Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let us go back to our top story now and that clash within the Coalition over energy policy. We are joined now by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann at Parliament House. Minister, good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Your colleague Josh Frydenberg, the Energy Minister describes last night's meeting as full and frank. How do you describe it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I thought it was a good meeting. It was an important discussion. It started with a presentation by Josh Frydenberg to the party room. Without going into the specifics, colleagues asked a lot of questions and raised important issues from the perspectives of their respective communities, which is precisely what you would expect them to do. This is early days in the process. We only received the Finkel report last Friday. The Prime Minister decided to consult the party room early. The Government now will work on putting together our response to the Finkel report.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Reports this morning that up to 20 MPs in that party room either got up and directly and bluntly opposed the clean energy target, or raised significant concerns about it. Does this pose a potential political hazard for the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. We have got to remind ourselves what the background is to this. The Finkel report was commissioned by all governments across Australia in the wake of the power failure, the massive blackout in South Australia, the policy failure of the State Labor Government in South Australia when it comes to energy policy. We do have a challenge in Australia and that is that we need to ensure that moving forward we can have lower electricity prices, more reliable and secure energy supplies and we have to achieve that in a way that still helps ensure that we can meet our internationally agreed emissions reductions targets. That is our focus. In order to achieve that we need to ensure that we can attract additional investment to boost supplies of energy across all energy sources. That is our focus. There is an important conversation to be had. It is very important that we settle on a soundly based policy framework moving forward. Yesterday's conversation was an important part of the process.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But based on those and based on the various reports, coming to some sort of agreement could be very hard for the Coalition?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a very complex policy challenge and it is one that the country has grappled with for some time. We are committed to take it on. We are committed to make the right decisions for Australia. We are committed to ensure that Australia can have lower electricity prices and reliable, secure energy supplies into the future and that we can do so in a way that still helps us meet our emissions reductions targets. So this is a complex policy issue. It is very important that we are across all of the relevant perspectives from people right across Australia, which is precisely why it was so important for us to consult with the party room yesterday to ensure that all of those issues were on the table.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: One of your colleagues, a Liberal MP told Fairfax Media and I am quoting directly, ‘Malcolm could lose his leadership over this if he does not listen to us’. Is the Prime Minister's leadership on the line here?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, not at all. Yesterday what the Prime Minister did was precisely that. He was listening. We received, the Council of Australia Governments and the Federal Government, we received on Friday the Finkel report, which is a blueprint on how our energy policy framework can be transformed to ensure we can put downward pressure on electricity prices, to ensure we can secure reliable energy supplies into the future and to do so in a way that still helps us meet our emissions reduction targets. What the Prime Minister did at the first opportunity was to give the party room an opportunity to be heard. We did have a full and frank conversation. We did, listen to all of the issues raised. A lot of questions were asked. It is now a matter for Josh Frydenberg and the Government to work through the recommendations in the Finkel report and to develop the best possible policy response for Australia.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you have confidence in the Prime Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: 100 per cent.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: One of these reports the ABC is reporting there was a heated altercation between the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and fellow Sydney Liberal MP Craig Laundy last night as you and your fellow colleagues were leaving. Did you see that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not go into the specifics of party room meetings. What I would say, I was in the meeting in the morning and I was in the meeting in the afternoon. It was a very good discussion. It was a courteous and professional discussion. It is entirely appropriate for Liberal Members and Senators, National party Members and Senators from across the country to put forward the perspectives and interests of their respective communities. That is precisely what happened. I am not going to go into specifics.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Passions are running fairly high, though? That is not a denial of that altercation happening?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a very important policy debate for Australia. It is very important for us to get this right. It is very important for us to take people with us. The diversity of views in the party room and indeed in the Parliament reflects the diversity of views across the broader Australian community. So this is an important process and we have got to allow the process to take its course so that we end up with a policy position that provides certainty, that is sustainable, that will give investors confidence that they can invest in increasing energy supplies into the future with the confidence that the policy settings will have durability.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just about out of time, the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott also describes the clean energy target as a tax on coal. You and other senior members of the leadership team have denied this. Back in February, you accused Tony Abbott of being deliberately destructive. Is he being deliberately destructive on this issue?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, this is not a tax on coal. The biggest tax and the biggest cost that we could impose on consumers and on taxpayers is to do nothing. If the status quo were to continue, energy prices will continue to go up and up and the stability in the system would continue to be at risk. That is manifestly not in our national interest. In relation to your other questions, this is an important policy debate for our nation and it is quite appropriate for all Members and Senators across the Parliament to participate in this debate.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Is Tony Abbott being deliberately destructive?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, all Members and Senators in our party and indeed in all parties across the Parliament are absolutely entitled to participate in this debate. It is an important debate for us to get right. It is important that we reach a policy landing which is durable, which is sustainable and which has the broadest possible consensus across the community.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just before we go, on another issue, Anthony Byrne, Labor MP is calling for Federal Parliament’s joint intelligence committee to investigate foreign interference in Australian politics in the wake of all these controversies over people linked to the Chinese regime donating to Australian parties. Would the Government support that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not in my area of policy responsibility. I will let the responsible Ministers provide comment on that and the relevant committees of the Parliament to make decisions in relation to these matters.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Mathias Cormann in Canberra, thank you very much for your time this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.