Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Rod Sims from the ACCC seems to have backed the Government’s push to, or at least walk away from, or at least the indications you are walking away from a clean energy target. Is this a justification for a decision that will be made?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government’s unequivocal focus, the completely unequivocal focus is on putting downward pressure on electricity prices, improving reliability of energy supplies and on doing so in a way that still helps us meet our emissions reduction targets. For us, it is a matter of coming forward with a policy reform that best achieves putting downward pressure on electricity prices, improving reliability and maximising environmental efficiency subject to those objectives.
QUESTION: Rod Sims basically blames in a major way the gold plating of the electricity network. This is something that Julia Gillard raised when she was Prime Minister in 2012. At the time the Coalition said that she was wrong. That the major way to put downward pressure on power prices was to axe the carbon tax. Now you did that and power prices are still a problem. Were you wrong there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject that last proposition of yours. If you look at the ACCC report, what you will see is that the biggest drop in wholesale prices for electricity was when we abolished the carbon tax. If the carbon tax was still in place today electricity prices would be significantly higher. But there are a whole range of issues that still need to be addressed. The Government is addressing them. Whether that is increasing the supply of gas into the domestic market, where the Prime Minister demonstrated clear leadership, whether it is addressing a whole range of issues that the ACCC has now identified. Many of these issues will involve the Commonwealth working together with the States and we are committed to doing it. But let us be very clear, our objective, our unequivocal objective, is to put downward pressure on electricity prices, to improve reliability and to do so in a way that helps us meet our emissions reduction targets. We are making sure that the policy settings that we will settle on will help achieve that.
QUESTION: Can you do all of that without some sort of formal target, like the clean energy target, given the way things are looking at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us wait and see what the announcement is. We can have that conversation at that point in time.
QUESTION: Will the CET be given fair consideration inside Cabinet, or have members already made up their mind?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We clearly have considered all of the recommendations in the Finkel review. We adopted all but one of them. We took some time to consider carefully the recommendation in relation to the clean energy target. In the end the Government will make a decision to ensure that we can maximise downward pressure on electricity prices, that we can ensure that the lights stay on, that we maximise energy reliability and we will do so in a way that helps us meet our emissions reduction targets. The key is to have the optimal policy settings in place. What precise form that will take, relevant announcements will be made at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: If Cabinet walks away from the clean energy target, you are walking away from the policy that is favoured by industry, by those in the environmental council, something that Labor would get on board with as well, so there would be certainty. Is there any consideration being given to walking away from all those supporters as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that Mark Butler was particularly reckless yesterday, locking himself and the Labor party into a position in relation to something that he hasn’t seen yet. What I would say to people is let us just wait and see what the reform proposal is that the Government puts on the table. Then let us have a conversation at that point in time. Let me repeat very clearly, our unequivocal focus is on bringing electricity prices down, putting downward pressure on electricity prices, to improve reliability and to do so in a way that still helps us meet our emissions reduction targets. At the right time, when all of the appropriate deliberations have taken place, the Government will make relevant announcements. That is the time for people in the Labor party and others to form judgements and pass judgements in relation to what we are proposing.
QUESTION: The Government’s come second again in the latest Newspoll. You’ve been behind Labor all year. What’s your explanation, what do you think the reasons are, why people at the moment when they are asked the question who would you prefer ran the government, they are choosing Labor?
MATHIAS CORMANN: At the moment, there is no election in front of us. We will be focused at the right time, when we go to the next general election, to put to the Australian people our track record, our plans for the future and why our plan for the economy is a much better plan than the alternative. We know that Bill Shorten would want to damage business, damage investment and pursue an economic agenda that would lead to less investment, less growth, fewer jobs and lower wages. As we pursue that conversation in the lead up to the next election, we are hopeful that we will be able to convince a majority of people in a majority of seats to support the Coalition again.
QUESTION: The Government has made a series of major announcements recently. Why are they failing to cut through?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on these sorts of matters. Our focus is on delivering good policy for Australia. Our focus is on putting the economy on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future. In the lead up to the next election, we will report to the Australian people on our performance. We will put forward our plans for the future. We will explain why in our judgement, the alternative agenda is not in the best interests of Australia. At that point the people will have the opportunity to pass judgement. Our objective will be to convince a majority of Australians in a majority of seats to support the Coalition.