Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Monday, 13 November 2017
FRAN KELLY: Well the fallout from the citizenship crisis rolls on. Today three replacement Senators will be sworn in and the Senate will elect a new President. Mathias Cormann is the Government’s Deputy Leader in the Senate. He joins us now at Parliament House studios. Minister welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
FRAN KELLY: he Coalition has now been reduced to 73 votes in the Lower House, you are right now a minority Government. When Julia Gillard was in minority Government, the Coalition claimed it was weak and illegitimate. Does the same stand for you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not quite right. The overall number of Members in the House of Representatives has reduced as well. We do have the support for example of Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie when it comes to confidence and supply. We are a majority government. We continue to have the confidence of the House of Representatives, which is where the Government is formed.
FRAN KELLY: Today’s Newspoll shows the Government is now ten points behind. The Prime Minister is almost level with Bill Shorten as preferred PM with a significant drop this week in that standing. Has the citizenship saga sapped support for the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had a difficult couple of weeks. There is no kidding ourselves. It is a difficult position for the Government, but in the end we have to work through these issues. We have to continue to implement our plan for the economy and for our country. That is what we are doing …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: It is going to be harder to implement anything isn’t it? When you are in minority in the Lower House and this whole citizenship drama is swamping everything.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In two and half weeks, well just under three weeks we will have the by-election in the seat of New England. These processes are now working their way through. We are working to win the confidence again of people in New England. We will be working to win the confidence of people in Bennelong. Our intention is for us to continue to have a strong position in the House of Representatives and to continue to deliver as we have delivered over the last year and a half.
FRAN KELLY: And the problem is, people reflected in the polls do not see you doing that and they do not care whose fault it is, they just want the Government to fix this. The polls suggest they do not think you are doing it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The next election is due by the middle of 2019. That is the time when we have got to go to the Australian people, putting forward our record of achievement …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Well, if you are lucky.
MATHIAS CORMANN: … and our plans for the future. We will also be pointing out what is wrong with the alternative, why Bill Shorten’s socialist plan is bad for the economy, bad for jobs and bad for wages.
FRAN KELLY: We now have people in your Government talking about Malcolm Turnbull being the leader at the moment. We have Newspoll again looking at alternative Prime Ministers, who is the most popular and Malcolm Turnbull is not coming out on top of that. With numbers like these in the polls, is Malcolm Turnbull vulnerable? Is the only thing saving him the lack of a better alternative?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is providing strong leadership to our team. Our team by any objective measure if you look at what we have been able to deliver through the Parliament since the last election by way of economic reform and focusing on putting our country on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future, it is a strong record of achievement. We understand there is a whole range of issues, some of them have jumped out at us that we have to deal with, that we have got to resolve, that we have got to work our way through, we are committed to doing it. By the time of the next general election we will be putting ourselves forward without plan for the term ahead.
FRAN KELLY: So Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is safe?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes.
FRAN KELLY: The PM is accusing Bill Shorten of running a protection racket for his own dual citizens. Four Labor MPs are under the Constitutional cloud. Can we get this clear, because the Government has been implying this? Is the Government going to refer these Labor MPs to the High Court?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us just think about this logically …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Well it is a yes or no question really.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran, I know that you would like to both ask questions and answer questions …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: No, I would just like an answer.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may, I was about to answer the question. So we are going to have this universal disclosure process where every Member of Parliament, every Member and Senator irrespective of which Party has to provide an assurance to the Parliament that they are an Australian citizen only. That they do not hold any other citizenship and that they did not hold any other citizenship at the time of nominating for election at the most recent election. I would have thought that Bill Shorten would agree that if any Member or Senator including Labor Members and Senators had to confess formally to the Parliament that at the time of nominating for the election they were dual citizens, that the consequences for all Members irrespective of their Party should be the same. We do have in particular one Labor Member of Parliament which has already publicly confessed that they were a dual citizen while nominating for election at the last election. This is not a matter of being partisan …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: So to be clear Minister are you saying that there should be no immediate referral, it should wait now for this disclosure plan to play out? Is that what you are saying?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, individual Members of Parliament can make their own judgements like John Alexander has. John Alexander decided …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: I am talking about referrals to the High Court. Should that wait for this disclosure plan?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are asking me a whole series of different questions. Firstly, the disclosure plan is underway. The consequences for the same findings and outcomes should be the same irrespective of which Party you come from. But all Members and Senators individually themselves have an obligation, one to assure themselves that they are in compliance with the Constitution and if they are not in compliance with the Constitution, ought to be taking the appropriate steps themselves like John Alexander has. We have one particular Member in Tasmania for the seat of Braddon who has publicly said that she was a dual citizen at the time of nominating for Parliament at the last election. That is not something that I am making up. That is not something that any of the Members of the Government are making up. But this proposition that somehow consequences should be different for Government Members of Parliament as opposed to Labor Members of Parliament, that is just not sustainable.
