ABC – Radio National Drive

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia






Australian marriage law postal survey, Energy

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you have not returned your same sex marriage postal survey yet, do not worry, you have still got time, about five weeks in fact. But it seems a lot of us have already had our say, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates more than half the ballots, 57.5 per cent to be precise have now been mailed back. Tiernan Brady, a Yes advocate says the campaign will not be slowing down.

TIERNAN BRADY [EXCERPT]: The figures are really good in terms of turn out and we know that there are a million more votes in the post service waiting to go to the office. But there is no room for complacency, there are still millions of votes out there and the rest of this campaign we will not give up any single day making sure that everybody out there knows how important this is.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Senator Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and the acting Special Minister of State. Which makes this survey his baby, although he has some real babies too. Welcome back to RN Drive.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, 57.5 per cent is less than some polls were suggesting. I think one poll showed it was closer to 70 per cent of returns, but it is still more than half. We are at the halfway point, are you happy with that return rate?

MATHIAS CORMANN: By any measure, a return rate of 57.5 per cent five weeks out from the deadline for the survey forms to actually be returned is very credible. It is certainly higher than what people anticipated would be the case when we first announced this process. Clearly, people across Australia are embracing the opportunity to have their say on whether or not the law should be changed to allow same sex couples to marry. What I am really pleased about is that whatever the ultimate outcome, the survey will have great authority. It will come with the authority of the Australian people and the Australian Parliament will most definitely act on it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, last week when you were on the program, I asked you what your ambition was for the number or the participation rate. We now have a figure at this stage. What are you hoping for now that you have seen this first figure?

MATHIAS CORMANN: What I said last time from memory is, I pointed to the most recent experience, which was in the lead up to the Constitutional Convention where the election of delegates to that Convention was also by voluntary postal survey. At that point, the participation rate at the end of the process was about 47 per cent. So we are already well above that. I certainly think it is not too optimistic to predict that we will get well past 60 per cent and hopefully we will get past 70 per cent. Whatever the final number, I think it is very clear now that we will have a very credible participation rate when it is all said and done and that the final outcome, the verdict of the Australian people through this process will have great authority and the Parliament will act accordingly.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: One of your colleagues, a Cabinet colleague Darren Chester says that he thinks it is heading for a resounding yes vote, even every electorate will say yes. Do you agree with his analysis?

MATHIAS CORMANN: He has stated position in favour of the yes campaign. I am responsible for the process and as I have done all the way through, I am not going to participate in this sort of commentary. I am keen to see as many Australians as possible participate in this opportunity. I am keen to ensure that as many of the 16 million plus Australians as possible who have received this opportunity return their form. The deadline of course, the final deadline to get the survey form back to the ABS is the 7th of November. So over the next five weeks, what I will continue to encourage all Australians to do is to send their form back and express their view so that their voice can be heard.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Anecdotally there have been people who say they have not received their ballots, In fact, I know many of them in my own life say that. In fact, I think somebody close to me yesterday said they had received the previous, the person who lived there before them’s ballot, but not their own, even though they had updated their details and were enthusiastic about the process. This is clearly something that is happening, it is quite a widespread problem isn’t it?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe that it is widespread problem. Certainly, when you have got 16 million survey forms going out, it is a huge logistical exercise. What I would encourage Australians to do who are in that circumstance is to contact the ABS and to ask for a replacement form. If you go onto the ABS website and onto the marriage law survey website, there is actually a link there where you can request a replacement marriage law postal survey form. If you are concerned that somebody else has utilised your form, then you have the opportunity of getting a new form and for that original form to be cancelled by the ABS. There are appropriate integrity measures put in place, by the ABS, to ensure that the result has great integrity. Let me just say, a lot of commentary is out there in terms of what supposedly is and isn’t happening. Some people have suggested that somehow survey forms are being put out for sale on various platforms. Let me tell you I do not have any evidence at all that any survey form has been sold. In fact, again, the ABS has taken very effective action to ensure that these sorts of risks are well managed.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you are just tuning in Mathias Cormann is my guest, he is the Finance Minister, I’m Patricia Karvelas and if you want to text in our number here at RN Drive is 0418 226 576. Have you voted or participated in this survey? More than 50 per cent of Australian’s have, in fact it is closer to 60 per cent. I suppose the big question I have for you as well is, I heard you over the weekend, backing John Howard’s intervention on religious protections. I understand you back him but you are part of a Government that did not provide a Bill and that is his main critique. So why didn’t you provide the Bill if you are backing his critique?

