Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
FRAN KELLY: There is no doubt about it, the major parties were the big winners at the ballot box on the weekend, easily fending off aggressive challenges by smaller outfits. In South Australia, Nick Xenophon’s audacious bid to hold the balance of power fizzled. His party won no seats. The Liberal party wining strongly enough in its own right to end sixteen years of Labor government. And in the Batman by-election in Melbourne, the Greens had been in the box seat to win this inner city electorate, but in the end they suffered a three per cent swing to Labor’s Ged Kearney. Both results will have an impact on the political landscape in Canberra. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Mathias Cormann, welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good Morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: So Saturday was a good day for the Liberal party in South Australia and good day of Labor in Batman. The minor parties failed. Do you think this marks any kind of turning point when it comes to Australia’s flirtation with minor parties and independents?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Saturday was a very good day for Steven Marshall and his team. The people in South Australia strongly endorsed the plan that he took to the election. Indeed, they voted with their feet for lower electricity prices, reliable energy and for our joint approach to energy policy, which is designed to deliver ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: I will come to that in a minute, but what I am asking for is a bigger picture view I suppose from you on what you think this says about the fracturing of the national vote and the strength of the minor parties, because there was a thought that the major parties, that primary votes are suppressed that they could be under threat here by the minor parties. That didn’t eventuate over the weekend.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave commentators to be commentators. As far as I am concerned, Saturday was a great day indeed for the people of South Australia who have elected a great team, with Steven Marshall as the incoming Premier who will focus on working with the Turnbull Government on delivering lower electricity prices, more reliable energy and to do so in a way that is environmentally as efficient as possible.
FRAN KELLY: Now we always go looking for federal implications from State elections and usually don’t find them. Is the same in this case, beyond the failure of the three minor parties, the Greens, SA Best and the Australian Conservatives, is there much to this beyond the it’s time factor, after all the Liberals in South Australia had a bigger vote than Labor four years ago but couldn’t put it together in the right seats. This result was long overdue I guess.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has been a long period of Labor government. The State Labor government in South Australia had been struggling for some time and had been taking the State of South Australia in the wrong direction. Steven Marshall and his team, all credit to them, they have been working as a strong and disciplined and united team, putting forward a clear and strong alternative plan. The people of South Australia put their trust in them. It is now a matter for our team to deliver in South Australia.
FRAN KELLY: Let us go the National Energy Guarantee because it will be easier, you would think, for your Government now to deliver that, because Jay Weatherill was one of the hold out states against it. Steven Marshall and South Australia will support it. Do you expect all the others States to sign up when they meet around the COAG table in April?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We hope they will, because we want to deliver lower electricity prices, more reliable energy supplies and we want to do so mindful of our commitments to reduce emissions that we have signed onto in Paris. It was disappointing that under the previous administration, the South Australian State Government did not come on board. Now there will be new opportunity here. We look forward to working with the Marshall Government on making sure that people across the national electricity market will be able to benefit from lower electricity prices and more stable and more reliable energy supplies.
FRAN KELLY: One of Jay Wetherill’s criticisms of the National Energy Guarantee was that it was not ambitious enough in terms of its emissions reduction target. We spoke earlier this morning with energy advisory firm Reputex, they have got some modelling out estimating a further eight gigawatts of investment in renewables will come on stream by 2030, under what they describe as a do nothing scenario. This will be provided by States like Queensland and Victoria’s renewable energy targets. That will essentially double renewable energy capacity to sixty gigawatts by 2030. Doesn’t this mean that the 26-28 per cent emissions reduction target for this sector will be redundant and it can go much further than that under the NEG?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Energy policy is one of the big failures of the previous State Labor Government in South Australia. The people of South Australia voted with their feet. They voted against their failed approach when it comes to energy policy ... interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But I am talking about within the National Energy Guarantee, can you now be more ambitious.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Within the National Energy Guarantee, we are very ambitious about bringing down the price of electricity, about making sure that there are reliable energy supplies which will keep the lights on. Remember Jay Weatherill actually ended up with his State, his entire State with a blackout, an energy blackout. He was not able to keep the lights on. His excessive and ideologically driven pursuit of excessive renewable energy targets without, for example, focussing on the need for storage, without focussing on the need to deal with the challenge that comes with intermittent energy supplies - the results were there for all to see. Now as far as we are concerned, we are technology agnostic. We want to deliver reliable, affordable energy supplies. We want to do so in a way that helps us meet our emissions reductions target, but it is a matter … interrupted
FRAN KELLY: But can you be more ambitious in those targets now if this RepuTex modelling in correct and all this extra un-considered, it has been outside of the equation, this extra renewable energy coming on stream from the states?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fran, I am not going to speculate on hypotheticals. What I am putting to you is that our number one priority is to bring down the price of electricity and to deliver better energy stability, better reliable energy supplies. We will do so in delivering on our emissions reduction targets, as we have in the past.
