Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Mathias Cormann thank you very much for your time. As I mentioned you will be Acting Prime Minister later in the week because Barnaby Joyce has had to stand aside and go on leave. The strongest criticism of Joyce came from Mr Turnbull himself, but he cannot sack him.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, yes, the Prime Minister did express very strong views about the inappropriateness of the conduct and he was not alone in that. Beyond that, the Government has had a difficult week, but we are now looking forward. The Australian people expect us to do the job that we were elected to do, to implement our plans to secure more jobs and higher wages, to keep the country safe and secure. That is what we are focused on and onwards and upwards.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister and Barnaby Joyce cannot work together though, at that level. Surely.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course they can. We are a strong and united Coalition team. The comments of the Prime Minister yesterday were specifically about the conduct concerned. The Deputy Prime Minister has taken some leave. There is a whole range of matters that will need to be resolved in his personal context…interrupted.
KIERAN GILBERT: He told him he needs to go and consider his position. That is effectively a vote of no confidence.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with that. That is absolutely not the case. This has been a difficult week for the Government, but it has also been a very difficult week for Barnaby himself, his wife, his kids and his new partner for that matter. There are a whole range of deeply personal matters that clearly need to be dealt with and it is a good decision.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you say you need to consider your position, that is interpreted by everyone as saying you need to quit.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not what the Prime Minister said. He did not suggest that in any way shape or form. The Prime Minister expressed a very strong view about the conduct, which is appropriate. I would expect that the Deputy Prime Minister agrees with the Prime Minister’s comments in relation to this. But from here on in, there is work to be done to ensure that the Government does not continue to be distracted by what are deeply personal matters. For this past week it has dominated the news, it has prevented us from talking about the things that the Australian people want us to talk about. There are some things to be considered, there are some steps to be taken to ensure that on the other side of this period of leave the Government can focus exclusively on the job that we were elected to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: One of the things Mr Turnbull might have to do is heal the relationship with Barnaby Joyce because he was not aware that that condemnation was coming. He was aware the tougher guidelines were coming, but he was not aware of that strength of a scathing critique from Malcolm Turnbull. My understanding is he is not happy about that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well that is your assertion. I am not going to go into the ins and outs of it. The Prime Minister, Malcolm and Barnaby have a very good relationship. They work together very well…interrupted.
KIERAN GILBERT: They did have.
MATHIAS CORMANN: … I think they will have a strong and productive and positive relationship in the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Turnbull was there with Barnaby Joyce late last year in Armidale on the stage embracing him triumphant after the win in New England. But he knew about the affair then.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not sure that you can say that. From time to time in Canberra there are rumours running around and quite frankly, none of us knew, none of us knew at all. You do not know until the person involved actually tells you. I do not think that that is right that you can say that he knew.
KIERAN GILBERT: But even last week, well we know he knew then because it was the front page of the paper and yet Mr Turnbull says this is a private matter, I am not going there, this is a private matter. Yesterday, it is shocking, it is appalling and there is a new guideline in place.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Historically it has been treated as a private matter, but the last week has shown what a significant public matter it has become. We believe, Barnaby believes, the Prime Minister believes that it is appropriate that for the next little while, all of the necessary steps are taken to put order into the personal side of it and make sure that it does not continue to distract from the important work that the Government does on behalf of the Australian people.
KIERAN GILBERT: The only difference is between last week and this week is that it has erupted into a media furore, that is it. In a moral sense, Mr Turnbull gave that judgment yesterday, but in a moral sense there is nothing different between last week when we knew about the pregnancy and the affair and this week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: On these sorts of matters, once certain facts become known, you do not jump into the next steps immediately. You do consider before you make considered judgements. That is what happened. The Prime Minister came to a considered view and he announced the conclusions of his considered deliberations yesterday.
KIERAN GILBERT: The ban itself, a lot of questions being asked as to how would that be enforced and is it impossible to monitor that sort of thing.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is as with all things in the Ministerial Code. If is now a very clear and formal rule that applies to all Ministers and all Ministers are expected to comply with these high standards. I think it is fair to say that everybody always knew that that particular conduct would be inappropriate and not something that anyone should or would condone, but it has now been clearly formalised and this is now something that all Ministers very explicitly know that have to comply with.
KIERAN GILBERT: I do not want to get into some sort of star chamber like Bill Clinton had to explain it, but the whole idea of sexual relations, it seems a vague notion. How do you define what is what?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into the weeds of all of this. I think that people know what is what. I think that people know what conduct is not appropriate and the code now formally includes provisions to that effect.
KIERAN GILBERT: Does it formalise a journalist’s right to peer to into the private lives of politicians? Because now that it is in black and white, while there was a debate last week as to whether or not the Tele was right in publishing, there is no debate now, it is well within the journalist’s right to discuss this sort of stuff
MATHIAS CORMANN: I take the view that journalists always scrutinise those of us who are in power on behalf of the Australian people. That is a part of living in a democracy and it is part of making sure that those in Government are conducting themselves appropriately.
KIERAN GILBERT: I guess one of the things of how this is going to operate. Do you think it might have to be strengthened further because at the moment this ban is basically a Minister with their own staff, but there is no ban from a Minister and someone else’s staff. Therefore, the situation where an individual might be moved simply to carry on that sort of relationship, that continues.
MATHIAS CORMANN: What the Prime Minister said yesterday, he drew a clear line in the sand in relation to a particular type of conduct and he has flagged that there will be some more work done to consider any potential future changes to the code. I think that that is going to be something that is going to be subject to future consultation and if and as further changes are required, they will no doubt be made.
KIERAN GILBERT: Because one of the problems here is with that power imbalance that the Prime Minister referred to is that the junior person simply gets punted basically. They are the victims, how do you sort of counter that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has addressed all of these matters yesterday as I say. I think everybody knows what the Prime Minister clearly put forward yesterday. As the Prime Minister has said, there will be some further consideration as to what other changes may or may not be necessary and that is something that will play out over the next few weeks.
KIERAN GILBERT: You are going to be Acting Prime Minister later in the week. It is quite some way from the 23 year old who could not speak English.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is just a great country. We have got migrants here who come from all corners of the world. What I say to all of my fellow migrants always is that Australia is a country where if you put your shoulder to the wheel and work hard and do the best you can to make a difference, there is no limit to what you can achieve. I have been a fortunate beneficiary of that reality, that great Australia reality. I have been involved in politics for some time now. I thoroughly enjoy my job, but next week it will really just be business as usual. The Prime Minister is still the Prime Minister, even when he is Washington. I will just be his man on the ground here in Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister thanks and thanks for fronting up on not an easy day for the Government at the end of a tough week. a
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.