MATHIAS CORMANN: You are verballing me there, I backed his right to express his view, as I back the right of every Australian to express their view….interrupted.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, but is his view wrong then?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I backed his right to express his view as I back the right of every Australian to express their view as long as it is done with courtesy and respect. John Howard absolutely expresses his view with great courtesy and respect. So I was not taking a position, I am on the record as saying that I do not agree with his proposition that we should have, as a Government, released a Bill in relation to this before the threshold question is answered. In fact, I have made that very point on your program. The question that we have put to the Australian people and for the Australian people to settle, is whether or not in their view the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. That is the threshold question. If the answer to that question from the Australian people is ‘yes’, then the Australian Parliament will settle this issue very swiftly in accordance with the Australian people’s wishes. What we have said, from the Government’s point of view, is that in that scenario, if there is a ‘yes’ outcome, we will facilitate consideration of a Private Member’s Bill by the Parliament and that what form that Private Member’s bill ultimately takes is a matter for the Parliament. Having said all of that, the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, a number of senior people from all sides of the Parliament and all sides of the debate have made the point very clearly, that appropriately strong religious protections are going to be important and I am very confident that an appropriate final decision will be made on this by the Parliament should we get into that situation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on another topic, Santos, Shell, and Origin Energy met with the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister today. They have signed the agreement they struck last week to offer enough gas to the local market to cover the expected shortfall next year. Here is the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER [EXCERPT]: These commitments are vitally important to ensure Australian jobs and to ensure Australians have affordable and reliable energy and including electricity, gas being a more important fuel than ever.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How much is that going to bring down prices for consumers?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, the Prime Minister has shown great leadership here. The key factor in driving up electricity prices, certainly in recent times, is the high cost of gas because of a lack of supply of domestic gas into the domestic market. What the Prime Minister has been able to secure is a commitment from the exporting gas businesses on the east coast to meet the identified shortfall. Now, in terms of all of the specifics, I will let the responsible Ministers deal with that. But what we are clearly aiming to achieve here is a more affordable and reliable supply of energy, because households need it and our international competitiveness needs it. Businesses across Australia need access to reliable and affordable energy.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister has suggested Government intervention could bring gas prices down by 50 per cent. Is that still your aim, 50 per cent?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We want electricity prices to be as low as possible and again, I will let the responsible portfolio Ministers go through the specifics.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so you are not going to back that reduction, 50 per cent?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Patricia, that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is I will leave the responsible Ministers to answer questions in relation to their portfolio area, as I always do.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. The Government has been warned of a shortfall between 54 and 108 petajoules. What happens if the shortfall is greater than that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, the competition watchdog, the ACCC and relevant regulators have done a lot of homework on this and they have identified what the expected shortfall in 2018 will be and the relevant gas-exporting businesses have made very firm commitments that they will fill that shortfall. This is an ongoing process, an ongoing conversation. We have still always got the opportunity available to take further measures and take further steps if and should that be required.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is the Government serious about using GST payments to the states as a lever to force them to lift moratoriums on coal seam gas extraction and how would that work?

MATHIAS CORMANN: On the weekend I answered a question very specifically in the context of a discussion paper that was released by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, where that proposition was floated as a potential option. It is a potential option. There is a discussion paper out there and there will now be a discussion and at the right time relevant decisions will be made, once all of the relevant information and all of the relevant feedback from stakeholders has been able to be considered by the Government. At this point, there is a discussion paper out there where that proposition has been put out and it is a potential option…interrupted.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think it could work? Is it something you would back?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt what the outcomes of a process will be that has only just started.

PATRICIA KARVELAS Mathias Cormann, thank you so much for your time tonight.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth