Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Acting Prime Minister
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 23 February 2018
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is great to be here at this business, Legeneering, with Glen and David and also with Peter Coleman, the Chief Executive Officer for Woodside. What I am proposing to do is to deal with the purpose of this visit which is to talk about the Government’s plan to pass business tax cuts through the Senate in full so that we can create more jobs and deliver higher wages in our economy. Then I will deal with some other current matters separately. If we can take questions on business tax cuts first that would be appreciated. Then I will let Peter and Glen and David step aside and deal with some other matters.
The economic mission of our Government is to ensure that families around Australia have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. That means creating more jobs. That means creating the opportunity for Australians today and in the future to pursue a career here in Australia and to pursue better jobs and better wages into the future. More new jobs, higher wages, career opportunities, they do not grow on trees. They are created and they are paid for by successful, profitable, businesses. If we want families around Australia to have the best possible opportunity to be successful we need to ensure that the business that employ them have the best possible opportunity to be successful.
We are here today with the CEO of Woodside, Peter Coleman. Woodside, about 64 years ago, started as a small business with one person and an idea. Today, they are a big business and employing directly more than 3,000 people and providing job opportunities indirectly in total to about 20,000 people. The business that we are standing in here, that was created and developed by Glen and by David started with three employees and an apprentice in 2005. Thirteen years ago. Here we are, nearly 200 employees and a very successful business which is looking to grow further, providing high quality services, high quality products to Woodside.
The whole point of us being here today is to demonstrate why it is so important that business tax cuts down to 25 per cent are passed by the Senate for all businesses, not just small businesses, but for all businesses. Because in the end if we want businesses like this one to be more successful, so they can hire more West Australians, so they can pay them better wages over time, we need businesses like Woodside to be able to be more successful. A business like Woodside, is now a globally significant business competing in a fiercely competitive environment globally. If we force a business like Woodside to be less competitive because they have to pay higher tax rates than businesses they have to compete with in other parts of the world, then that ultimately means less opportunity for the employees of Woodside, less opportunity for future generations of Australians to join Woodside but also less opportunity for all of the people that are or could be working for businesses like this one, today and in the future.
So it is really so important that business tax cuts are passed by the Senate in full because they will deliver more investment, more growth, more jobs, higher wages and also higher returns for those who own shares either through their superannuation or as self-funded retirees and also they deliver better opportunity for small and medium sized business contracting with them. So with those few words if I can ask Peter to say a few words as well.
PETER COLEMAN: Thank you acting Prime Minister. It is really pleasing to be able to stand here today in a workshop of a company of the quality of Legeneering. It is a classic story of a small company with some people with an idea that were willing to have a go. Something that Australians very much enjoy and encourage. They were able to work with a big company like Woodside, ourselves, a company that is looking to invest almost $40 billion into projects into Australia over the next ten years, but to do so we need to be competitive on the world stage. The product that we produce needs to be competitive globally. Of course we are competing with those countries with lower tax regimes, being the United States and also our competitors out of the Middle-East and elsewhere. So for us to be able to continue to compete on that world stage, for us to be able to continue companies like Legeneering to employ the people that they do employ, to invest in the apprentices that they do and the technology that they do we must maintain competitiveness in that world stage. It is not simply good enough to turn up every day and work your hardest and be the smartest in the room if the other side has advantages that you don’t have. This is about creating a level playing field for the very best companies in the business and allowing our people to demonstrate on the world stage that they are able to create value for Australians that then flow onto the things that we enjoy in life, those services that we so cherish, the quality of life that we cherish, start here. They start in companies like this that are generating wealth for this nation to enjoy into the future. Thank you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: So if I can ask for questions on business tax cuts first and then we will deal with other matters after that.