FRAN KELLY: I understand, I am going to try this one more time. Is the Government going to refer Labor Members to the High Court in the short term or will the Government wait for the disclosure process that the Prime Minister has outlined now to play out to get everything on the table and then make that decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to make announcements on what the Government might do in the House of Representatives. What I am saying to you is there is a disclosure process that is going to get underway by looking at everything that everyone has said across the board. I believe that there is a consensus across the Parliament that there should be this disclosure process in place. The Prime Minister has put forward his proposal on the terms on which that could and should take place. The Senate today will no doubt have to deal with that as far as the Senate is concerned. Let the process take its course. But what I am saying is that if individual Members of Parliament are aware that they were or are in breach of the Constitution and their Constitutional requirements for election to Parliament, then it is up to those individual Members of Parliament to make their own judgments.
FRAN KELLY: It is 17 to eight, our guest is Mathias Cormann. He is the Government’s Deputy Leader in the Senate. John Alexander held Bennelong by close to 10 per cent. How much harder though, I know it is a pretty comfortable margin, but how much harder is it going to be for the Liberals to win back Bennelong now the LNP in Queensland has decided to preference One Nation? What kind of message does that send to ethnic communities to Bennelong, which make a large part of there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: John Alexander is a very hard working Member who has represented his community for quite some time now. He has a good track record of achievement in his local community. He will stand on his record based on what he will continue to deliver, should the people of Bennelong give him their confidence again.
FRAN KELLY: So you are not worried about the LNP preferences to One Nation? Should Malcolm Turnbull intervene in that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The LNP in Queensland makes their decisions based on a State Election. People across Australia have demonstrated over many, many years that they are quite capable of making a difference between State Elections and Federal Elections. In the seat of Bennelong it is John Alexander as a candidate for the Liberal party who will be seeking the confidence of the people of Bennelong again at this by-election.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann the result of the postal survey and same sex marriage will be announced on Wednesday morning. We now have two Bills before the Parliament. Which Bill do you support?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I am going to wait for the outcome of the marriage law survey, which will as you say be announced on Wednesday. As I have indicated publicly, should the yes vote prevail then I will be supporting a Private Member’s Bill to change the law to allow same sex couples to marry …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Which one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end that will be a matter for the Parliament. There will not be a Government position as we indicated when we announced the marriage law postal survey process on the other side of having given people the opportunity to have their say, every Member of Parliament will have a free vote on the Coalition side of the Parliament. If it is the Dean Smith Bill that proceeds, I expect there to be amendments to strengthen religious protections. If it is another Bill, then we will have to cross that bridge if and when we get there …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: We have seen some of the detail now of the James Patterson Bill which would override State and Federal anti-discrimination laws and some freedom of speech laws and introduce a conscientious belief test or exemption in relation to marriage. So fairly sweeping change to our anti-decimation architecture. Would you support that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have not seen the Paterson Bill. We have had a conversation very recently. I have seen the reports in the paper today. The Smith Bill …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Would you support what you have seen reported?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Smith Bill for want of a better word went through a Senate Committee process, a cross party Senate Committee process. My own personal instinct is that I think the Smith Bill is probably a good starting position, though I suspect it will need improvement in terms of strengthening religious protections. But it ultimately is going to be a matter for the Parliament to determine which Private Member’s Bill is the vehicle to facilitate the debate and ultimately in which form such a Private Member’s Bill passes the Senate i.e. that is with what type of amendments.
FRAN KELLY: The James Paterson Bill, James Paterson wants his Bill debated by the Coalition party room. That cannot happen for two weeks until the whole Parliament is recalled. The Prime Minister had promised speedy introduction and consideration of a Bill if a yes vote won. Do you believe that the James Patterson Bill should be debated by the party room or should things get moving before that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have long announced and this has been a longstanding position, there will not be a Government position, there will not be a Party position. When we …interrupted
FRAN KELLY: So it does not need to go to the Party room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may answer one question with a proper sentence before I get another question. So when we announced the marriage law postal survey and when this was endorsed by the party room back in August. The decision then was that at the other side of that process, every Member of the Coalition party room would have a free vote. That is even if a yes vote prevailed, those who continued to be of the view that they could not support a change in the law to allow same sex couples to marry, could continue to vote no. So that is the way it was announced at the time. It will continue to be a free vote. So from here on in my expectation would be that there would be a swift introduction of a or perhaps several Private Member’s Bills and the Parliament will be able to deal with it quite swiftly. That is what we have said all the way through. Every individual Member and Senator will have the capacity to vote according to their own conscience.
FRAN KELLY: Should this be voted on before Christmas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again that is what we have consistently said, that our expectation would be for this to be finalised before the end of the year.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.