Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
ALAN JONES: Last time I spoke to him he was the acting Prime Minister but Mathias Cormann has actually joined me here, the West Australian, right here beside me. And I have to say, whether we agree or not it is always good to hear from a senior figure in the Government, in the public place, prosecuting the case. Now he is here, with a little bit of a broken accent as you know and that is relevant to my first question because he was born in Belgium. It is clear from the accent that he has come to Australia. Good morning and thank you for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning Alan. It is good to be here. Good morning to your listeners.
ALAN JONES: Thank you. It is very kind of you and very courteous of you. But on the Alan Tudge speech yesterday and I know it is not your portfolio area, but you were born in Belgium. You have come to Australia and you are articulate in the presentation of your views and so on. People are asking one simple question. How can anyone get into Australia who can’t speak English.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We certainly believe that for migrants coming to Australia to be successful, they need to speak English competently. That is why we believe it is important that migrants coming to Australia are supported if they are non-English speakers are supported in improving their English skills to be successful.
ALAN JONES: But should someone be coming to Australia if they can’t speak English?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are a range of requirements for you to come to Australia. Our focus in terms of migration is skilled migration, but there is family migration. In the context of family migration people do not necessarily speak English when they first come here. But as part of integrating successfully and as part of making a successful contribution in your adopted country, learning the English language properly is a very important part.
ALAN JONES: But see people listening to you will say two things. One, they should learn that before they get here. That is the first thing. Just taking it, not to a related issue, but jihadis. They are saying if a person goes overseas and wants to fight against us, fight for the other mob and then suddenly decide they want to come back, no you have lost your chance. Don’t you think that these are the issues that need to be made clearly for the polls to be turned around? I am telling you yesterday, the phones were in meltdown here and the correspondence about people being allowed into the country who can’t speak English. Now, as an ancillary question do you think there are people manning our immigration posts around the world who are dedicated to accepting only migrants with Australian values and migrants who speak English? Or is there something wrong with our immigration posts?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe that there is something wrong with our immigration posts. We have a very robust border protection system in place. We are very careful in terms of the types of migrants that we invite into Australia. Predominantly our immigration system is focused on attracting the skills we need to continue to develop our economy. But there is a component that is related to family reunion, whether that is Australians who marry people from other parts of the world etc, etc. It is a non-discriminatory migration system.
ALAN JONES: But how can people integrate if they can’t speak English language. Now Alan Tudge’s speech yesterday said in East Dandenong there are sort of what seventeen or eighteen per cent of them that can’t speak English. How do you integrate if you can’t speak English?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, that is why appropriate supports have to be provided and are provided. There are different components. Refugees coming here, escaping violence and other challenges in other parts of the world. We have a very generous refugee intake. Again, we have the appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that people that come here are appropriate to come here to Australia. We are … interrupted
ALAN JONES: Do you think jihadis should be allowed back into Australia?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our focus should always be on preserving our national security. There are very strict safeguards in place that are seriously enforced. You are really taking me outside my area of expertise here now though.
ALAN JONES: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you are a person as well. An Australian.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, sure. I am indeed. But I am also a member of the Government who should not be straying too far into Peter Dutton’s portfolio … interrupted
ALAN JONES: I am going to stray to the welfare portfolio because I am only talking principles here. You see last week we had this debate, where your Government was trying to get legislation through the Parliament for the drug testing of welfare recipients. And basically again, people who are going to vote for you or not vote for you are saying I don’t understand this. It is a simple argument, this is taxpayers’ money, of course the Government should be able to make rules as to how you qualify. And shouldn’t we be prosecuting that case, which says that if you want taxpayers money, you will play by the Government’s rules. If you don’t like the Government’s rules don’t take the money.
MATHIAS CORMANN: On drug testing, the case is very simple. If somebody is on welfare who can work they should work. If you have a chronic drug problem then that is going to make it harder for you to get back into work. That is why if you have a chronic drug problem which is identified by drug testing, then you should get the necessary support to get rid of that drug problem, so you can have a better chance to get back into work. In the end, anyone on welfare who is of working age, who is otherwise healthy, should get back into work as soon as possible. If there is something that prevents you from getting back into work, we need to address it. That is what that is all about.
ALAN JONES: But shouldn’t we be saying to people ‘drug taking is illegal, if you want to act illegally you are not entitled to the welfare’. Isn’t that the way to go about it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Drug taking is illegal. But in the end you do want to ensure that people can be supported back into work and into a normal life. In the end, you do not want to make the problem worse, you want to make the situation better.