QUESTION: Given the impassioned plea that you just made then and from Peter Coleman, why is it such a tricky thing to get through the Senate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten who knows that a globally competitive business tax rate is important for our future economic success, he has made a political decision that serves his political purpose to block the Government’s economic priorities through the Senate. Bill Shorten has been one of the most eloquent and succinct advocates for the need of company tax cuts to ensure that the Australian business tax system is globally competitive. What he said when he was the Assistant Treasurer in the Gillard government in relation to company tax cuts, was 100 per cent correct. But as Opposition Leader, he has made, what I would describe as a cynical political call, blocking the Government’s economic reform agenda in the Senate serves his political purpose. That means that we have got to engage with the crossbench in the Senate. I am pleased to say that the crossbench in the Senate is engaging constructively with us. But the crossbench and indeed the Senate as a whole will respond to public opinion. What I am saying to all Australians and what I am saying to families around Australia, what I am saying to the nine out of 10 working Australians who work in a private sector business, the future job opportunities, the future job security, the future career prospects, the future wage increases, the future investment returns of self-funded retirees and the future opportunities for small and medium-sized business depend on the future success and the future profitability of all businesses in Australia including the bigger businesses. If we want people across Australia to get access to more new jobs, better jobs, better-paid jobs, we need to ensure that the businesses that create them and pay for them have the best possible opportunity to be more successful and more profitable into the future. That is what this is all about. We are making a concerted effort to get the court of public opinion on side with us to put pressure on Bill Shorten and to help convince the Senate that this is something we need, in our national interest, to ensure that businesses in Australia are not held back compared to businesses in other parts of the world that we are competing with.
QUESTION: Would you think about some sort of campaign to get the public on side? To send a message to the crossbench?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are crisscrossing the country. We are taking every opportunity to talk to the Australian people, to talk to families around Australia, to explain that business tax cuts are in the best interests of families wanting to get ahead. Families who want jobs for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. Families who want to see that their children and grandchildren, in years to come, have the opportunity to pursue careers here in Australia. They need to know that the Australian Parliament will ensure that our businesses can be competitive internationally and are not put in a worse position because of our tax arrangements than the businesses that we compete with from around the world. Thank you very much. I might ask Peter and the others to step aside unless they want to answer questions about other matters.
I am in your hands on any other issues.
QUESTION: When did Barnaby Joyce contact you to tell you of his decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have been talking with Barnaby a number of times this week. He contacted me earlier today to advise me of his decision to step down as leader of the National Party and as Deputy Prime Minister at the party room meeting of the National party at 8.00am on Monday morning.
QUESTION: And what role did the Liberal Party play in terms of putting pressure on Mr Joyce?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This was a decision that Barnaby Joyce made himself. The leadership of the National party is a matter for the National party.
QUESTION: Did you encourage Mr Joyce to make the decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Barnaby Joyce made this decision. May I say, we pay tribute and we thank Barnaby Joyce for the incredible service that he provided as Deputy Prime Minister and as a senior Minister in various portfolios. He is a fierce advocate for rural and regional Australia and has provided very significant service. We thank him for that.
QUESTION: Is it a sign of Coalition disunity that Mr Joyce didn't inform the Prime Minister of his intention to step down?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am the acting Prime Minister. Barnaby made contact with me as the acting Prime Minister. I am here as the Prime Minister's representative on the ground.
QUESTION: Given Tony Abbott’s recent behaviour does the thought of having Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce together on the backbench concern you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott is a distinguished former Prime Minister. He is the Member for Warringah. He is fulfilling his job as the Member for Warringah in the best possible way as he sees.
QUESTION: Does this decision by Mr Joyce clear the way, or do you hope it would clear the way for the Government to get its agenda heard a bit more?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Barnaby would be the first to recognise that what started as a deeply personal matter spilled over into his professional life and became a distraction for the Government. The events of today then gave it a whole new dimension. He recognised that in all of the circumstances, it was appropriate for him to step down so that he can deal with the matters that are coming his way.
QUESTION: Shouldn't he have done it, say, three weeks ago? It was pretty obvious how this was going to snowball.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This started off as a deeply personal matter. He has made a judgement, appropriately we believe, that the developments today and the allegations that were raised today, which he disputes incidentally, that the allegations that were made today made it necessary for him to step down. We support him in that decision.
