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
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. Before we get onto the banks I want to ask you about these comments from the Nationals Leader in New South Wales John Barilaro says the Prime Minister should resign by Christmas.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is just wrong. I completely reject that. It is obviously unhelpful. I suggest he focuses on the National Party party room in New South Wales and leaves us to focus on the Liberal Party party room here in Canberra.
KIERAN GILBERT: It is interesting from an individual, Mr Barilaro, I remember he spoke to my colleague Laura Jayes two months ago and says the Coalition’s problem is you are focusing on internal tensions and then he makes this intervention.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have never met him. I do not know him. Our focus is on making the decisions every single day to put Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future, to deal with issues and continue to take Australia forward. I am not interested in these sorts of internal shenanigans.
KIERAN GILBERT: It is not helpful though to have some random individual, he is the Deputy Premier though.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is very unhelpful. It would have been better if he had not.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let us turn to the banks now and talk about this Royal Commission. For months, you have been saying it is not necessary, it is costly, now it is necessary, but regrettable is how the Government has described it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our position is on the public record. Our long-standing position of not wanting to do this has been on the public record. We did not believe that this was warranted, but in all of the circumstances with the politically hijacked inquiry that was emerging, which Labor and the Greens have been pushing for, we came to a point where the Government had to take control. We have one of the strongest, most stable banking and financial systems in the world. Having a strong and stable financial system is very much in our national interest. It is important for our economic success into the future. We just could not allow a politically hijacked inquiry taking place the way that was emerging … interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: What would you say that it is politically hijacked now in the sense that you are targeting the union dominated industry super funds?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are taking control. We are making sure that the inquiry is conducted in a professional manner and it will be headed up by a professional individual who will conduct it in the appropriate fashion. We could not allow…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Why the super funds?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Because they are part of the financial system. They are a very central part of the financial system. We have a circumstance now where a very significant amount of Australians retirement savings, a very large amount of money is looked after by Australian super funds …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So it is not about getting Labor or payback?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is about making sure that if we are going to have an inquire into the financial system, we have a look at the financial system as a whole, including the banks, including superannuation, including general insurance. There are issues and complaints raised in relation to all aspects of those. There are concerns in relation to corporate governance and other arrangements when it comes to industry funds, which have been longstanding and have not been addressed. It is true that Labor has a weak spot there, but if we are going to have an inquiry like this, it has got to be an inquiry that looks at the whole financial system not just one small part of it pursuing a vested interest agenda for Labor on behalf of the unions.
KIERAN GILBERT: And did you consider consulting the victims groups before doing the Terms of Reference? Because in previous Royal Commissions victims groups have had a say, this time they have not, apparently they are not pleased about that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission were put together by the Government. We did not consult with either side of the equation for want of a better word. Once the lead Commissioner has been identified there will be some further consultation with the individual heading the …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So they will get a say?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is the way the process usually works. Once you have identified the person that will lead the Royal Commission, you work through the final set of Terms of Reference with that particular individual.
KIERAN GILBERT: They are not going to be ignored basically, that is the message?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Royal Commissioner is going to be in charge of the process.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well the Labor criticism already is that you have not been sensitive enough to the complaints of those adversely affected.
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of the events that Labor is complaining about today happened under Labor’s watch in Government. For years Labor in Government denied that there was any need for an inquiry into the financial system. They have discovered this in Opposition because there was a political opportunity for them. They are not interested in the public interest, they are interested in the politics of it. We are now putting forward an inquiry that is going to be professionally put together, professionally conducted by a highly reputable individual who will be conducting it.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is 12 months long enough?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well 12 months is what we would like to think is long enough. In the end as always happens in these circumstances, we will take advice from the individual leading the Royal Commission if and as we get to the point where there might be a different view.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you concede that it was all very messy politically?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is why we made the judgement to take control. It clearly was becoming very messy politically and that was very bad for an important sector of our economy. We did not want to have to make this judgment, but we made the judgment because we believe it is in the national interest given where we were heading.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Courier Mail reports today that the Nationals who led this push, Barry O’Sullivan, George Christensen, that they are now considering going again and pushing for a reversal of cuts to penalty rates.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I obviously hope not. Penalty rates are set independently by the Fair Work Commission. That is a system that Labor put in place. Every single person that made judgements in relation to penalty rates on the Fair Work Commission, five of them, every single one of them was appointed by Labor. Bill Shorten has been on the record over a long period that the independent umpire should be respected when it comes to penalty rates. Again, he is just pursuing a political agenda now having traded away penalty rates again and again as union leader, having insisted on the independence of the umpire in setting penalty rates, he is now running a political agenda. I do hope that none of my colleagues will facilitate Bill Shorten just running a political agenda against the government …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: But these Nationals like Christensen look like they have been emboldened by this win.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speak for my colleagues. I can tell you what the Government’s position is. The Government’s position is that we respect the independence of the umpire, the Fair Work Commission, which has reviewed all of the information, all of the facts, all of the evidence and made judgments on what is in the best interest of workers and our economy. Small business, we want small business to be able to employ more Australians and we believe in that context it is important that these sorts of decisions by the Fair Work Commission are respected.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is part of the reason that we are seeing this breakout from the Nationals, that there is not leadership right now? That Barnaby Joyce is focused on winning his seat in New England?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are all very much looking forward to Barnaby Joyce hopefully returning to the fold tomorrow. We are not taking anything for granted …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Hopefully he can instil a bit more discipline among his crew.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide a running commentary. It will be very good to have Barnaby back.
KIERAN GILBERT: Sam Dastyari says he has made his explanation. Bill Shorten has punished him for his lack of judgment. Is that where we should just move on now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe so. The thing that really stunned me was that after he last lost his job and after Bill Shorten last forced him to resign, he then after that went off and had that meeting, providing advice on how to avoid any surveillance that may have been happening or may not have been happening. For him to go out and essentially seek to coach a foreign national on how to avoid Australian intelligence interest, if there was such interest, that is a very, very serious matter and he did that after he had been previously sacked for questions around his involvement in terms of a foreign interest.
KIERAN GILBERT: So, in terms of the response to him now, the Opposition Leader cannot sack him from the Senate though, that is the bottom line.
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are right. Ultimately, it is going to be a matter for the judgement of Senator Dastyari himself. I find it very hard to believe that he is going to be there over the medium to long term.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finally, give us a sense of where the foreign donations reforms are at given that you have carriage of that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are intending to introduce them as soon as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: Early next year, is that likely?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As soon as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, appreciate your time, thanks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.