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.Your take on all of this and how it has been reported this morning? A potential backlash some are saying.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, you were there. I was there. The Prime Minister gave a very funny speech, full of self-deprecating humour at an off the record, charity event. The person that he poked at fun the most was himself. People who are suggesting that this is going to impact on the Australian-US relationship are quite frankly hyperventilating. It is quite ridiculous. I agree with Sharri Markson in The Daily Telegraph today, who said essentially, let’s remember our sense of humour, let’s have some perspective on this. The Australian-US relationship is made of much stronger stuff. What I would say though, there is a question out of all of this for Bill Shorten today. Bill Shorten will have to clarify today whether it is true that his office was behind leaking those secret recordings. If so, why they thought that it was a good idea to do so.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, you asked that question, I am sure they can follow that up later in the day. And journalists will no doubt put that to them now that you have asserted that there has been, one of the suggestions around the place. The other thing to point out is that while it was self deprecating the speech and in the context of it, it was very light, it wasn’t going into any substantive claims about Donald Trump in one way or the other. It was a very stylistic roasting wasn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a very funny speech. As the Prime Minister has said since then, it was very affectionate, the humour was vey affectionate. It wasn’t anything inappropriate. I have seen President Trump give similar speeches at similar events in the United States. I am very certain that President Trump absolutely understands the spirit in which that speech was given at an off the record, charity event.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, well, I have got to agree, I can’t see any diplomatic row emanating from it. He is unpredictable though, so we need to put in that caveat, that the President of course is unpredictable. We don’t know how he is going to respond…
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think the President has got a great sense of humour.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, but he is unpredictable. You concede that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He has got a great sense of humour. I am sure he understands the context in which this speech took place.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s look at something else now, the banking inquiry underway into the bank levy. I don’t think there is any real surprise as to what Anna Bligh would be telling Senators this morning. It is, as I said earlier, it is on channel 648 the whole inquiry. But, she kicks off by saying there wasn’t enough consultation, that it is poorly designed. It is an interesting situation for her to be in though, because the while the big four banks oppose it, many of her members support the bank levy.
MATHIAS CORMANN: She just made that point in her opening remarks, that many banks actually agree with the Government, that this major bank levy will help to level the playing field and will help to improve competition in the banking sector, which is ultimately good for consumers. The truth is that there is a broad consensus in support of the major bank levy across the Parliament. The major bank levy will be legislated through the Parliament next week. So it is now a matter of just getting on with it.
KIERAN GILBERT: And in relation to the inquiry today, is it just part of the mechanics of Parliament, you wouldn’t expect any changes to come out of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is business as usual for the Parliament with legislation of this type. The Senate will usually have an inquiry. This is a reasonably short inquiry. That is a reflection of the fact that there is very strong and very broad support for this levy across the Parliament. Not only the Coalition, but Labor and the Greens have all indicated that they would support the speedy passage of legislation to give effect to this.
KIERAN GILBERT: The major foreign banks in Australia will be appearing as well. There have been calls for the bank levy to be extended to be extended to them, including from Labor and others. Is the Government still adamant that you won’t be looking to do that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we have done is we have decided to apply a major bank levy to major banks. None of the foreign banks operating in Australia are major banks in Australia, because they are too small in Australia. We have not made a decision to exclude foreign banks. We have made a decision to exclude banks with less than $100 billion in liabilities. That is a deliberate design feature. It is the design feature which many of the ABA’s members as Anna Bligh has just indicated actually support because it helps to strengthen competition in the banking system here in Australia, it helps to provide better value for consumers in Australia. That is a feature that we will stick to.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let us look at the energy debate. We saw the Finkel Review last week, a week ago today in fact. The Environment and Energy Minister provided the briefing to the Parliament. Some points of disagreement there from some of your colleagues, but are you, are you confident that you can get some sort of reform through, because my understanding from the contributions made, while there have been concerns raised about Finkel, the broad consensus is that business as usual is not viable into the future?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The worst thing we could do is keep the status quo because that would lead to higher prices and less stability in the system. We are absolutely united across the Coalition, we are absolutely united across the Liberal National parties in our commitment to lower power prices and to improved energy security and reliability. Labor stands for higher power prices and blackouts. We stand for more reliable, more secure energy supplies and to bring power prices down. That is going to be the contrast in the lead up to the next election, unless Labor comes on board with us in focusing on how we can bring down power prices and ensure that we can make the energy system more stable and facilitate more reliable, secure energy supplies across Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of affordable pricing, it seems the key thing to do in the short term at least is to intervene in the gas market to provide more gas for domestic use. As a Liberal, are you comfortable with the measures it seems that your Government is going to have to take in terms of substantial export controls here?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has already gone a fair way down the path here to increase the supply of gas into the domestic market, in particular into the National Electricity Market. He has held a highly publicised meeting back in April with all of the relevant CEOs of the major gas producers. We are going down the path of making sure that there is increased supply into the domestic gas market. All other things being equal, if the market was operating efficiently and in the right way, then you would rather not go down this path. But we are in a situation where there is a need to act. The Government will be acting.
KIERAN GILBERT: Will there be enough in this Finkel report to provide Frydenberg and Mr Turnbull enough capacity to placate the likes of Tony Abbott, of Craig Kelly and others?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Finkel report is a report to the Council of Australian Governments. It will be one input, a very important input, into the Government’s consideration of how we can ensure that power prices are as low as possible and that we improve energy security and the reliable supply of energy into the future. This is a very significant policy challenge for Australia. It is one that we have got to get right. We have got to ensure that the policy framework is such that we can provide certainty for investors so that there is more investment into increasing energy supplies into the future. That is our focus. The Coalition’s focus is on lower power prices and improved energy security. Labor’s focus is on pushing energy prices up. They have a track record of causing blackouts.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister, thanks for your time this morning, appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.