Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Acting Prime Minister
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Thursday, 22 February 2018
SABRA LANE: Senator Mathias Cormann normally shoulders quite a considerable Ministerial load with responsibilities for Finance, he is also the Special Minister of State and the Leader of the Government in the Senate and right now he is also the Acting Prime Minister. Welcome Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
SABRA LANE: You are going to use your time as Acting Prime Minister to try and persuade Crossbenchers into voting for the Government’s corporate tax package for the big companies. How will you sway them given that nothing has worked to date?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we are focused on is to explain to the Australian people that to secure more jobs and higher wages, we need to ensure that the businesses that have to create those jobs and pay those higher wages need to be more successful and more profitable into the future. As we are competing with countries around the world, many of whom have much lower business tax rates than Australia, we need to ensure that we put business in the best possible position to be successful and more profitable into the future. We continue the conversation with everyone to make our case, which very much is in our national interest.
SABRA LANE: Sure, that argument that you have just put is not a new one, that has not persuaded them so far. What are you going to do differently?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We continue to engage in the conversation. The Australian people want the best possible opportunity to get ahead. They want their children and grandchildren to have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. The only way we can create new, secure, well paid jobs is if businesses can continue to grow and for Australian businesses to continue to grow, they need to be operating in an internationally competitive environment.
SABRA LANE: Have you written to them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes I have written to them and I see that one of my colleagues has helpfully passed my letter onto the media. Yes, I have had a number of conversations in recent weeks with my colleagues and essentially considering the feedback and considering the questions that have been put to me, I did put forward, in a comprehensive fashion, the policy argument in favour of a more competitive business tax rate here in Australia.
SABRA LANE: The latest IMF report in Australia urges the nation to consider a broad package of tax reform including GST and it says capital gains tax discounts on housing should be reduced as well as other tax incentives. Will you heed that advice?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The most significant advice from the IMF was that the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament should be reducing our business tax rates to ensure that our business tax rate is internationally competitive. That is precisely what the Government is proposing to do. Our commitment is to ensure that taxes overall are as low as possible, as high as necessary to fund the important services provided by Government, but as low as possible. Our most important focus right now is to ensure that we do not lose investment, jobs and higher wages to other parts of the world because Bill Shorten is standing in the way of a more competitive businesses tax rate for Australian businesses.
SABRA LANE: Sounds like you are going to cherry pick the bits from the report that you want to adopt and other bits you are just going to drop by the way side.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of cherry picking. The IMF has recognised the strong economic performance in Australia. They have commended Australia for the successful transition through what was a difficult rebalancing in our economy after the mining investment boom. They have pointed out very clearly, that we need to ensure that our tax policy settings, in particular in relation to business tax are internationally competitive, which is precisely what the Government is doing.
SABRA LANE: Official figures show the income recession might be breaking with growth up above 2 per cent for the first time in 18 months. Are you prepared to say that the good times are just about here?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We were able to pass business tax cuts for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million early last year. We have had significant growth in employment, more than 400,000 jobs created last year and wages growth is starting to pick up. We want that to continue, which is why it is so important that we legislate our business tax package in full, so that all businesses employing all working Australians have the best possible opportunity to be successful, more profitable, hire more people and pay them better wages. You have to remember, nine out of ten working Australians work in a private sector business. Their future job security, their future career prospects, their future wage increases depend on the future profitability of those businesses.
SABRA LANE: Tony Abbott says that jobs and wage prospects would be better in Australia if immigration numbers were slashed and he has criticised the Treasurer Scott Morrison for not agreeing with his case. He says he has been capture by his Department and both he and the Department are wrong. What do you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott is wrong. To criticise the experts and say that somebody who is not an expert knows better, is not the right approach…interrupted.
SABRA LANE: What do you think he is up to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Throughout our history, generations and generations of migrants have made a significant contribution, helping to grow and develop our economy. The important focus when it comes to migration is to ensure that we attract the right people with the right skills, preferably young migrants who have a lifetime of economic contribution to make to our country. We are an incredibly successful migrant nation. This is a country where, wherever you come from, anywhere in the world, if you work hard, put your shoulder to the wheel and give it a go, there is no limit to what you can achieve.
SABRA LANE: To Barnaby Joyce, has he returned your call yet? You called him earlier this week and he had not returned your call.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes he has. He returned it very early the next morning, but I happened to be in a Cabinet meeting at that point. We have since had a very good chat. It is all good.
SABRA LANE: He is having a week off to sort out his personal life. He is still making a lot of media appearances, is that helpful to be dragging this out?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The issues that Barnaby has been dealing with are very deeply personal and some of it has spilled over into the professional, so Barnaby made the right decision to take some leave in order to put some order in all of these matters. That is what is he doing and that is appropriate.
SABRA LANE: It is curious though, Vikki Campion, his partner, went from one paid job to another. No one claimed that they knew that she was in a relationship or that she was pregnant. It seems to have been an amazing run of good luck to have just kept getting good jobs at the right time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: She was a National Party staffer. It is not unusual in Government, whoever is in Government whether it is us or the Labor Party, it is not unusual for people to move from one office to another, as I’m sure it is not unusual in the media for people to move from one position to another depending on what is required.
SABRA LANE: You will be representing him at coming Senate Estimates hearings next week for questions about staffing arrangements, hiring practices, travel spending entitlements. How prepared are you for that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I always do my best to be as prepared as possible and whatever the questions, we do our best to answer them.
SABRA LANE: Does it annoy you that you are going to have to answer for him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I love the part of democracy which is Senate Estimates. I am very much looking forward to it.
SABRA LANE: Mathias Cormann, Acting Prime Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.