ALAN JONES: Just on IR again, the Government and therefore us, we are all in trouble here. The Fair Work Commission showing its true colours this week, approved a merger between the CMFEU and the Maritime Union of Australia, our two most extreme left wing militant unions. So we will now have, if nothing happens between now and the 27th of March, we will now have a new super union with combined assets of $310 million, annual revenue of $146 million. And it seems as though your Government is saying you are impotent to stop it. You have got this Bill, a long winded title, but it is an accurate title, Fair Work Registered Organisations Amendment Ensuring Integrity Bill, designed to put the brakes on mergers such as this, that is where the Fair Work Commission will have to take into account the criminal conduct of unions and so on. However, the Bill was passed in the Reps last year, it was introduced to the Senate, it has never been put to a vote.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Essentially, the situation is that we do not have the support in the Senate to pass it.
ALAN JONES: How do you know?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We know because for example the Nick Xenophon Team have indicated that they are opposed to it. Labor and the Greens are opposed to it. On that basis, we have not got the numbers to get it through. We are very concerned about all of this by the way. This is a very concerning development. We have now got this massive union, controlling hundreds of millions of dollars of funds, which has control effectively over the entire supply chain from the mine to the port. From a public interest point of view we are concerned. You have to remember it was the Rudd Government in 2009 that removed the public interests test from relevant workplace relations legislation, which would have forced the Fair Work Commission to consider whether it is in the public interest for this sort of merger to occur. We have been trying to reintroduce this public interest test. But in the Senate we need nine Crossbench Senators to support any legislation, which Labor and the Greens oppose.
ALAN JONES: Yeah, but politically Mathias and strategically if I were advising the Government, politically and strategically, I would put it to a vote and I would prosecute the case, let them vote against. You then go into the public place and say ‘this is what we are trying to do in the interest of Australia, this is what this crowd are opposing’ and then we would have a candidate in the Batman by-election. Can I ask you a question on that? Who would stand up and say, ‘well you want to vote for this lot, this is what they are about, they want to sanction a powerful union which behaves illegally against your interests and this mob are on your side’. Shouldn’t we have a candidate in Batman?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I do not want to escpae the question, but it is a decision that is made by the party organisation at a local level. Batman has forever been a safe Labor seat. It has become more marginal under Bill Shorten’s leadership against the … interrupted
ALAN JONES: But you have got a story to tell. Wouldn’t you use the opportunity to tell the story to the nation? The focus will be on Batman.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor would not run a candidate in a by-election in a very safe Liberal seat … interrupted
ALAN JONES: Oh bugger them, we are worried about you people.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, in general elections you run because there is a relationship between the vote in the Lower House and in the Upper House … interrupted
ALAN JONES: But just on the amalgamation, wouldn’t you say ‘let’s have a vote, alright you lot, come on vote against this, away you go and we will be telling all of Australia every day we open our mouths what you have voted against’.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do that every day on a whole series of issues. But there are so many issues where Labor is acting against the national interest, every single day. In the workplace relations space, Michaelia Cash has got massive reforms through the Senate. Hotly contested. Whether it is the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission or… interrupted
ALAN JONES: But then your leader took the portfolio away from her. She is highly successful and your leader took the portfolio away from her, I mean I do not understand it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: She has landed a whole range of reforms. In the Senate she is still responsible in that space.
ALAN JONES: You are out there every day doing this, but shouldn’t the whole Coalition by prosecuting this case to everybody. I would venture to say a whole stack of people do not know what the risk is, they mustn’t. The polls are out there, we are heading for the 30thconsecutive poll where the Government, the Coalition is going to be annihilated and they are just opening the door of the Lodge to Bill Shorten. Does the party room understand the gravity of the position that you are in?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had a very difficult couple of weeks. We are working very hard every single day to make our case on why we have a better plan for the economy and jobs and why Labor’s approach, Bill Shorten’s approach would cost jobs, would cost investment, lead to lower growth, less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs and lower wages. That is the case that we are making every day. Between now and the election, which is still more than a year away, we are looking to persuade people that our way is the right way forward.
