Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Mathias Cormann joins us for the first time for the year. Mathias Cormann thanks for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.
KIERAN GILBERT: Many in the electorate would be hoping that once this is done, this by-election, that the Parliament, that both major parties can simply move on from the debacle around citizenship.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We know that Bill Shorten still has other members of his team who are dual citizens. He has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing here. As time goes by, what people can see is that Bill Shorten is getting more shifty, as well as getting more socialist. When it comes to David Feeney, he knew last year that David Feeney was a dual citizen. He clearly needed to play for time to get on top of these factional shenanigans inside the Labor party. So they held out until early this year. Susan Lamb, according to her own lawyer, is a British citizen, as well as an Australian citizen. So she clearly is in breach of the Constitutional requirements to be a Federal Member of Parliament. She should also resign. Bill Shorten is either too weak, or is up to another one of his shifty games.
KIERAN GILBERT: So will you then, as the Government and given that circumstance that you believe is the case, that someone is in Parliament and breaching the Constitution, will you now refer that individual to the High Court?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is incumbent on Bill Shorten to do the right thing here. He knows that Susan Lamb is a British citizen. He knows that she did not complete the appropriate process that was available to her to renounce her British citizenship. He knows that she did not supply the British government with the form that they required in order to be able to conclusively proceed and administer the renunciation process. He should be doing the right thing. Quite frankly… interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: And if he doesn’t?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It will be in the interest of taxpayers for him to do the right thing. For Australians not to have a succession of one by-election after the other. He should now ask all of his Members who have citizenship issues to take the appropriate action. He is either too weak, or he is up to more of his shifty games.
KIERAN GILBERT: But if he doesn’t do that, will you refer, at least Susan Lamb as a starting point, the Member of Longman, given as you have said her own lawyer has conceded she is a British citizen.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to give Bill Shorten the opportunity to do the right thing as we have done all the way through. We are going to hold fire and see what Bill Shorten decides to do. Will he continue to be shifty Shorten or will he start to step up and do the right thing.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it a situation where this sort of chaos around citizenship does reflect on the whole Parliament? Does reflect on governing parties, the two major parties?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I do not accept that there is chaos. We have a Constitution, which has certain requirements. Processes and procedures are working their way out. As is always the case, the Australian people are able to observe how individual leaders are dealing with the situation. If you look at the Liberal side, our Prime Minister provided clear and strong leadership. Every Coalition Member and Senator who had an issue took immediate steps. Either they resigned or they referred themselves to the High Court. The appropriate steps followed from there. Bill Shorten did not do any of this. Bill Shorten has known for some time now that his close factional ally and supporter David Feeney was a dual citizen. He has known for a very long time that Susan Lamb and others are dual citizens, in clear breach of the Constitution. What the Australian people can see in Bill Shorten, is somebody who clearly fails the character test, clearly fails the integrity test, clearly does not have what it takes to become Prime Minister of Australia. This is just our democratic system playing out in front of the Australian people.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you believe that the Liberal party should run a candidate in the seat of Batman, and particularly in the context of the fact that it looks like it is going to be the outgoing ACTU president Ged Kearney running in it. One would think that would fit in quite well with your current political narrative and argument that Mr Shorten is too close to the unions.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Batman historically has been a safe Labor seat. Under Bill Shorten it has become less safe. It is now a contest principally between Labor and the Greens. These are not decisions for me to make. These are administrative decisions for the Liberal party organisation in Victoria to make. I am sure that they will make them at the appropriate time. What I would say to Bill Shorten is, do not force Australians to now go from one by-election to another in Labor held seats. It is clearly in the public interest for all of these by-elections to be able to happen at the same time. He should require Susan Lamb and various other Labor Members around Australia, who clearly are still dual citizens or were dual citizens at the time of the last election to do the right thing, to either refer themselves to the High Court, or in the case of Susan Lamb, quite frankly, just to resign.
