has been described. Does that frustrate you given how loyal you were to him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on commentators. I stand by my track record. I was a strong and loyal supporter of Tony Abbott's from the first day he took the leadership back in 2009 and I was there right until the end. I was a loyal team player then and I pride myself on being a loyal team player in the Turnbull Government. I have accepted appointment as the Minister for Finance in the Turnbull Government and as Tony Abbott as Prime Minister expected his Ministers to do, I am working every single day as hard and as best I can to support our team effort to deliver the best possible outcomes for the Australian people.
KIERAN GILBERT: We have got a lot to talk about in your portfolio area just finally on this. John Howard does he have a role to play in this as a peacemaker and also Graham Richardson writes today that he believes Mr Turnbull must bring Abbott into the tent to stop the sniping.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Any matters related to the composition of the Cabinet are well and truly beyond my pay grade. These are matters for the Prime Minister and I am certainly not going to give public advice to the Prime Minister on these sorts of matters. Beyond that, I am a huge fan and huge admirer of John Howard. I think not only did John Howard provide outstanding leadership to our country as Prime Minister, I think he has conducted himself with great distinction and great class in his current role as former Prime Minister. I think that John Howard really has defined the gold standard of how former Prime Ministers can best make a continuing contribution to public policy debates in our country.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s turn our attention now to the meetings you are having there in Washington. We have seen a recent more optimistic forecast from the IMF about global economic growth despite geopolitical tensions in various parts of the world, not the least of which on the Korean Peninsula. Is that your sentiment? Is that your view of the global assessment of growth right now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a matter of public record that the IMF for the first time in a number of years now has upgraded its global economic growth outlook, which is positive. If you look across the world, the situation in Europe has been improving somewhat, the momentum in the United States is positive. Overall and if you look at the IMF’s assessment of the global economic growth outlook things are improving ever so slightly. Their assessment of the Australian outlook is also slightly better than what is reflected in our own Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook which we delivered before Christmas.
KIERAN GILBERT: You will no doubt be taking the message of free trade and anti-protectionism to the G20. Do you expect to have push back again as Steve Mnuchin the Treasury Secretary expressed those sorts of sentiments out of the Trump Administration recently at talks with our Treasurer Scott Morrison. Do you expect the same sort of push again from Washington that you are going to have to try and resist?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The IMF has pointed to a number of downside risks to stronger global growth and one of those downside risks is increased protectionism around the world. Certainly Australia has an open trading economy, engaged with the world, focused on doing as much business as possible with other parts of the world. We are keen to see all economies around the world be engaged and as open and as freely engaged in trade as possible. That certainly will continue to be our message at these meetings here in Washington this week. I have had some good meetings here in Washington so far. I met with the White House Director for Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney earlier today. They are very focused on implementing their plan for the economy including their plan for a more competitive business tax rate. The United States is very focused on how they can ensure that businesses here can be more successful and employ more Americans, the same way as the Australian Government, the Turnbull Government is very focused on helping ensure that our businesses can be as successful as possible. That is why we are pursuing a more competitive tax rate, that is why we are pursuing pro-trade policies, that is why we are pursuing the reform agenda in the energy space to ensure that we can have access to reliable and affordable energy supplies into the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Labor is announcing its further housing affordability measures today, getting ahead of the Government. It is going to promise a ban on self-managed super funds borrowing for these purposes which Bill Shorten has argued already this morning is putting upward pressure on house prices. What do you say to that and the others measures that you have heard from Labor in relation to this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor takes a very lazy policy approach to all of this. They think that a one size fits all approach to housing affordability is the way to go, when clearly it is not. When we talk about housing affordability pressures it is not a uniform situation across Australia. Taking a sledge hammer to these things as Labor has been proposing for some time now by increasing taxes on residential investment in particular and other such measures, you could have very negative impacts on other parts of the market outside Sydney and Melbourne in particular. So we do not support what Labor has been putting on the table in terms of higher taxes, which would lead to a drying up of residential rental accommodation for example, putting upward pressure on rental prices. That has been the experience incidentally in the past. Labor knows this. Labor is taking a reckless, ideological, counterproductive approach. Whereas what is required is a much more carefully targeted, carefully calibrated approach including involving very carefully calibrated initiatives by our prudential regulators like APRA.
KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to super, accessing super for deposits, Labor is going to draw a line through that and commit very strongly against any such idea. You would welcome at least that component of their announcement today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our housing affordability package will be announced as part of the Budget on the second Tuesday in May. From the Prime Minister down a number of us have made very clear statements that compulsory super is to generate an income in retirement and that is what superannuation is all about. Increasing the amount of money that goes into residential property, all other things being equal, does not help to make it more affordable, it puts upwards pressure on prices. So that is not something that we think would help address the problem. If you have a concern about housing affordability, if you have a concern about the affordability of anything, the way to address it, overwhelmingly, is by increasing supply and overwhelmingly that is going to be the area that we have got to continue to focus on in the months and years ahead.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, live from Washington appreciate your time. Talk to you soon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.