QUESTION: Can the Coalition survive this and go on to win the next election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Liberal National party Coalition is a strong and united team. We have worked together for the benefit of all Australians for 95-odd years in different configurations. We have provided very good work we believe, for the people of Australia over the last four years. We inherited an economy which was weakening, an unemployment rate which was rising, a budget position that was rapidly deteriorating. In 2017, more than 400,000 new jobs were created. The economy is in better shape now. Employment growth is much stronger now. The unemployment rate is well below where people had anticipated it would be. The Budget is now on a credible trajectory back to surplus. Across so many areas, whether it is our free trade agenda, our infrastructure investment program, our tax reform agenda, we are making progress across so many areas. We continue to focus on doing the best job we can for the Australian people to put our economy on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future and to ensure that Australia is as safe and secure as possible.
QUESTION: In terms of the last three weeks though, everything you said gets washed out by the damage done by such a scandal. Is that unforgiveable on Barnaby Joyce's part?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This was clearly a very difficult period for Barnaby. It was a difficult period for his family, his new partner. It was a distraction for the Government. Barnaby would be the first to recognise this.
QUESTION: It took him a lot of time to recognise it. That is the problem.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that, to be fair to Barnaby, the developments today and the allegations that were raised in the media today gave this whole issue a different dimension. He made the appropriate decision that the allegations, which he denies and which he has taken the initiative to refer to the police for investigation, are better dealt with by him not being the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in the Government. That is a decision that we support.
QUESTION: Can you see a time where he would be welcomed back into the Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Barnaby has just announced that he intends to step down as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National party with effect from the party room, the National party party Room at 8.00am on Monday. He has a whole series of issues to work through. He is going to have a baby. As he said earlier, that will keep him busy. He has got some issues to resolve that have become apparent today. Let us give him the time to do all of that. Let us see what happens down the track at that point.
QUESTION: Do you know whether he and the Prime Minister had come to some kind of, sort of, reconciliation in relation to the comments of the Prime Minister that angered him so much?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce have had a very strong, positive and productive relationship. In this past week, the Prime Minister expressed some strong views, the Deputy Prime Minister expressed some strong views. These are two strong individuals, two strong leaders, two strong personalities. They got together last Saturday and they had a very good discussion and they sorted it out. They were as one that the Government needs to continue to focus exclusively on doing the job we were elected to do. That is to put Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future, so that families around Australia have the best possible opportunity to get ahead, and to ensure that Australia remains as safe and as secure as possible.
QUESTION: And have you spoken to the Prime Minister about Barnaby's decision? What did he say to you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I informed the Prime Minister of the advice that I had received as the acting Prime Minister from the Deputy Prime Minister, yes.
QUESTION: And was he accepting of that and more than happy to accept it, that Barnaby is out of the picture?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has issued a statement. I would refer you to that statement. It is self-explanatory.
QUESTION: Do you think it is concerning that the woman who has made this complaint, that that allegation has ended up becoming public seemingly not by her own choice?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of the circumstances in which it became public. It did become public and in the circumstances the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby took the initiative to refer these matters, these allegations which he disputes, to the police, which is appropriate. Any allegation of sexual harassment is very serious. It is important that it is investigated so that the facts are established and appropriate action follows depending on the outcomes of any such investigation. In the circumstances, Barnaby made the appropriate judgement that he would not be able to pursue these matters while remaining as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National party. That is why he made the decision he has.
QUESTION: But given that he is saying he will refer it to the police, that suggests that it is more than harassment, it is actually sexual assault. Is that what he has told you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of the alleged events. All I am aware of is that Barnaby himself has made the decision, has taken the initiative, to refer the allegations to police for investigation. Given there is now an investigation, these matters could potentially end up before the courts, it would not be appropriate for me to go into this any further.
QUESTION: But he is not the complainant. I am not sure how he can make a reference to the police if he is not even a complainant, it makes no sense.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are the commentator, you are the journalist, you will report about it as you see fit. But I can only tell you how these things have developed, how these things have unfolded. There is now a process underway which is appropriate.