Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
TOM CONNELL: For more on this and the rest of the day’s news, I am joined by the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who is in our Brisbane studio. Minister thanks for your time as ever on this Friday. Can I start by asking you about this push from Barry O’Sullivan, have you spoken to him about it? Are you going try to urge him not to go ahead with this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I have not spoken to him about it. I have read the story in the Financial Review this morning. The Government’s position is clear. We are taking action. We are taking action to ensure for example that customers with legitimate grievances against the banks have the best possible opportunity to have these complaints resolved efficiently through our one stop shop proposal. We have given additional power and resources to ASIC to take action. We are requiring banking executives to appear before a Parliamentary Committee on a regular basis. The Government’s position is that we do not support the establishment of a banking royal commission because it will be an expensive, slow and long lasting exercise, which will not actually do anything to improve things for people across Australia.
TOM CONNELL: And the Government’s position is very clear on that. Does that make this push an embarrassing one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the Coalition, individual backbenchers are entitled to take a view. The Government’s position is clear and the Government will continue to act consistently and accordingly.
TOM CONNELL: Well take a view sure, but moving a Private Member’s Bill for something you directly, actually oppose, you do not think that is out of ordinary?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us see what happens. There has been talk about this issue for a long time. Everyone has been aware that there are some individual Members in the Coalition that have had longstanding strongly held views in relation to this, but let us see what happens.
TOM CONNELL: What is your understanding as well, just on this getting voted because I am trying to clarify if this does pass Parliament, that the Government is bound to actually hold this royal commission or not. Do you have a view on whether it would need to do that or it would still be up to the executive to not go ahead with the royal commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are getting way ahead of yourself in terms of the hypotheticals. The short answer to your question is no, only the Government can make the relevant decision and appropriation to give effect to a royal commission and the Government’s position is not to do that. Do not make any assumptions just yet as to what the Parliament may or may not do in relation to this.
TOM CONNELL: All right, well we will see where it all goes because he has to of course get some support in the Lower House as well. What about what kicked off all of this concern about the same sex marriage legislation? You said earlier this week it would need to have religious protections. Is the Dean Smith Bill adequate on that matter?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I mean again, I have said the same consistently all week. I have said for some time now that the Dean Smith Bill was the appropriate starting point. That I believe that there was a need for some additional religious protections and I do hope that a consensus can be found across the Parliament in relation to sensible, additional religious protections. The areas that I have pointed to, which others have pointed to as well, expanding the exemption for celebrants beyond merely religious celebrants, looking at how best to ensure that religious charities are not adversely affected and generally have a look at the areas of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These are things to be worked through. Some things I would like to think will be able to be reflected in the Bill as it progresses through the Parliament over the next fortnight. Other things might be a matter for another day because they require more substantial and more fundamental discussions. Let us just work through the process. I have detected a lot of goodwill across the Senate in the last 24 hours. I have detected a lot of goodwill from people right across the political spectrum and I think it is a matter now of people of goodwill working through these issues carefully.
TOM CONNELL: It sounds like you agree with Peter Dutton saying that you can legislate for some of the religious protections next year. But just a broad marker, you seem to be indicating the movements that George Brandis has put through, the amendments that he moved, that that is essentially where things should land, that you would be comfortable once they were in place?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well Peter Dutton and I have been as one on these matters for some time. The position that Peter Dutton articulated yesterday is entirely consistent with the position that I have been articulating. I do believe that there is a need for additional religious protections. I would like to think that a number of them will be able to secure majority support through the Parliament over this next fortnight. But in the end, while every individual Member and Senator is able to initiate amendments, the only amendments that will get up are those that attract majority support. So, when it is all said and done during the debate over this next fortnight, the outcome will be what it will be. Same sex marriage will be legislated before we go to the Christmas break. So it may well be, depending on the outcomes over the next fortnight of sittings, that there is a need for some further conversations next year. Again, let us cross that bridge if and when we get there.
TOM CONNELL: Okay and just finally on those votes next year though, on the protections. Would they be a conscience vote as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are getting way ahead of yourself. There is a process to be followed. We are dealing right now with a Private Member’s Bill initiated by Senator Smith and others. There will be a debate over the next fortnight in the Parliament, including on what additional religious protections may be sensibly added by Parliamentary consensus to the religious protections already included in the Smith Bill. Once we have a final outcome out of that process, I think the Government and no doubt the Opposition and others will consider what else, if anything is required at that time.
TOM CONNELL: It is not going too far ahead though just to ask if that debate as well will be along the lines of being granted a conscience vote on those protections?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well it is getting too far ahead of yourself because we have not reached a final landing in relation to the Bill that is currently before the Parliament. You cannot make judgments on what is appropriate in terms of next steps until you actually have reached a landing point in relation to this. It might well be that what goes through the Parliament over the next fortnight satisfies everyone. It might be that it does not. There is a process subsequent to the passage of this Bill to go through internally within in our Party and I suspect that other Parties would have similar processes and these decisions will be made at the right time.
TOM CONNELL: All right we will see where that lands. I want to ask you about citizenship. The situation we are in now is the High Court has obviously clarified the position. If in the future someone comes forward with a cut and dry case that is identical for example to the circumstances that we saw in some of those cases in the High Court, is it fair enough to then say well from the point of that High Court decision, you will have to repay your wages?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The thing that is fair enough is that if somebody finds themselves in the circumstance where they are clearly in breach of Section 44 based on the interpretation of the High Court, then the same as former Senator Parry and John Alexander have done, then it is a matter for those individual Members and Senators to take action and accept the consequence and implication of that. There are people on the Labor side that find themselves in that situation that have not done that. In terms of the decisions on the financial matters that you raised, these are assessed on a case by case basis, depending on submissions that are made and decisions of the Parliamentary Departments incidentally. It is not initially a matter for the Government. It is initially a matter for the High Court, the Parliament and then only right at the end a matter for the acting Special Minister of State. The acting Special Minister of State, which for the moment is me, will make these decisions at the right time.
TOM CONNELL: Just finally, Nick Xenophon, he has taken on a job as an adviser for the person that has replaced him as a South Australian Senator. Is that something you have any issue with?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No that is entirely a matter for Nick Xenophon and his employer.
TOM CONNELL: There is no issue though with the fact that he is essentially campaigning for a spot in the South Australian Senate and getting paid by the federal taxpayer?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am sure that he is not campaigning for a seat in the State Parliament during his working hours. I am working on the assumption that former Senator Xenophon, now working for new Senator Patrick knows what the rules are and I am very confident that he would know to comply with the rules.
TOM CONNELL: Mathias Cormann always generous with your time on a Friday. Thanks for your time today on AM Agenda.