Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government welcomes Sam Dastyari’s decision to resign from the Senate. We do believe this decision should have happened some weeks ago. The only reason Sam Dastyari has resigned from the Senate today, is because he was causing damage to Labor's political interests on the eve of an important by-election. Importantly, this was yet another failure by Bill Shorten in terms of his leadership. Because Sam Dastyari resigned. Bill Shorten did not sack him. Even when it became obvious to everyone, including a number of Bill Shorten's own frontbenchers, Bill Shorten refused to act. Let us be very clear, the only reason that Sam Dastyari announced his resignation today is because he was causing political damage to the Labor Party on the eve of an important by-election. Bill Shorten has yet again failed the test of leadership. He failed to take action. This is how Labor goes. Labor always puts their political interests ahead of the national interest.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: How do you think this will affect the by-election now, because there was an indication that some of the Government’s statements on this issue was actually hurting you in Bennelong.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, we have always said that the contest in Bennelong is closely fought. In John Alexander, the people of Bennelong have a hardworking, trustworthy local Member. Labor, the unions are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Bennelong, because they know that if Kristina Keneally gets across the line in Bennelong, that puts Bill Shorten one step closer to becoming Prime Minister of Australia. The last thing that Australia needs is a Shorten-led Labor Government, because it would give us higher taxes, more debt, weaker borders and great uncertainty. So the people of Bennelong have a choice between a hardworking, trustworthy local in John Alexander on one hand or on the other hand, somebody who is looking for a career, who would help Bill Shorten get one step closer to delivering higher taxes for the people of Bennelong, more debt, weaker borders and great uncertainty.
QUESTION: So you do not think this issue has been actually in fact hurting John Alexander?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The only reason Sam Dastyari is resigning today on the eve of an important by-election, is because his continued presence was doing damage to the political interests of the Labor Party. The Labor Party always puts their political interests ahead of the national interest and that is what has happened here. Sam Dastyari should have left weeks ago. He should have left weeks ago. Bill Shorten refused to take action against him even when his frontbenchers were calling on Sam Dastyari to resign. The timing of this is clearly driven by Bill Shorten's perception of Labor's political interest.
QUESTION: Just before last year's Federal Election you accepted a $20,000 donation from Mr Huang’s company, Chaoshan. Why did you do that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, there is a world of difference between personal donations as the one that was secured by Sam Dastyari and campaign donations for political parties. Both the Labor and Liberal Parties receive donations in the context of elections. All of those donations are lawful and are declared, as far as the Liberal Party donations are concerned, they are lawfully received and declared, consistent with our disclosure rules.
QUESTION: Have you met with the businessman?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have met many Australians and many people around Australia, including that particular gentleman.
QUESTION: Why did you meet with him and when?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, I have met many Australians, I have met many Chinese Australians, I have met with stakeholders right around Australia, as many politicians both in the Labor and Liberal Party do.
QUESTION: What did you discuss with him when you met with him personally?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me be very clear that the Turnbull Government and every single Member of the Turnbull Government stands up for our national interest, unlike Senator, or former Senator, or rather to be former Senator Sam Dastyari, who clearly made judgements on the basis of his conduct in the past. As far as the Australian Government is concerned, Chinese Australians are highly valued members of our broader Australian community. Our relationship with China is an important relationship in which we engage standing up for Australia's interest. All Australians, Chinese Australians included, expect their Government to stand up for Australia’s national interest. That is what we are doing.
QUESTION: Well both the Labor Party and China says that the Government’s statements on this issue have really damaged the relationship with China, a major trading partner. Do you agree with that and are you going to try and repair it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, we do not take any lectures from the Labor Party. Bill Shorten and the Labor Party ran a vicious campaign against our free-trade agreement with China. As I have just indicated, Chinese Australians are highly valued members of our broader Australian community. Our relationship with China is clearly an important relationship. We engage in that relationship standing up for Australia's national interest and every Australian, including Chinese Australians, expect their government to stand up for Australia's national interest. That is what we will continue to do.
QUESTION: So you do not think at all that Australia’s relationship with China has been damaged by the Government coming out so strongly on this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have come out strongly against the conduct by Sam Dastyari. We are welcoming Sam Dastyari's decision announced today to resign from the Senate. We do note that this should have happened weeks ago. We do note that the only reason it is happening today is because clearly Sam Dastyari's continued presence was causing damage to Labor's political interest on the eve of an important by-election. As far as the Australian Government is concerned, as I have said to you several times now, we greatly value the great contribution that is made by Chinese Australians to the broader Australian community. Of course our relationship with China is an important relationship, but it is a relationship that we engage in standing up for Australia's national interest, which is what all Australians would expect us to do.
QUESTION: So am I right in saying that you are going to take no steps to repair the relationship because you do not think that there is a problem?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Today is all about Sam Dastyari and the reasons for his resignation. Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are always very keen to muddy the waters. They are all always very keen to cause distractions. This is not about the relationship between Australia and China. This is about Sam Dastyari and the choices that he made. From the Australian Government's point of view, our relationship with China is a very important relationship. It is a relationship in which we engage standing up for our national interest.