Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Minister, can I start with the Newspoll first, how much of that is the whole citizenship saga?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has been a difficult couple of weeks. Clearly the Australian people want us to work through this issue and resolve it swiftly. That is what the Government is committed to do. But in the meantime, I am not surprised that the messiness of the last few weeks is reflected in the Newspoll.
QUESTION: The great strength of the Coalition was always in Malcolm Turnbull’s own approval rating and popularity. Is that a worry? Is he safe?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The answer to the last question is yes. Malcolm Turnbull is providing strong and effective leadership to our team. We are getting on with it. Since the last election we have a strong record of achievement. There is still a while to go between now and the next election. Once we get to the next general election, we will be putting forward our record of achievement as well as our plan for the future. We will be pointing out very clearly why a change to a Labor-led socialist government would be bad for the economy, bad for jobs and bad for people’s wages.
QUESTION: What do you want Labor MPs under a cloud to do?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The same circumstances should lead to the same outcomes. If you have Members of Parliament from any party that are aware that they were or are in breach of their Constitutional eligibility requirements then there are certain steps that they should take. John Alexander, on realising that he was most likely a dual citizen, made an immediate decision to step down from the Parliament. We have Members of Parliament from other parties, from another party, on the public record, saying that they were dual citizens at the time of nominating for the last election, which is clearly a black and white breach. It is incumbent on them to reflect on the situation that they are in and make relevant decisions. In the meantime, we are going to have this universal disclosure process. All Members and Senators from across the Parliament will have to provide assurances to the Parliament that they are and at all relevant times were Australian citizens only and provide other relevant information. The other point we would make is that irrespective of which party you belong to, the same findings and the same outcome should lead to the same consequences. It is not just a matter of picking off Government Members and Senators while sitting back and letting Labor Members and Senators in the same circumstance just continue to stay on in the Parliament. Same findings, same circumstances, same consequences. That is a very appropriate and fair principle. I am sure it is a principle that all people across Australia, all reasonable people across Australia would agree with.
QUESTION: You say John Alexander did the right thing. Why didn’t Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash do the right thing and resign?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think the circumstances in relation to Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash are well understood. They were not aware when nominating for Parliament that they had acquired another citizenship. As soon as they did become aware they took the appropriate steps. That is indeed what should happen. But what we have in relation to a particular Labor Member of Parliament, is that she herself on the public is indicating that yes, she is aware that at the time of nominating for Parliament, she was a dual citizen in breach with the very clear and explicit requirements under the Constitution. It really now is a matter for Bill Shorten to tell people in the circumstances what he thinks his Members in that circumstance should do.
QUESTION: On the same sex marriage vote, if a yes vote is returned on Wednesday, should Parliament support James Paterson’s bill, which includes protection for religious freedom or Dean Smith who believes religious freedom should be dealt with separately?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have not seen James Paterson’s bill. I have seen the reports. I will have a good look at what he is putting forward. I think it is important that if there is a yes outcome out of the marriage law survey it is important that one, the Parliament act swiftly to keep faith with the verdict of the Australian people and legislate to allow same sex couples to marry. But it is also important that we have appropriate religious protections in place. From my point of view, the Smith bill has been subject to a cross party Senate Committee process already. If that is to be the starting position, I would expect there to be amendments to strengthen religious protections as appropriate. But it will be up to the Parliament. There will not be a Government position. There will not be a formal party room position. What we have said when we initiated the marriage law survey process, is that on the other side of having given people across Australia an opportunity to have their say, is that every Liberal and National Member of Parliament will have a free vote and determine according to their own conscience how they would like to deal with this matter.
QUESTION: Can this still be done by Christmas, given there are conflicting bills and presumably a lot of amendments to be moved?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I believe it can be done before Christmas. The survey results will be announced on Wednesday. There will be an opportunity for the Senate to make some initial judgements later this week. We have a sitting fortnight coming up, which the Government has always indicated we had earmarked for this issue to be dealt with. I am quite confident that it is quite possible to deal with it if that is the will of the Parliament.