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
DAVID SPEERS: Andrew Broad has confirmed that he no longer thinks Barnaby Joyce is fit to be Deputy PM. He will move a resolution, he says, in the Party Room meeting next week. I know this is not something for a Liberal to weigh in on, but would you welcome a resolution to this, one way or another?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are quite right, it is a matter for the National Party. This has been a distraction for some time now. Barnaby Joyce has been dealing with some deeply personal matters which have spilled over into his professional life, which have distracted the Government when our job is to focus on securing more jobs and higher wages for families around Australia. Barnaby decided to take leave this week to put some order in his affairs. That was appropriate. From here on in, what judgements the National Party decide to make in terms of their leadership arrangements is a matter for them. What is important is that the Liberal and National Parties, which have delivered good Government for more than four years now and have delivered very important reform to put Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future, will continue to do so in the years ahead, hopefully for many years to come and the Liberal and National Parties will continue to work as a strong and united team.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, as you say though, this has been a great distraction for the Government. Again, would it be helpful to have a resolution to this, whether it is Barnaby Joyce staying or going?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What needs to happen and this is not news, this is not new, I have said this all week, what needs to happen is that the Government needs to move on from this. We need to get back to exclusively focusing on what matters to the Australian people and what matters to the Australian people is how we can secure more jobs, higher wages, and better opportunities for families around Australia to get ahead. How we can ensure that we continue to successfully implement our national security agenda.
DAVID SPEERS: And I want to come to that, just one more question, if I can, on Barnaby Joyce though. He did say in his Fairfax interview that he took a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to this affair with Vikki Campion. Even if the PM had asked him, he wouldn’t have told him. Is that the approach Ministers should be taking in relation to these matters and the Ministerial Code of Conduct?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I cannot talk for Barnaby. All I can say is that Barnaby Joyce told the Prime Minister and he also put on the public record that when Ms Campion was working for him, she was not his partner. Now, these are deeply personal matters. I do not propose to get into a detailed analysis on when somebody goes from meeting somebody for the first time to ending up in a partnership. I think all of us know, all Australians would know, that these are not black and white boundaries. These sorts of things, particularly in the circumstances as they apply in this case, evolve over a period. Personally, I do not have any knowledge on when the relationship went from a professional relationship to something else. So really the only people that can provide authoritative advice on these things are Barnaby and Ms Campion.
DAVID SPEERS:Let me take you to the debate over migration that is underway, that Tony Abbott has really focused on in recent days. You are, of course, you are the most successful migrant in Australia right now. You are the Acting Prime Minister and you are someone who came here, could not speak English in your 20s. Does it hurt you at all, do you feel it personally, when you see Tony Abbott blaming migrants for things like traffic jams, house prices, wages not growing and so on? Does it strike you personally?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is such an amazing country. Throughout our history, for generations, migrants have come to Australia from all corners of the world, from all sorts of different backgrounds and have made a contribution to help grow our economy, to help build our country and to help make Australia the great place to live and raise a family that we have today. In years to come I believe that Australia will continue to be one of, if not the most successful migrant nation in the world. Now, when it comes to the intake of migrants into Australia, I think the more important debate for us to have is how we can ensure that we attract the right people with the right skills, the right attitude, preferably young migrants, so that, as an Australian community, we can have maximum benefit from the contribution that they can make throughout a lifetime. I think there is no question that migration in Australia, over many, many decades, indeed throughout our whole history, has been good for Australia and I believe it will be good for Australia into the future. Migration levels right now are lower than what they were at their peak, but to a large degree that is because the demand for skilled migrants, given where things are at in the economy, is less than what it has been in the past. If, in the future, there is strong demand and in order to keep the economy growing and in order to keep our living standards high and fund the social and health services we expect in a sustainable fashion, we need to attract more people than we are attracting now, then that is a conversation we would have to have at that point. But I do not think these are decisions that should be made on a politically arbitrary basis. You look at the US, they have a lottery which determines who can and who cannot come in. We have actually a very good system in Australia. We make deliberate decisions on who we want to attract into Australia, what sort of background we want them to have, what sort of skills we want them to have and how we can maximise the opportunity for them to be successful when they come into Australia. Every migrant that comes here to take on a job contributes to our economy by going to the local shop and buying products and services, they pay taxes to help fund our health and public services. So, I think the debate needs to be much more nuanced than what Tony has put out into the public domain and I think that, fundamentally, nothing that anyone could say can take away from me my personal admiration for what a fantastic country Australia is for migrants who choose to make Australia their home.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I take it you to something he said today, Tony Abbott said that there was, quote, “A very vigorous discussion about cutting immigration that took place inside the Government in early 2015.” Was there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Unlike others I do not talk about what is discussed in Cabinet. All I can say to you is that the migration levels have actually been quite constant under both the Abbott and Turnbull Governments when it comes to…interrupted.
