Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
LAURA JAYES: I want to bring you now my interview with Mathias Cormann. He is the Deputy Leader in the Senate. He has defended vigorously Michaela Cash this morning. I should disclose that this interview was recorded around two hours ago at 9:30 Australian Eastern Daylight Time.
Mathias Cormann thank you for your time. There are calls this morning for Michaela Cash to resign. She has misled Parliament. Why should she stay on the front bench?
MATHIAS CORMANN: She has not. She has told the truth based on what she knew at the time. As soon as her knowledge changed, at the earliest opportunity she disclosed that information to the Senate, which is precisely the way Ministers are expected to act. Michaela Cash is an oustanding Minister. She is highly effective. She has been responsible for some of the most significant economic reforms passed by the Government through the Senate. On this occassion she has acted entirely appropriately.
LAURA JAYES: Looking at the timeline here, there was an interview that Anthony Albanese did on radio in the morning. This was brought to the attention of Senator Cash. She has admitted as much this morning. Is it plausible that she was made aware of those allegations being made and then did not ask staff yesterday morning whether they had been involved in leaking this to the media?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Senator Cash, Minister Cash was misled by a staff member who made an error of judgement. It is only when a media story appeared later in the day that she went again back to her staff to seek assurances. One staff member came forward, who has since paid the ultimate price and lost his job. I have known Michaela for a very long time. Michaela is a hard working, honest person. She told the truth in relation to this. She told the truth on all occassions based on the knowledge that she had at the time. When the knowledge changed, she disclosed that immediately.
LAURA JAYES: But she did say to Senate Estimates last night, under questioning from Senator Cameron and the question was, can you assure the Senate that no one in your office called any media outlets at about 3:30 yesterday. Her response was yes, I can and quite frankly I am offended on behalf of my staff as to the allegations, these are very serious allegations and I refute them.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes. That was the evidence based on her knowledge at the time. During the dinner break, as is a matter of public record now, one staff member came forward and disclosed, what he had not previously disclosed. At the earliest opportunity Senator Cash went into Senate Estimates and made that information public, which is precisely the way Ministers are expected to act. She acted entirely appropriately and entirely honourably.
LAURA JAYES: Is it plausible though that she would not have asked quesitons earlier than this, because that is the charge being levelled at her. It is sloppy at best isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I disagree. I do not accept your proposition. Clearly, Senator Cash, based on her knowledge that she had until the dinner break was satisfied that no one in her office was responsible for the leak to the media. As soon as her information and her knowlege changed, she disclosed it at the earliest opportunity, which is precisely the test that applies when it comes to Ministers’ accountability to the Parliament.
LAURA JAYES: Aren’t Ministers ultimately responsible for their staff.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Senator Cash is taking resposnbility. At the earliest opportunity, on having become aware that one of her staff members, who has since resigned, did what he did, she disclosed that to the Parliament. Right now she is answering questions in Senate Estimates in relation to all these matters. Senator Cash is acting entirely appropriately in relation to all these matters.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, in Senate Estimates last night, Senator Cash said her staffer was a tipped off by a media source. Now do you rule out that media source being a person that worked within the Fair Work Ombdusman’s office or the Registered Organisations Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of these things. Senator Cash is currenlty answering questions in Senate Estimates. I am sure that all of these matters will be pursued by Labor Senators in their questioning of Senator Cash. I am sure ... interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Do you want clarification on that, because if that is the case that is pretty serious.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I am not going to speculate. What I will say to you is that Senator Cash at all times has acted appropriately, has acted honourably, has provided evidence to the Senate Estimates Committee process based on her knowledge at the time. When her knowledge changed, she disclosed it. The Senate Estimates Committee process is continuing through this process.
LAURA JAYES: Should she have asked more questions of her staff though? When these allegations were swirling around yesterday morning, should she have asked more questions of her staff before she was definitive in Senate Estimates?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Based on the advice and information she had at that time, that was what she understood …interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Just because you do not ask the questions does not mean …interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: I reject that assertion. I do not accept that proposition. If a staff member does not disclose at one point and then discloses later after a story appears in the media, then that is the way this played out. Minister Cash was misled. When a story appeared in the media further questions were asked and a staff member came forward. Clearly, that staff member made a very serious error of judgement. He has paid the ultimate price, he has resigned.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, that man, David De Garis has resigned, he is a senior member of Cash’s office and I am sure it is a very difficult day for him. But let me just look at the history here. David De Garis has resigned, there is another member of Michaelia Cash’s staff who used to work for Dennis Napthine. There is also a member of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office who works in the media section there who also used to work for Dennis Napthine. This is all pretty close isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is nothing unusual having people in Ministers’ offices coming from relevant experience in other organisations. But I am sure that …interrupted
LAURA JAYES: It is an uncomfortable convenience though isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not know what you are suggesting. The truth is that right now as we speak the Senate Estimates Committee is going through a process of asking all of these questions directly of Senator Cash. Senator Cash will do as she always does and that is answer all questions truthfully based on the information that she has.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, we know now that Minister Cash had a meeting with the Prime Minister before Question Time and that staffer who has now resigned was present in that meeting. Are we meant to believe that the Prime Minister was not asking questions about this before Question Time?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Very clearly, the clear evidence and the honest evidence …interrupted
LAURA JAYES: There is no clear evidence though.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have asked the question please let me answer it. The clear evidence, the honest evidence that has been provided by Senator Cash on the public record is that the first that she heard of the involvement of her staff member was during the dinner break last night. She had no knowledge prior to the dinner break last night of her staff member’s involvement. That is the …interrupted
LAURA JAYES: It is extraordinary that these rumours were swirling around in the morning though and nor Minister Cash, nor the Prime Minister, nor anyone thought that it was a good idea to maybe check with staff that there was no leaking going on.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I reject the proposition that no checks were made. What I am putting to you is that the staff …interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Are you saying that checks were made and that staffer lied?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Based on the information that Senator Cash had up until the dinner break last night, she believed that no staff member of hers had been involved …interrupted
LAURA JAYES: But you just said that questions were being asked, so were questions being asked?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Senator Cash is answering questions in relations to all of this in Senate Estimates at the moment. What I am saying to you is I do not accept your assertion that no questions were asked. What I am saying to you is that the first opportunity that Minister Cash became aware of the involvement of her staff member was during the dinner break yesterday. As soon as she became aware, she disclosed that information at the earliest opportunity.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, just a few quick questions, how can the Registered Organisations Commission possibly be acting independently when you have this kind of interference?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have to separate this. The Registered Organisations Commission absolutely acts independently. The AFP acts independently. A staff member made an error of judgement in tipping off the media.
LAURA JAYES: Mathias Cormann there.