ALAN JONES: Well just on that, yesterday, your Government, not you, your Government was proudly boasting a record year, I will use the words for small scale renewable energy and that rooftop solar installations with a capacity of 1057 megawatts were installed, 41 per cent increase on what was installed. Your Government is boasting about this. No mention of the subsidies and how these record installations are going to push household electricity price bills higher. The subsidies were $980 million on these record solar installations. How do you win the argument that Labor are dangerous in relation to energy pricing when we are out there boasting that the very things that they are arguing, renewable energy, are what we are arguing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are arguing that our approach to energy should be technology neutral, that we should increase supply so we can bring down the prices … interrupted
ALAN JONES: Well it is not that, it is not.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have discussed last week, when it comes to our energy policy framework, we want to bring an end to the subsidies. Our National Energy Guarantee is bringing an end to subsidies. The renewable energy target would come to an end as of 2020. That is part … interrupted
ALAN JONES: You might not be in government, that is the problem.
MATHIAS CORMANN: …that is part of our approach.
ALAN JONES: But see Mathias, you are on television, not you, your Government advertising last night you are investing in battery storage. Now South Australia reckons they have got the world’s biggest battery storage. It is a complete con job. It cannot even supply one per cent of South Australia’s electricity and then only for a few minutes and here is the Government running ads promoting battery storage and renewable energy, the very stuff that Weatherill is talking about in South Australia and that Shorten is talking about now. You are saying, ‘oh well, with Labor you will be run over by a concrete truck, with us, you will just be run over by a bus’. But what is the difference, you are run over?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not right. Under our approach, we are already bringing down the cost of electricity. Wholesale electricity prices are already coming down. The forecasts are for retail electricity prices to come down. Our approach will lead to a more reliable energy supply, more stability in the system and lower prices. The truth is, there is a significant proportion of energy that comes from renewable sources. There is a problem that when the wind does not blow and the sun does no shine there is a reliability problem. You do need to back up renewable energy with storage capacity in the form of battery and otherwise. That is something that has to be part of a holistic approach. But we need to ensure that the policy approach is technology neutral to attract more investment … interrupted
ALAN JONES: Does that mean more investment into coal fired power stations?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We need to attract more investment into coal, into gas… interrupted
ALAN JONES: You can’t if the other mob are subsidised. We had that debate last week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I am saying to you, under our proposed approach, the subsidies for all energy sources would come to an end. We want to ensure that we attract additional investment into generation across all energy sources.
ALAN JONES: We always run out of time, but we will meet again next week. People out there listening to you are just terrified that the door to The Lodge is being opened to the Labor party. Now, the Coalition are not in Batman, but it is a Victorian seat and here we have in the two weeks out from that election, Daniel Andrews who is the Premier, who on the polls today is a mile in front in Victoria, offering Melbourne firefighters a 196 days leave a year, so they work for a 170, carers leave for nieces and nephews and a 19 per cent pay rise. Don’t you reckon it would be a golden opportunity to get into the ring in Batman and just say, ‘well here we are, this is a metaphor of Labor, this is what you are going to get if you support these people’ and over and over again. Just as you have been doing with company tax, boring people rigid you have been talking about company tax, but it is working. They are now starting to understand we have to have company tax cuts, when you are sick of saying it, they are starting to hear it. Haven’t you missed a golden opportunity in Batman to address things like what Andrews has done this week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We address this every day. Under Bill Shorten, spending would go up, the deficit and debt would go up and taxes would go up. Higher taxes would mean less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs, that is higher unemployment queues and lower wages. All of our policies are designed to increase the level of investment so we can have stronger growth, more jobs, higher wages over time. That will be good for revenue to cover the expenditure that we need to incur. We are making that case every single day. In Victoria, Matthew Guy and his team, I am sure, will work very hard to ensure that the people of Victoria understand all of the deficiencies of the Andrews Government before they cast a vote later this year.
ALAN JONES: Alright and One Nation, before we go, just one final thing on company tax. Have you been able to persuade Pauline Hanson to come on to your side on company tax cuts?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Pauline Hanson and I continue to talk. To give Pauline Hanson her dues, she is open minded enough to engage with me positively and constructively, which is more than can be said about the Labor party. Bill Shorten knows what is the right thing to do here. Bill Shorten knows that we need a globally competitive business tax rate because it would be wrong for us to disadvantage Australian businesses compared to businesses in other parts of the world that have a much lower business tax rate. Bill Shorten has refused to engage on this. Pauline Hanson is engaging with us. But, we are continuing the conversations.
ALAN JONES: Good on you. It is good to talk to you. We will talk again next week. It is always good for the public out there, the voter to hear where you are coming from, what you stand for. We are very, very grateful for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you Alan.