Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SABRA LANE: For the latest on this we are joined now on the phone from Perth by the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Sabra.
SABRA LANE: What do you think of Craig Laundy’s idea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are two different things. Firstly there is going to be a process through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters looking at how this issue can be better dealt with in the future. But in the meantime, the Constitution is what it is. The law is what it is. All Members of Parliament are expected to comply with it. All of us provide assurances to the Electoral Commission at the time of nominating for election. What the Prime Minister has set out yesterday is a process for that same assurance to be provided formally to the Parliament.
SABRA LANE: There is uncertainty now over John Alexander’s eligibility. He says he understand his dad renounced his British citizenship. But he will now have to show proof won’t he?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of us, every single Member of Parliament under the process proposed by the Prime Minister will have to provide an assurance that they are only an Australian citizen and provide relevant information on the circumstances in which they have ensured that they are only an Australian citizen in circumstances where there may have been a reason to be eligible or rather to have obtained a different citizenship somewhere along the way.
SABRA LANE: If Mr Alexander goes through the new process the Prime Minister announced yesterday he won’t have to disclose his documents until late December. And presuming the new process is passed through the Lower House this issue may not be referred to the High Court, if it comes to that until February, possibly prolonging this until Easter.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is an outer deadline. Nobody is prevented from being responsive more swiftly. I think it is only fair and reasonable. Twenty-one days as a period within which to respond to this request for disclosure I think is entirely appropriate.
SABRA LANE: Worst case scenario though, this could end up costing the Coalition Government.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We don’t believe so. This is a matter of making sure that the Australian public can have full confidence in the integrity of the Parliament. So the steps that the Prime Minister has laid out yesterday will ensure that happens.
SABRA LANE: The Government was adamant on Friday that there would be no audit. Yet Mr Turnbull revealed this new checking regime yesterday. What changed his mind?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government’s mind has not changed. What we announced yesterday, what the Prime Minister announced yesterday is entirely consistent with the Government’s perspective on this. This is not an audit. There is no auditor. No auditor would be able to provide a conclusive settlement on whether or not individual Members and Senators are eligible or not. It is always the obligation of individual Members and Senators to comply with the Constitution. Indeed we certify to the Electoral Commission at election time that we do. Now there is going to be this additional certification to the Parliament. But ultimately if there are any issues that emerge out of this process, the only body that can provide a conclusive settlement on any issue is the High Court.
SABRA LANE: Do you think that there may be other MPs who are caught up by this process? The Australian newspaper claims today that Mr Frydenberg’s mother arrived here on a Hungarian passport, but Mr Frydenberg has an immigration document declaring her as stateless.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I am not going to speculate. The process is going to be there. Every individual Member and Senator will be required to provide an assurance to the Parliament that they are only an Australian citizen as required by the Australian Constitution. In relation to Josh Frydenberg, I understand that that particular story in The Australian is wrong, that Josh Frydenberg’s mother arrived in Australia stateless. That on that basis there is no suggestion whatsoever that Josh Frydenberg holds any citizenship other than the Australian citizenship.
SABRA LANE: The system of disclosure will operate similar to the MPs Register of Interest, which is sometimes ignored by MPs. MPs have forgotten to disclose million dollar homes for example. What kind of faith can voters have that this will be treated seriously?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think people can be very confident that this will be treated seriously. This is very much a top of mind issue right now. I think there will be a lot of scrutiny in the context of this process. I do not think that the media or our respective political opponents, who are auditing us on a constant basis, would let anyone get away with not complying with this process in a timely manner.
SABRA LANE: How confident are you that Labor will support this? We have also heard from Senate crossbencher Derryn Hinch, he says it is not good enough.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is important for, certainly at least the two major parties to reach a consensus on the process. The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader will be talking this through over the next few days. I am certainly hopeful that between the Coalition and the Labor party as the two major parties of Government that a consensus can be reached on the most appropriate way forward.
SABRA LANE: You are a Senator, there has been a public scrap over the fight for the President’s position in the Senate now. How comfortable have you been with the optics of that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are in politics. In politics from time to time there is competition between different people for one position. In a democracy there is a way to resolve this and that is through a ballot …interrupted
SABRA LANE: It is a bit unedifying though hasn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am quite relaxed. This is an unexpected opportunity that arose. A number of people are interested in putting their hand up. In the end it will be resolved in time for the election of a new President of the Senate on Monday.
SABRA LANE; Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Thank you very much for joining AM this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.