Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: The former Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he has been the victim of a politically motivated attack after he was assaulted by a same sex marriage supporter in Hobart. Now a spokesman for Mr Abbott has said that a member of staff present at the incident sought to restrain the perpetrator after he assaulted Mr Abbott. The AFP were notified as soon as the incident occurred and both he and Mr Abbott have given statements to Tasmania Police. The Former PM was on radio, 2GB last night.
TONY ABBOTT [EXCERPT]: It was just a reminder of how ugly this debate is getting and the ugliness is not coming from the defenders of marriage as it has always been understood. The ugliness, the intolerance and indeed in this instance the hint of violence is coming from those who tell us in the name of decency and fair mindedness and freedom, we have got to allow same sex marriage.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to Perth. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, your reaction to this ugly incident.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is entirely unacceptable. Violence is always unacceptable and the perpetrator has done great damage to his cause.
KIERAN GILBERT: Indeed. Thankfully, Mr Abbott is fine. It was just a swollen lip from the sounds of it. As you say this violence is completely unacceptable and both sides of the campaign criticising them and the yes campaign seeking to distance themselves from this particular individual as you understand they would.
MATHIAS CORMANN: From our point of view, we have always said that we expect all those involved in the campaign on either side of the debate to conduct the campaign with courtesy and respect. Australians have embraced this process. Australians have embraced the opportunity to have their say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. Every individual Australian has the opportunity to express their view and have their voice heard. For those that are involved in the campaign, it is very important that they do so appropriately. This incident is highly regrettable and unacceptable.
KIERAN GILBERT: As someone that argued for a plebiscite initially and then the postal survey subsequently. What do you say to the critics of the process, like Labor who have warned all along and again say that the Government needs to take some of the accountability for the ugliness at the edges of this debate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept that at all. Australians overwhelmingly have embraced this opportunity to have their say. We are a country with more than 24 million people and sadly from time to time some Australians will do the wrong thing. That does not mean that the rest of the country shouldn’t continue to work to resolve issues. This issue has been around for a very long time. This process, giving every Australian on the electoral roll and eligible to vote the opportunity to have their say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed, will help resolve this issue. It is very important for that to happen and we are very pleased overall with how this process has been getting on.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think that there needs to be more clarity from the Government in terms of what if the yes vote gets up? The former Prime Minister John Howard reiterating again last night his view, that there needs to be more clarity, not just about religious institutions not having to marry same sex couples but that organisations should be exempt in terms of their education systems and so on, employment practices. That there need to be protections in that regard as well.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are all huge fans of John Howard. John Howard is a giant of the Liberal Party, he is a giant of Australian politics. I am a huge admirer of John Howard, but on this I disagree. The Government made a very conscious decision right at the outset that we would put this question to the Australian people on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. If the answer is yes, then it would be up to the Parliament through a Private Member’s Bill to determine how that would happen. Clearly, both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have spelled out that they both would support strong and appropriate religious protections to be put in place, which is something that I certainly strongly would advocate for. Ultimately, what the Government has said right from the outset is that we in the case of a yes vote as a Government would facilitate a Private Member’s Bill to be considered by the Parliament. It would ultimately be up to the Parliament what the final form of that Bill would be. That is the very deliberate and conscious decision that the Government has made right at the outset and that is, if you look at what the Prime Minister and myself announced back on August the 8th, that is precisely what we said then.
KIERAN GILBERT: So there will not be any rush after the vote and if there is a yes vote there will be full consideration of all of these elements of religious freedom that have been raised, the concerns around education, safe schools and so on that have been raised by Mr Howard and others?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, there will be a result from the marriage law postal survey on 15 November. We then have a final sitting fortnight from the 27th of November to the 7th of December, which, in the case of a yes vote, we have earmarked as the fortnight during which the Parliament would consider relevant legislation. We believe that in the case of a yes vote that the Parliament would be an in position to resolve this issue in that final sitting fortnight.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now to some other issues. It is certain that the Government is going to pull the trigger on those export controls in terms of gas to ensure we do have sufficient supply in this country?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well we have taken significant steps already and the market has already responded. Exports are already being diverted into the domestic market. Wholesale gas prices have started to come down. There is more state Labor Governments could do, for example, in the Northern Territory and Victoria and the State Government in New South Wales for that matter, in lifting the moratorium on gas exploration and development. In terms of the further export controls, we have given ourselves until the 1st of November to seek advice, in particular from the ACCC, get appropriate market information, to ensure we get any decisions in terms of the scale of any restrictions right. Any restrictions would take effect from 1 January, so we are getting proper advice to make sure…interrupted.
KIERAN GILBERT: But it is going to happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are taking proper advice now. Any restrictions will take place from 1 January, so we will make decisions by 1 November this year.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister’s language yesterday seemed to suggest it is a fait accompli. He says “That is why we are taking this unprecedented step of restricting exports.”
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is the conversation that the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg and other have had with the various heads of relevant energy companies for some time. We are taking advice now from the ACCC and others and decisions will be made by the 1st of November as to the scale of any restrictions which would take place from 1 January. We are not getting ahead of the process here. It is important that we calibrate any response in the appropriate fashion.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it a soverign risk in terms of investors?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have all said that this is not our preferred course of action, but Labor has made some bad decisions in the past which we are now needing to address. Labor’s failure to make proper decisions in the past has led to massive increases in the price of domestic gas, that is why we are forced into this position now. It is not our preferred course of action but it is a necessary course of action because in the end our focus is on affordable and reliable energy supplies for Australians. We are now taking necessary advice to make the best possible decisions, but the market has already responded. Gas exports have already been diverted into the domestic market. Supply of domestic gas has already increased and prices are already lower, wholesale gas prices are already lower than what they were.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Daily Telegraph reports that the threat of strike action has seen AGL ask for Federal Government help in combatting the threat of industrial action from the CFMEU and the Maritime Union in the fear that this could lead to another power crisis this summer. How real is that threat?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well clearly the unions are not interested in the public interest in any way, shape, or form here. If Bill Shorten had any strength, any strength at all, he would call on the unions to back off here and consider the public interest.
KIERAN GILBERT: Again I ask you though, is there going to be Government intervention here? Are you going to take any steps to help AGL? They have apparently asked for help in this regard. What can you do?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am going to leave it to the responsible Ministers to make relevant pronouncements on this.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s conclude now then on the RBA Governor Lowe gave an address yesterday saying he is cognisant of the high debt levels in households around the country. Are you reassured by that as the outlook does look now, all the banks and Governor Lowe himself, indicating that the next move will be up in terms of official rates?
MATHIAS CORMANN: A very important feature of our economic architecture is the independence of the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank, appropriately, makes decisions on monetary policy, based on their economic analysis, independently. What the Govenrment is doing, we continue to pursue our pro-growth agenda, bringing down the level of business taxation in order to boost investment and boost productivity so that business can employ more Australians and pay them better wages. We continue to pursue an ambitious free-trade agenda, so that our exporting businesses can get better access to key markets around the world and again, be more successful, hire more Australians, pay them better wages. Across the board we are pursuing a pro-growth agenda so that business can be more successful and employ more Australians and pay them better wages.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister thanks for that.