Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Federal Finance Minister, West Australia Senator Mathias Cormann has been listening to all this, good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: You used the word pragmatic yesterday. What was the pragmatic thinking behind this decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As a national Government it is our job to work with the State Government in Western Australia that the people of Western Australia have elected, in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for WA. Everybody that has been following the debate about the Perth Freight Link in recent years would know that the Federal Government was very committed to that project, remains very committed to that project for that matter. I was personally very committed to that project. But it is clear that it is not going to proceed under the current Government. We respect that the Labor Government in Western Australia has got different priorities. So the pragmatism and the focus on Western Australia’s best interests is that working with the Government that people in Western Australia have elected is that we needed to focus on those priority road and rail infrastructure projects that we could deliver together for the benefit of Western Australia.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: So you support what Metronet represents?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We believe that Metronet as an initiative fits in well with the Turnbull Government’s Smart Cities program. We believe that there is work that we can do together here. As the Premier acknowledged, there are still some processes to go through. This is all subject to positive business cases and the like. That is just the usual process that we now will see be gone through.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Okay. But such is politics, that is not something you could have said before is it? I support what Metronet represents.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not focused on the politics. I am focused on the fact that we have been able to reach a great agreement in the interests of Western Australia. A $2.3 billion road and rail infrastructure package, which will reduce congestion, which will improve road safety and which will create 6,000 new jobs across WA. So it is good news. As you would expect us to do after the State Election, very quickly we sat down with the new State Government. I sat down initially with the Treasurer Ben Wyatt over coffee and we talked through all of the current issues and where there was opportunity for us to do some good work together. I had several meetings and several discussions with Rita Saffioti. These discussions were all very constructive and all very focused on reaching a landing, reaching the best possible outcome for WA.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Yeah, I mean it does show that opposing sides can find mutual benefit in good decision making. Why are we sort of surprised Mathias Cormann? Why do we have the impression that this is so hard?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously in the lead up to an election we are competing. But after the West Australian people or the Australia people at a national level have spoken, it is incumbent on all of us to focus on delivering the best possible outcomes. That is what we have certainly sought to do on this occasion and we are very pleased that a good outcome has been able to be achieved.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Now just in case people think that I am running a kind of glee club this morning. The Financial Review said today that this is all about ‘placating white, hot rage in WA over the State’s pitiful GST share.’ A little bit of placating?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept that at all. What we have done this year again, is make a GST top up payment. This year it is $226 million. That is part of this package. It comes after top up payments in the previous two years in order to maintain WA’s GST relativity at the 2014/15 level, because that is when our Government decided it was inappropriate for the WA share of the GST to keep falling. We stopped the drop post 2014/15. There are separate processes under way. We have talked last week about the Productivity Commission review into the impact of GST sharing arrangements on national productivity and growth. There is still the process under way through the Council of Australian Governments where the Prime Minister has set out a potential way forward in terms of the setting of a floor in the future. We have had to deal clearly with what would happen with the Perth Freight Link money in the context of the Budget. There was also about $211 million in savings from jointly funded projects. We have agreed for that to be reallocated to new projects. That is how we came to a $2.3 billion package. There were some things that we wanted. We were very keen to see that improved access to the Fiona Stanley Hospital precinct to proceed, which was part of the early stages of the Roe 8 project. There were various other things that we were keen to see accommodated. The WA Government approached this in a very constructive fashion and it is good that we were able to reach a landing.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: My guest this morning is Mathias Cormann the Finance Minister, West Australian Senator. The reason we are speaking to him and Mark McGowan this morning is just to acknowledge that there are times when political differences can be put to one side for good decisions to be made. Mathias Cormann you probably think it happens more than the media like to report it too. Just in case some people are getting a bit uneasy here, put your gloves back on, you do still believe the abandonment of the Freight Link is a bad idea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is nothing to do with putting gloves back on. Infrastructure Australia independently identified the Perth Freight Link project as the highest priority infrastructure project nationally, not under construction. There is no doubt that the Perth Freight Link project is a very good project, which would help to reduce congestion on key roads in the south metropolitan area to Fremantle Port. It is something that would improve road safety. It would save lives. It would improve amenity across the south metropolitan region. Indeed it would drive productivity improvements and make us more competitive as a trading state, even more competitive than we already are. There is a strong case for it. I am not going to re-litigate the argument right now because clearly over the next four years it will not happen. But what we have said as a Federal Government that we stand ready to work with any State Government in Western Australia in the future that commits to building it.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Finally, Mathias Cormann, anything in the Budget that has not already been leaked? It is almost all out there isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us have that conversation after 7:30pm tomorrow night. Let’s see whether you still think that is the case.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: There is one question that people are asking today and that is to do with the funding of all those extra dollars for the Australia Federal Police and speculation that it might come out of Australia’s foreign aid budget. Do you have any response to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I refer you to the Budget, which will be delivered at 7:30pm tomorrow night. All will be revealed then.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Sounds like business as usual. Thank you for talking to me.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.