Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann is Australia’s Finance Minister. He was Acting Prime Minister until just a little while ago actually and he was Acting Prime Minister when Barnaby Joyce resigned late last week. Mathias Cormann, welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.
FRAN KELLY: We heard from Andrew Broad there, walking back his original comments suggesting a Liberal MP had leaked that complaint made by West Australian woman Catherine Marriott against Barnaby Joyce. Nonetheless, he says this information was “known by others”. Was the Liberal Party, was someone in the Liberal Party behind the public release of this complaint, which this woman wanted to be kept private and confidential?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe so. I certainly was not aware of the complaint and I do not believe that anybody else in the Liberal Party was aware of the specifics of the complaint that was made to the National Party. It is public now. I am not aware of the circumstances in which it became public, but as I said the other day, any allegation of sexual harassment is very serious and needs to be dealt with in the appropriate way.
FRAN KELLY: You were not aware of the specifics of the complaint? You were Acting Prime Minister last week and you are also a senior West Australian Minister. When were you aware that a complaint had been received against Barnaby Joyce by the National Party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was aware that a formal complaint had been received by the National Party when that was published in the newspapers.
FRAN KELLY: So you did not know that before then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
FRAN KELLY: Barnaby Joyce called you on Friday because you were Acting Prime Minister to advise you that he was resigning. Did you ask him to call Malcolm Turnbull in Washington?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a matter of public record. I was the Acting Prime Minister. Barnaby rang me. It was a difficult day for him following a difficult few weeks. In all of the circumstances I cannot see that there was any issue there.
FRAN KELLY: You cannot see any issue that he did not call Malcolm Turnbull? Really?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister was in the US. I was acting for him in Australia. Barnaby rang me and I took it from there.
FRAN KELLY: Then journalists travelling with the Prime Minister in Washington says the first that Malcolm Turnbull knew about the resignation was when they showed him online news reports from Canberra on the their phones. Did you try and ring him? Why didn’t you send him a text?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not sure that is the sequence the way it actually worked. I was not on the ground in Washington. I know that there was a bit of speculation in the lead up to it. I am very confident that I was the first to advise Malcolm formally of the decision that Barnaby had made.
FRAN KELLY: I know this might sound like nit picking, but just to be clear, did you do that as soon Barnaby Joyce told you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Immediately.
FRAN KELLY: How long was that before the press conference
MATHIAS CORMANN: A couple of hours before the press conference. As soon as my conversation with Barnaby was finished, I immediately rang the Prime Minister in Washington.
FRAN KELLY: The Coalition now has two former leaders on the backbench, Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott. With a one seat majority in the House of Reps, that is a pretty uncomfortable situation and perhaps a recipe of ongoing instability isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have a very important plan to implement for the economy and jobs and for our national security. We will continue to press ahead. Getting on with business, doing the job we were elected to do, focusing on important policies like our proposal to ensure that businesses in Australia can have a globally competitive tax rate, so they can invest more in their future growth, create more jobs and pay Australians higher wages.
FRAN KELLY: And every time you try and do that, often, not all the time, Tony Abbott for instance will throw a grenade and get the conversation off track, like he did last week on immigration. Are you worried that Barnaby Joyce might now be a part of that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is your interpretation. I do not agree with that characterisation…interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: You do not think it happens?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott is a distinguished former Prime Minister. He is a backbench Member of Parliament who is entitled to express his views on matters as he sees fit. In the end both Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce are very focused on making sure that we put Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future and on preventing Bill Shorten becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia, because that would be very bad for families around Australia who would be exposed to less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs and lower wages.
