Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 1 December 2017
QUESTION: Bill Shorten has described the banking move as a bankflip, how do you respond to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a matter of public record that it wasn’t our preferred course of action. As the Prime Minister has said it is regrettable that this has to happen, but it was necessary in all of the circumstances. Our banking and financial system is a very central part of our economy. It is a very central part of our future economic success. The ongoing political speculation and uncertainty and what was emerging was clearly not in our national interest. The Government made a judgement that what was in our national interest was for the Government to take control. If there was going to be an inquiry it had to be done in a proper, professional and competent way and not in a politically hijacked way as was emerging in the Parliament. We have one of the strongest most stable banking and financial systems in the world. A strong and stable financial system is very much in the interest of every single Australian. It is an important part of our future economic success. The Government moved to ensure that we could protect the strength and the stability of our financial system into the future.
QUESTION: You have also had an accusation that the banks were involved in the drafting of the terms of reference as well as some sort of collaboration. Do you reject that plan?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have rejected that. I have rejected that. The Treasurer has rejected it. The terms of reference were drafted by the Government, within Government. At some point the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will be announcing who will be leading the Royal Commission. There will be some consultation as usually is the case between the Government and the person leading the Royal Commission before the draft terms of reference are finalised. This is not something, the draft terms of reference is not something that was put together between the Government and the banks. We completely reject that.
QUESTION: The Nationals call this a win. Senator Williams said yesterday they wear this as a badge of pride. How do you feel that your Coalition partners were more than happy to throw the Government and the Prime Minister under the bus.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will let my colleagues talk for themselves. This is something that Bill Shorten has been pursuing as a political exercise for some time. You have to remember that the events that Labor is pointing to in the financial sector in terms of whether it is the Storm Financial collapse, Trio, you name it. They are all events that happened under Labor’s watch. When Labor was in government, including with Bill Shorten as the Assistant Treasurer and the Minister for Financial Services, or Chris Bowen as the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and ultimately as the Treasurer, Labor steadfastly refused a financial systems inquiry, refused the need, denied there was a need for an inquiry into our financial system … interrupted
QUESTION: But it wasn’t Labor that brought this on you. This was your brethren. This was your colleagues.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have asked the question. I am answering it. I am just telling you that the events that Bill Shorten keeps pointing to are events that happened on his watch when he was in government. Labor in government, refused to conduct any inquiry. We had a series of inquiries. We had a comprehensive financial systems inquiry. We had inquiries through the Senate. In the circumstances where it was obvious that the Parliament was about to endorse an inquiry that would not have been an appropriate inquiry, the Government decided to take control.
QUESTION: But does it hurt a bit more that it is the Nationals that caused this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is Labor and the Greens having played politics for a long time. Having been quite reckless and quite irresponsible in relation to a very important part of our economic infrastructure. The Government, in all of the circumstances made a judgement that it was in our national interest to take charge.
QUESTION: George Christensen has said we are going to see a more bullish Nationals party. Are you going to see this kind of situation with penalty rates as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to be a commentator. I am going to let George Christensen talk for himself. The Government’s judgement in relation to penalty rates is very clear. We respect the independence of the umpire, an independent umpire that was set up by the Labor party. An independent umpire who has made judgements on penalty rates, who is made up, every single individual in the independent umpire that made judgements on penalty rates was appointed by the Labor party. Bill Shorten used to say for a very long time, that governments should respect the independence of the independent umpire. We will continue as a Government, to stand up for what is right. Every individual Member of Parliament has to make their own judgements.
QUESTION: Minister, John Barilaro this morning has called for the Prime Minister to step down. What do you make of that interjection?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have just heard that. I completely reject that proposition. It is clearly unhelpful. I suggest to the gentleman that I have never met that he focuses on his party room. The National party party room in New South Wales. We will focus on our party room at a Federal level.
QUESTION: What does that say about relations between the National party and the Liberal party at a Federal level.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is not a Federal Member of Parliament. As I say, I do not know him. I have never met him. It is a regrettable comment. It is uncalled for. It is wrong. I reject it.
QUESTION: This is a man that has gone down to the Snowy Hyrdo 2.0 with the Prime Minister on his coat tails and has been happy to tour the place and talk with the Prime Minister. He stood side by side with the Prime Minister and now he is saying it is time to go Mal.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have said what I have had to say. I do not know him. I have never met him. He should not have said what he has said in my view. But I cannot really talk to his motivations.
QUESTION: Is it a symptom of a bigger problem with the Nationals? We have had problems in Queensland, now there is New South Wales. Is there a big problem there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are a strong and united Coalition. We are very much looking forward to Barnaby Joyce coming back. We hope that the people of New England return him as the representative for New England in the Federal Parliament tomorrow. We hope that they give him their confidence again. We look forward to working closely and productively and constructively again with Barnaby Joyce as Deputy Prime Minister. It will be very good to have him back.
QUESTION: Minister, the Government said that the Royal Commission into the banking sector came in response to that open letter from the banks to the Treasurer. But clearly the terms of reference were written ahead of that letter, because it is quite a long document and it was ready the same morning. When were they drafted and what was the impetus for drafting them, given that the banks hadn’t yet written the letter.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The specifics on what was drafted when, I will refer you to the responsible Ministers. What I would say to you, the Government, in the context of what was emerging, in the context of the ongoing political speculation, political uncertainty, a judgement emerged that we were coming to a point where the Government had to take control in all of the circumstances. That is what we did. We did not want the banks and the financial system overall to continue to be used as a political football. That was not in our national interest. Australia needs strong and stable banks. We need strong and stable banks in order to ensure that we can have a strong, prosperous and successful future. Bill Shorten recklessly has used the banks as a political football for too long. The ongoing uncertainty was damaging to the banks. It was damaging to Australia. It was damaging to our international reputation. In all of the circumstances, the Government made a judgement in the national interest to take charge, to ensure that if there was to be an inquiry, it was to be an inquiry that is conducted properly, professionally, competently and led by a distinguished, highly reputable individual. That is why we made the decision we did.
QUESTION: If what Labor was doing was politically reckless, isn’t it also, that accusation also apply to the Nationals? Your colleagues.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, my comments are very clear. Bill Shorten and the Greens for a number of years now, for political purposes have pursued a very reckless campaign … interrupted
QUESTION: But so have the Nationals, Wacka has been doing this for eight years.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You can pursue your commentary. I am answering your questions.
QUESTION: What is the problem in the superannuation industry?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, if you are having an inquiry into the financial system, you have to look at the financial system as a whole. Superannuation is a very significant, substantial part of our financial system now. It looks after the retirement savings of all Australians. You … interrupted
QUESTION: Are there any problems out of it? Any issues?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly. There are clearly a range of issues. There are issues around corporate governance. There are issues around competition, appropriate levels of competition. There are all sorts of issues that keep getting presented to us again and again. There are issues around, allegedly industry super funds channelling money to the Labor party. These are all issues that we have got to understand that the Labor party here, is an extension of the commercial interest of a section of the superannuation industry. You have got a section of the superannuation industry running a commercial campaign against the banks, which is entirely driven by the commercial vested interest. If you look at the advertising campaign that is running on television now, it is a hard hitting, commercially driven, commercial interest driven campaign, driven by one section of the financial services sector against another. Bill Shorten and the Labor party have made themselves the agent of one section of the financial services sector that happens to be linked to the union movement and to the Labor party. If we are having an inquiry into the financial services sector, then we have to have an inquiry into the financial service sector as a whole. That is the judgement that the Government has made.
QUESTION: Does the Government have a shortlist of potential Commissioners?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave it to others who are responsible for these matters to make relevant announcements at the appropriate time.