KIERAN GILBERT: Onto the battlelines drawn on the cost of living and economic growth. These are the arguments that have dominated much of the week with the two speeches from Mr Shorten and the Prime Minister yesterday. As a fundamental point though, do you accept that it would be better if the minimum wage was higher? Better for the thousands of people that depend on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What would be better is if businesses across Australia who employ nine out of ten working Australians had the best possible opportunity to be successful and profitable, so they can hire more Australians and pay them better wages. What Bill Shorten is pursuing and what he has outlined in his Corbyn-copy speech the other day, was a socialist agenda which would lead to lower growth, less investment, fewer jobs, higher unemployment and lower wages. The Australian minimum wage is already the highest in the world. If you look at OECD data, the hourly minimum wage rate in Australia is the highest in the world ahead of Luxemburg and Belgium. To increase …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So it should be though, and there is room for improvement surely?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I would say to you is, to increase the minimum wage at the same time as making it harder for business to be successful and to be profitable as Bill Shorten is proposing to do, will lead to higher unemployment. Because if you increase the cost of employing people at the same time as you make it harder for business which employs nine out of ten Australians to be successful and profitable, you will push up the unemployment rate. Australians that are in the circumstance where they are relying on the minimum wage, to force them into the unemployment queue is not going to help them get ahead. It is not the right way forward. The best way forward for all Australians, in particular low and middle income Australians who benefit proportionately speaking the most from stronger growth, is to continue to implement the plan that helps businesses across Australia to be as successful and as profitable as possible so they can hire more people and pay them better wages …interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: But you accept there has been a disconnect between economic growth, business profits and wages growth which has been pretty flat?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Wages growth is increasing. It has certainly been increasing above CPI. Yes, our economy has gone through a difficult transition on the back of significant falls over a period of global prices for our key commodity exports. Our economy as it has gone through a transition, instead of increasing the unemployment rate massively, wages growth has been less than what it has been in the past. The alternative would have been to have higher unemployment and for more people to join the unemployment queues. But that is not what happened in Australia. Employment growth has continued to be very strong. What is in the interest of low and middle income earners, is to ensure that the businesses that employ them have the best possible opportunity to be successful and to be profitable. The future job security, the future career prospects, the future wage increases of Australian workers depend on the future success and the future profitability of businesses across Australia that employ them. For Bill Shorten to make it harder for business to be successful means that fewer people will have a job and their wages will be lower. To just increase the minimum wage while making it harder for business to be successful is actually quite irresponsible, because Bill Shorten knows it will push more people into the unemployment queues.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you accept that on the issue of income tax cuts, that you need to cut tax for workers greater than the impost that is going to be felt by those paying the increased Medicare levy as of July 1. For example a family or an individual on $60,000 a year paying an additional $300 for the Medicare levy increase to fund the NDIS. To make the tax cuts appealing, surely is has got to be more than that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working our way through all of these issues now. Our commitment is to ensure that personal income tax rates are as low as they possibly can be, as high as necessary, but as low as possible. We have already built into our Budget revenue forecast an assumption of future personal income tax cuts, because unlike Labor we have imposed on ourselves a tax as a share of GDP cap of 23.9 per cent, which means that we have to reduce taxes in the future in order to stay below that cap. Labor has already said they would increase the overall tax burden in the economy, which again will lead to lower growth, less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages. So our approach is to keep taxes as low as possible because we know that will help attract more investment, it will help encourage people to work harder and do the best they can to be as successful as possible. That will help strengthen growth , attract more investment and create more opportunity for Australians to get ahead. That is going to be the contrast this year.
KIERAN GILBERT: And yeah, you need to make up for that impost as I said of an increase for those under $87,000 a year which Labor, as you know is going to not adopt that policy, only for workers upwards of $87,000 per annum. So for those under that, to make an improvement you have got to make up for that impost.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have already reduced taxes for people in that income bracket, from $80,000 to $88,000 in particular. As I say, our commitment is to keep taxes as low as possible. With Labor, do not listen to what they say, look at what they actually are doing. They are already spending all of the tax increases that they have flagged and more. They have already indicated that they will increase the overall tax burden in the economy beyond the 23.9 per cent cap that we have imposed on ourselves. There is no doubt that Australian workers would be worse off under a Bill Shorten led Labor government than they would be under the Coalition given the economic policy settings that both of us have put forward.
KIERAN GILBERT: And well just quickly, we are almost out of time. China has reacted to the ASIO warning about the foreign interference being greater than the Cold War. They have laughed it off, a foreign ministry spokesperson says “I think if Australia treats millions of people who travel from China each year as spies, well then how can they not be nervous?”
MATHIAS CORMANN: We welcome the many Chinese tourists that come to Australia every year. We are taking action in Australia, as other countries around the world are taking action to protection our national interest when it comes to foreign interference. That is not something that is targeted at any specific country. It is something that we do and countries around the world do to protect our national interests. That is what the Australian people would expect us to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thank you for your time. We will talk to you right throughout 2018.