FRAN KELLY: Let us go to the next Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, it looks like it will be Michael McCormack, he will be the new National Party Leader and that brings with it the role of Deputy PM. Why should a group of just 21 Coalition MPs, the Nats party room, get to choose who is the Deputy Prime Minister and therefore Acting Prime Minister when the PM is away?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the Coalition, we have a Coalition of the Liberal and National Party, which is one of, if not the most successful political partnership in the history of Australia. We have had 95 odd years of very close, positive and productive cooperation for the benefit of the Australian people behind us. We have got many, many more years to come of providing good, competent Government and delivering for the people of Australia, including and in particular people of regional Australia…interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: But why should they be the Deputy Prime Minister. A lot of people, I am getting lots and lots message saying who is this person, who is Michael McCormack, they have never heard of him and he will be the Deputy Prime Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Michael McCormack has been in Parliament now for just over seven years. He is a very decent, fierce advocate for rural and regional Australia. All of us, when we step up into higher office and higher responsibilities, people then get to know us and that is going to be the same on this occasion as it is for all of us. None of us start off with the same profile that we finish off with after a period of contribution. Michael McCormack, if the National Party ends up choosing him as Leader will do an excellent job. He will be a very effective Deputy Prime Minister. I know him very well. I have worked with him closely, including and in particular in the Finance portfolio since we came into Government in 2013. If that is who the National Party chooses, I am sure he will make an outstanding Deputy Prime Minister.
FRAN KELLY: All this has sort of raised a lid a little for people, Australians generally about the relationship within the Coalition between the Nats and the Liberal Party. In terms of transparency and accountability, why shouldn’t the Coalition agreement, which is the agreement signed between the two Parties, why shouldn’t that be made public? Isn’t that a good idea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are entirely open and accountable in relation to the policies we are pursuing on behalf of the Australian people. That is something that we are scrutinised on in the Parliament day in, day out, scrutinised by the media day in, day out. The Coalition agreement covers as Bridget McKenzie quite rightly pointed out, a number of administrative arrangements between the Liberal and National Parties about our involvement together in Government…interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: And policy matters.
MATHIAS CORMANN: People know for example very clearly that part of the Coalition agreement is that the National Party provides the Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Government. It is not as if that is something that somehow has escaped people.
FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, it is quarter to eight, our guest is Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Your proposed tax cut for big business has hit a bit of a brick wall in the Senate. Now we read Pauline Hanson is ruling out One Nation’s support, she does not buy your argument that lower taxes will mean higher investment and higher wages. Is that it for your company tax cut, at least for this term of Parliament?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I hope not. We must, families around Australia absolutely need us to ensure that all businesses can have access to a globally competitive business tax rate. If we do not pass our business tax cuts in full, we will miss out on investment, we will miss out on growth, we will miss out on jobs and higher wages. We cannot force our businesses including bigger businesses to compete with businesses in other parts of the world who have the advantage of a lower business tax rate. For us to put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage will make it harder for them to be successful. Self-evidently less successful businesses will only be able to hire fewer people and pay them lower wages…interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: With respect though Minister, you have been saying this for a long time and the polls suggest that the people do not support it. The Courier Mail reports this morning that your proposed income tax cuts, which you have announced this year, could be bigger, could be wider to more households and could come sooner, brought forward to this year. Have you come to that conclusion that you need to do that for all Australians before you cut tax for big companies?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The piece in the Courier Mail is a pre-Budget speculative piece as we get in the lead up to every Budget….interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: Is it right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All we have said and which is also what I am quoted as saying in that article is that we are committed to both, reducing our business tax rate for all businesses to 25 per cent and that we are committed to personal income tax cuts. Which is something that the Prime Minister has made clear for some time, the Treasurer has made clear for some time and I have also on behalf of the Government argued for…interrupted.
FRAN KELLY: But the Government was indicating to us it would be a confined personal income tax cut. Is it going to be bigger? Is there a $12 billion windfall from commodity prices?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I actually do not agree with what you have just said. What the Government has said all the way through and what I have said all the way through on behalf of the Government, among others, is that we will always ensure that taxes are as low as possible, as high as necessary to pay for the important services provided by Government, but as low as possible and that we are currently working our way through what is responsibly affordable. We will provide personal income tax cuts to the extent that we can. That has always been the position. When it comes to business, you have to remember, big business does not operate in a vacuum. Big business buys goods and services from small business. Big business employs more than four million Australians today. We cannot put big business in a position where they are at a competitive disadvantage with other parts of the world because it will cost us investment, it will cost us jobs.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us on breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.