Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Kevin Andrews says this whole affair is a distraction and damaging the Government. Is it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has been distracting. That is self evident. I have said that throughout the week as well. Others have said that. So that is not a new revelation. What has started as a deeply personal matter for Barnaby Joyce has been something that has distracted the Government. The Australian people want us to talk about our plans to secure more jobs and higher wages. They want us to talk about our plans to ensure Australia is safe and secure. They do not want to see us talk day in and day out about our personal affairs. They do not particularly want to read about our personal affairs on the front pages of the newspapers every day. I feel for Barnaby, I feel for his wife and his kids. I feel for his new partner for that matter. It is very important that we are able to move on from the distracting events of the last week. That is why the decision that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister made together, for him to take some leave next week, is an appropriate one.
QUESTION: The Nationals are angry over this. What do you think this does to the relationship between the Coalition partners?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The relationship between Liberal and Nationals parties is a very important one. We have delivered very good government as a strong and united team for some time. I am very confident that we will be delivering good government for Australia as a strong and united team into the future. This past week has been difficult. It has been difficult for the Coalition. It has been difficult for Barnaby. It has been difficult for the Government as a whole. We need to work through this together. We need to get to the other side together, because, in the end, none of this is about us. We have a job to do for the Australian people. We have a job to do to ensure that Australia is on the strongest possible economic foundation for the future, so that families around Australia have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. It is a responsibility for all of us, whether we are in the Liberal party or the National party. We are the Government of Australia. It is the responsibility for all of us to get beyond the issues of the past week.
QUESTION: Given the strength of Mr Turnbull’s comments and the fact that he essentially said Barnaby Joyce is not fit to be acting Prime Minister, how can they work together.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely disagree with that assertion. That is not what the Prime Minister has said. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister agreed that in all of the circumstances, it was appropriate for him to take some leave in order to deal with some of the deeply personal matters that have been on the front pages of the newspapers for this past week. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is in his interest as well as in the Government’s interest for that to happen, so that we can get to the other side of this issue, so that the Government can fully focus on the job that we were elected to do.
QUESTION: Do you agree with Malcolm Turnbull’s assessment that it was a shocking error of judgement by Mr Joyce?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made strong comments on the conduct. They are on the public record. Others have made strong comments. I think you will find that Barnaby agrees that the conduct was inappropriate. But it is now a matter to move forward. We cannot continue to talk about ourselves. We have to actually get back to talking about the job we were elected to do and that is implement our plans to secure more jobs, to deliver higher wages, to ensure our country is safe and secure. That is certainly what I am focused on. I know that that is what the Prime Minister is focussed on and all of the Members of the Cabinet.
QUESTION: Do you want Barnaby Joyce to quit?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
QUESTION: The changes to the Ministerial code, the Government, some Ministers had ruled that out last week. Was that taken to the leadership group or Cabinet yesterday afternoon? It sort of seems a bit developed on the fly?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree. That is certainly not the case. All of the decisions that are made by the Government follow proper process. With the events of the past week there was an ongoing conversation inside the Government. It led to the conclusion that the Prime Minister announced yesterday afternoon.
QUESTION: Do you know of any Minister is breach of the new code?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, as is always the case with Ministerial codes, all of us are expected to comply. All of us individually are responsible, to be accountable in relation to that code.
QUESTION: So you are happy for Mr Joyce to come back from leave and to resume the Deputy Prime Ministership.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have said all this week as well, the leadership of the National party is entirely a matter for the National party. That is the first point. The second point is this past week has been unacceptably distracting for the Government. We accept that the Australian people expect more from us. We accept that the Australian people expect us to focus on their issues and not on our own issues. So in the circumstances, it was important and appropriate for the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to decide that a period of leave would be appropriate in order to deal with some of the deeply personal matters that need to be resolved. On the other side of this, the intention is to ensure that the Government can continue to be fully focussed on the job that we were elected to do.
QUESTION: Barnaby Joyce was told to consider his position though. How can that mean anything other than a loss of confidence from the Prime Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are lot of things that Barnaby needs to work through. There are a lot of things for him to consider. That is precisely why he decided to take a period of personal leave.
QUESTION: On a personal level, you are going to be acting Prime Minister next week. It is very unusual for a Senator to be in that role. How do you feel about that? What can we expect to see in the short-lived Cormann regime?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Circumstances have just played out that way. It is going to be business as usual. The Prime Minister is still going to be the Prime Minister even when he is in Washington. I will just happen to be his man on the ground. I do not expect there to be any particular changes.
QUESTION: Why do you think you were chosen over Julie Bishop.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am the third in line to act for him. I am the third in line to act in the normal order of precedence. As it happens, Barnaby Joyce is on leave next week. Julie Bishop is overseas on Ministerial duties. So I was the next in line. That is the simple reason.
QUESTION: Minister, if it does turn out that Barnaby Joyce contacted Mr Maguire and asked him for a place to stay, as has been alleged by a number of journalists. Would that constitute a breach of the code of conduct in your eyes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a hypothetical question. Barnaby Joyce has rejected that proposition. Mr Maguire has rejected that proposition. The account that the Deputy Prime Minister has made privately and publicly, is that it was Mr Maguire who made certain offers, that Mr Joyce, Barnaby, offered to pay rent, which offer was declined. Things proceed from there. In any event, at the time, Barnaby Joyce was not a Minister. He was not even a Member of Parliament. So whatever journalist is making these assertions is making a false assertion at every level.
QUESTION: It is a little too cute though to say that he was not a Minister or not a Member of Parliament at the time, because it was just because it was in that brief period where he had been sacked by the High Court and was on track to be coming back to being a Member of Parliament and a Minister, wasn’t he.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What you describe as a bit cute is a simple fact. The simple fact is that Barnaby Joyce was not a Minister, was not a Member of Parliament. The next fact is that Barnaby Joyce has publicly declared, including in the Parliament that he did not seek any gift. That the offer was made to him. He offered to pay rent. That offer was declined. That is really all there is to it. If anybody has got any evidence to the contrary they should present it. But in the absence of that, the statements of the Deputy Prime Minister stand.
QUESTION: What do you think is fundamentally changed between last week when this was a private matter and yesterday when it earned such a strong repudiation from the Prime Minister and an actual change from the code of conduct?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What started as a deeply personal, private matter clearly became a very public matter over this past week. As is inevitably the case as an issue evolves and has an impact on the capacity of the Government to fully focus on the important job of implementing our plan for the economy, jobs, national security and the like, you continue to make judgements. These judgements ultimately led to the announcement of the Prime Minister yesterday.