FRAN KELLY: Let us go to Batman, a seven and a half per cent swing to Ged Kearney and Labor on the primary vote. A two-party preferred swing, more than three per cent. A strong result for Labor just days after Bill Shorten announced he would be scrapping cash refunds for people with excess franking credits. It looks like your scare campaign against that policy has not worked.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not know that you can assess the outcome in Batman on that basis. Batman historically is a safe Labor seat. The Greens have been at each other’s throat for most of the campaign, which was very off putting for people in that electorate. You have got to say objectively, Ged Kearney is a strong candidate in a seat of that nature. Ged Kearney herself was somewhat critical of the policy that Bill Shorten put out last week, suggesting that there was room to keep changing it. That is clearly something that people in Batman would have heard. It is a safe Labor seat. Historically it has been a safe Labor seat for time in memoriam. The Greens were particularly unattractive at this election given the level of infighting on the ground in the lead up to that election.
FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann the Senate sits this week. You have got a meeting, I understand scheduled for today with Pauline Hanson. Are you closing in on the numbers you need on the crossbench to get your company tax rate cut through and do you plan to put it to a vote in the next sitting fortnight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I meet with all representatives from all crossbench parties every time the Senate meets, during every Senate sitting fortnight. Yes, I am meeting with various crossbench Senators this fortnight, the same as I always do. We have the company tax cut legislation scheduled for this fortnight. It is a very important reform, designed to ensure that businesses across Australia are not disadvantaged with businesses around the world they compete with who have the advantage of significantly lower business tax rates … interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Do you feel like you are persuading Pauline Hanson, because six weeks ago she announced that they would not support the cut?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not have these conversations in public. I continue to engage with all crossbench Senators that are prepared to engage with me. I have certainly appreciated the way Pauline Hanson has engaged with the Government in relation to this reform. In the end if we want people across Australia to have the best possible opportunity to get ahead and we do, we need to ensure that the businesses that employ them have the best possible opportunity to be profitable into the future. This reform, making sure that our businesses are not disadvantaged compared to businesses in other parts of the world is a very important part of that.
FRAN KELLY: Do you plan to put it to a vote in the next fortnight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have scheduled to start the debate on Wednesday. Let us see how long the debate takes. It certainly would be our intention to have this voted on by the end of this fortnight.
FRAN KELLY: I understand you have employed the former head of the Minerals Council, Brendan Pearson to help lobby the crossbench on this. Why, why bring a businessman in to talk to the crossbenchers on your behalf?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Brendan Pearson was available. Yes he has joined my team on a temporary basis. It is essentially to support my efforts in providing answers to a whole series of questions that have been put to me. He is a very capable person with great experience. He has a strong policy mind. There is an additional workload here dealing with a whole range of, at times technical questions. He has been a good addition to the team to help me do that.
FRAN KELLY: Just finally on the issue of white South African farmers. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on the weekend there will be no special treatment when it comes to Australia’s humanitarian program. The push to give these farmers safe passage has originated from the Liberal party in WA, in your home state. Do you believe these farmers are being persecuted and do you believe that should have humanitarian visas to Australia fast tracked?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our humanitarian program is non-discriminatory. That means it is open to white South African farmers who feel persecuted on the same basis that it is available to others. We do have a very generous humanitarian program, last year we welcomed about 20,000 refugees to Australia, including in part because of the special intake of Syrian refugees who we have welcomed to Australia. The South African community in Western Australia is one of the many migrant communities that is making a great contribution. They are known in our community in Western Australia to be hard workers and to have very well integrated. The beauty about Australia is that we have migrants coming to Australia from all corners of the world … interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Is there a capacity to integrate quickly? Is that being considered? Does that put them at the top of the queue?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of being put at the top of the queue. It is a matter of being open in a non-discriminatory fashion to provide assistance to people facing persecution. As I understand it, Peter Dutton has asked his Department for some options on what might appropriately be able to be done here. He is best to continue to explain what he is intending to do and on what basis.
FRAN KELLY: Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.