DAVID SPEERS: Was this a Cabinet discussion?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not confirming what is or is not discussed. You put to me that there were discussions inside Government and what I am saying to you is that I do not talk about what is discussed inside Government, inside Cabinet or inside Government committees or inside any other forms of Government bodies. What I talk about are the decisions that are made after all of the information, all of the facts have been considered and what I can say to you is that neither under the Abbott Government nor under the Turnbull Government were there any decisions to do what Tony seems to be suggesting. And I think it would be totally wrong to make arbitrary decisions on a political basis rather than on what is required for our economy and to keep our living standards rising. I think it would be completely wrong to make politically arbitrary decisions on these sorts of matters.
DAVID SPEERS: Let me turn to company tax. Qantas today posted a big increase in its half-yearly profit with just over $600 million for the first time for this financial year. It is not paying company tax this year, it still got some losses it is carrying forward and so on. Should it be paying company taxes by now, do you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It depends on the size of their past losses. Qantas is a great story. Qantas is an Australian company which operates globally in a fiercely competitive industry. A few years ago they were under serious pressure and they were making substantial losses and the company, any company that makes substantial losses, the employees of that company fear for their jobs. Their job security is at risk and a company in that situation is not in a position where they can easily make the investments they need to make for their future success. The fact that Alan Joyce and their management team and all the people that work at Qantas have been able to turn this situation around and turn the business that is Qantas from a loss-making enterprise to a profit-making enterprise should be celebrated. They should be congratulated for this. Now that they are making profits, what does that mean? It will mean they can invest more and I have heard they intend to invest in an aviation college, they intend to hire more pilots, they intend to invest in some further planes and the like and they are now on a stronger foundation than they were, which means that the job security of their existing staff is better, the opportunities for Australians to join Qantas in the future as new employees has improved. If Qantas continues to make profits to the extent that the losses of the past have been offset against those profits, if they are in a position to make net profits, of course they will pay tax, whatever the applicable business tax rate is. At present that will be 30 per cent. We believe that it is in the interest of families around Australia for the Australian business tax rate to be globally competitive to be reduced to 25 per cent and that is because businesses like Qantas compete with businesses from all around the world and in the US they pay 21 per cent tax, in the UK they will soon pay 17 per cent tax, even in France, the Macron administration is reducing the business tax rate from 33 to 25 per cent. We cannot hold Australian businesses back and put the job security of Australians at risk and put their future job opportunities, career opportunities and wage increases at risk. Bill Shorten is standing in the way of business tax cuts, standing in the way of increased job security and more jobs and higher wages.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay and just on the company tax cuts, the IMF has backed you in on this. But it is arguing that, suggesting that we also accompany any company tax cut with broader reform, including increasing the GST and land taxes. Do you accept the point?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have considered the proposal that is made from time to time to increase the GST. We considered that two years ago and the numbers did not stack up. We considered it very carefully. That is a matter of public record. The economic and fiscal impacts meant that the numbers did not stack up. Now, when it comes to business tax cuts, if we do not reduce our business tax rate to a globally more competitive level, we will lose investment and jobs to other countries. We will reduce the opportunities for Australians today and future generations of Australians to get a job, to get a well-paid job, to get a secure job and to get better wages over time. Bill Shorten knows this. He made this point eloquently and succinctly as Assistant Treasurer in the Gillard Government on many occasions. Be under no allusion, Bill Shorten is not opposing this because he thinks it is bad policy. He is opposing it because he think it is good politics for him to block the Government’s economic policy through the Senate. It is reckless and it is irresponsible and it shows that he does not have the character to be Prime Minister of Australia because he is not able to put the national interest over his perceived political self-interest.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright, before I let you go Acting Prime Minister, you have been Acting Prime Minister for a day now. Has anything changed, are you enjoying it, is life any different?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Life is fundamentally the same, but what appears to be different is that the media is more interested to hear what I have got to say today than what I had to say yesterday…interrupted.
DAVID SPEERS: We are always interested in what you have to say.
MATHIAS CORMANN: So I am trying to use the opportunity to get this very important message out there, that families around Australia need their Senate to vote for business tax cuts for all businesses, so that families around Australia can get more jobs and higher wages.
DAVID SPEERS: As ever, on message. Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.