Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins me live from Perth. No real surprise there, more than ninty per cent concerned about power bill rises, Finance Minister. And an issue for the Government, less than thirty per cent had heard much about your National Energy Guarantee.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not surprised about that at all. The Government’s focus is squarely on putting downward pressure on electriticy prices, whereas Labor and Bill Shorten want to push the cost of electricity up by imposing a 45 per cent emissions reduction target. In relation to peoples’ awareness, nearly fifty per cent had heard a little, there clearly is some more work to do as part of the national conversation. Clearly, the Government’s agenda directly responds to public conern about putting downward pressure on electricity prices, improving reliability and stability of the energy system and doing so in a way that still helps us meet our emissions reduction targets.
KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to awareness of the National Energy Guarantee as we have discussed, fifty per cent or thereabouts, unware of much of the detail, it didn’t help though did it having this massive own goal of the week around your WA colleague Michaela Cash.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the National Energy Guarantee, it is a recent announcement. I think what people know is that our Government is focused on putting downward pressure on electricity prices. People instinctively know that Labor and the Greens are all about pushing prices up. In relation to Michaela Cash, she acted entirely honourably and appropriately. She did not know about the leak. She did not authorise the leak. She provided the information that she had truthfully, openly and transparently to the Senate Estimates Committee. Clearly she had been misled. As soon as she became aware of the accurate information she immediately disclosed that to the Senate Estimates Committee at the earliest opportunity. As a Minister, that is actually all you can do.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well it is not really. The Westminster convention would suggest that Ministerial accountability and responsibility extends to your staff. Is that convention dead?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject that interpretation of it. Of course Michaela Cash has taken responsbility. Of course she has disclosed at the first opportunity all of the relevant information. Labor is trying to redefine how this all operates. Julia Gillard once had a staffer that caused a riot on Australia Day. The staffer resigned and Julia Gillard did not. I think that Labor is just conveniently trying to redefine things here for obvious political reasons. The staffer made a serious error of judgement. He made a mistake. He resigned. Michaela Cash, who incidentally is an outstanding highly effective Minister, responsible for some of the most significant economic reforms since the last election through the Parliament, significant economic reforms that will make a positive difference to our economy and jobs for years to come. She acted appropriately. She provided truthful answers to the Senate based on her state of knowledge at the time. When new information came to light, she immediately disclosed that.
KIERAN GILBERT: So the Westminister Convention is alive and well in your view.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely.
KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to Government responsibility to the Parliament, is misleading the Senate still as serious as it once was?
MATHIAS CORMANN: She did not mislead the Senate. She provided truthful information ... interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Five times she did.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with that. She provided truthful information based on her state of knowledge at the time. She did not deliberately mislead the Senate. As soon as she became aware of new information, she immediately disclosed that to the Senate. She corrected the record at the earliest opportunity. All of us in politics and on both sides of politics including on the Labor side from time to time, inadvertently provide information that in hindsight turns out to be inaccurate. That is something that happens on all sides of politics. The test and what is incumbent on us to do in those circumstances is that as soon as we become aware of new information, of corrected information, we need to make sure that that information is disclosed at the first opportunity in the relevant forum in the Parliament and that is precisely what Michaelia Cash did of course.
KIERAN GILBERT: But if it was a staff member of her department, at arms length from her, wouldn’t her case be stronger than someone that she worked with day in, day out? Did she try and ascertain the accurate information as strongly as she should have? This is not someone that reported to the Secretary of her department, it was someone that she employed, someone that she worked with very, very closely.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Senator Cash had been misled. All throughout the day she had been led to believe that nobody in her office had been involved in what at that stage were alleged leaks about those raids. During the dinner break on Wednesday night new information came to light, a staff member came forward, a staff member who recognised that he had made a serious error of judgment and immediately resigned. The staff member paid the ultimate price. At the earliest opportunity, immediately after the dinner break, Senator Cash went into the Senate Estimates Committee and disclosed that information to the Committee as she should have. She could not have acted in any other way.
KIERAN GILBERT: She could not have pursued this matter more forcefully with her staff to find out that truth? I mean this individual that worked with her, who I knew well, seemed a very competent adviser, someone that she employed. Surely she could of ascertained this you know?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, if people give you assurances at one point and then change their story, I do not think that is a reflection on the person that was misled.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let us move on. I want to ask you about the issue of the citizenship ruling by the high Court today. Much at stake for the Government and for the Deputy Prime Minister particularly. Is the Government ready to go? Are your contingencies in place for what would eventuate including a by-election for December 2?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, we have put our case to the High Court as to why we believe the Deputy Prime Minister and others are not in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution. It is now a matter for the High Court to judge. It is entirely a matter for the High Court. We will respect whatever the decision of the High Court. It is not much longer to go. I am not going to speculate on what that decision will be at this late stage in the cycle. I am certainly not going to speculate on what may or may not happen depending on what that decision is. The Government’s view based on our very strong advice is that the Deputy Prime Minister and others are not in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution. But this issue will now be settled by the High Court in a judgment to be issued later today.
KIERAN GILBERT: And as you wrap up the week, is the economic debate you had sought to try and get a reboot in that sense from the Treasurer. You wanted to focus on the energy guarantee as well but it all ended up quite a mess. You would concede that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, this is a marathon not a sprint. The Government is running a marathon on behalf of the Australian people. We are running a marathon to put the Australian economy on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future to ensure that we can have more jobs, better paid jobs, that the Australian people have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. That is why we are working to help make business more successful, more profitable so they can hire more Australians and pay them better wages. Labor is working to make business less successful, which means fewer jobs and lower wages. So the contrast as we go to the next election for the Australian people is whether they want to continue to support a Government that will create stronger growth, more jobs, higher wages or whether they would go for Labor who will make it harder for business and every Australian to be successful and get ahead.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister, appreciate your time. We will talk to you soon.