Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Looks like you are close but not yet over the line?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We continue to work with all of the crossbench Senators in the Senate to secure their support, to convince them of the merit of our argument. Clearly it is the Government’s view that passing our business tax cuts in full is what is in the best interest of working families across Australia. We want to create more jobs. We want to ensure that there can be better job security, higher wages, better career prospects for Australians into the future. The only way we can achieve that is if the businesses around Australia who create jobs, who pay wages and who provide these career opportunities have the best possible opportunity to be successful and profitable into the future. Right now, by forcing Australian businesses into a position of competitive disadvantage compared to the businesses in most other parts of the world they compete with, who have the benefit of lower taxes, that is not sadly, the position we are in. We will continue to press ahead with helping to ensure that Australian businesses can successfully compete, so they can create more jobs and pay higher wages into the future. We will continue to make that case. We would like to see our legislation passed through the Senate next week.
QUESTION: What are you prepared to offer Senator Hinch to get his vote?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not ever conduct negotiations or discussions with my Senate colleagues through the media. I will not start today.
QUESTION: Minister, Donald Trump’s announcement overnight, the tariffs on China, how concerned are you with China ready to retaliate with a trade war and what it might mean for our economy and the world economy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We understand US concerns. We welcome the fact that the US is progressing their concerns through the multilateral framework, through the WTO. Beyond that, it is really a matter for some of my colleagues to comment on, the Minister for Trade and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
QUESTION: How would you characterise negotiations with the crossbench? Are they receptive to your argument? Are they tense? What is the sort of ...
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have very much appreciated the spirit and the positivity and the constructiveness of the engagement that we have been able to have with the Senate crossbench. Bill Shorten, you have to remember has taken an incredibly reckless and irresponsible approach to this. Bill Shorten in his heart of hearts knows that Australia needs to have a globally competitive tax rate. There is no one in Australia that has more succinctly and more eloquently argued for the need for lower business tax rates, including and in particular for big business, than Bill Shorten. If any of you have not seen Bill Shorten’s succinct and eloquent arguments in favour of lower business taxes, including for big business, I am happy to supply them to you. Bill Shorten knows what is the right thing to do here in the national interest. He has made a political decision. He has made a political decision that he believes that it is in his interest to thwart the Government implementing our economic agenda for Australia. He is acting as a spoiler. He is acting in a reckless fashion putting our economy and jobs at risk in the pursuit of his perceived political self-interest.
QUESTION: The wage growth that Treasury expects to see from this is capped at 1.4 per cent. Do you think that that number on face value is an impediment to getting a deal with the crossbench?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I tell you what, if we continue to put Australian business at a competitive disadvantage, we will not be talking about wages growth, we will be talking about wage reductions. If we continue to put Australian business at a competitive disadvantage we will lose investment, wealth and jobs overseas. The unemployment queues will increase. As the unemployment queues increase, wages will reduce. Bill Shorten’s reckless, socialist agenda is a recipe for less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs, more unemployment and lower wages. Our agenda is all about boosting investment, generating stronger growth, more jobs and higher wages. That is the contrast that we find ourselves in right now. If Bill Shorten wants to take this to the next election, promoting higher taxes on business which means higher taxes on jobs good luck to him.
QUESTION: Finance Minister, Mathias do you believe that Bill Shorten has questions to answer in relation to the rorts for votes scandal in Melbourne given that Noah Carroll is now the ALP secretary who was involved in the ALP hierarchy at the time that they were using those taxpayer funded staff to run their campaign field units?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have got to say, I am not across the specifics and the facts. I have seen the reports. On the face of it the reports are very concerning. There are some serious questions to be answered by those involved. But in the absence of being fully across the facts and the evidence, I am not prepared to say more.
QUESTION: Labor for refugees are having a debate in the lead up to the ALP conference in relation to refugee policy. They’re debating a call for Australia to have a 50,000 refugee intake. No doubt there will also be a discussion about boat turnbacks. Do you think Australia should boost its refugee intake?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is already very generous when it comes to welcoming refugees into Australia. Not only have we got a very generous intake generally, we have also increased that by about 12,000 in order to welcome about 12,000 Syrian refugees. We have got a very generous refugee program. Labor will always be weaker on borders than the Coalition. Not only have we stopped the boats, we have put in place a policy framework to protect our borders in the strongest possible way. If Labor were to get into Government our borders will become weaker again.
QUESTION: On the tax cut, how many crossbench Senators do you still need to get across the line? Is Pauline Hanson a hard and fast yes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I read the newspapers, the same as you. I read in the newspapers ... interrupted
QUESTION: Well maybe you can just tell us what the facts are?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I read in the newspapers that there are four crossbench Senators that have officially declared that they support our business tax cuts in full. You know that I need nine. I do not make it a habit to speak on behalf of others ... interrupted
QUESTION: So you are saying a deal hasn’t been reached with Pauline Hanson and One Nation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave it to others to explain their position when they are ready to do so.
QUESTION: Just on trade, just back on trade very quickly, will Australia be making its view known to China and the US about these latest tariffs and our view on free trade?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is entirely outside my area of responsibility. Let me just say in a general sense, Australia is an open trading economy. We are strong advocates and supporters of a system that promotes free markets and open trade. That is how in Australia and around the world, we have been able to lift living standards. It is good for Australia’s exporting businesses to be able to get the best possible access to markets around the world, to sell Australian products and services. It is good for Australian consumers to get competitively priced, high quality products from other parts of the world into Australia at the best possible prices. Beyond that I am not going to provide a running commentary. I will refer you to the Minister for Trade.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the role of Twiggy Forrest. I understand he was here yesterday, doing the Government’s bidding. What role has he played in this campaign for big business tax cuts? He and Alan Joyce and Wesfarmers, I understand has also been phoning around.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a matter of public record. The Business Council and some of the senior ... interrupted
QUESTION: But have you asked them to get involved?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may. You have asked me a question ... interrupted
QUESTION: I am just interested if you have asked ...
MATHIAS CORMANN: ... you could do me the courtesy of letting me answer ... interrupted
QUESTION: I am just interested in my question you have asked them to get involved?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may answer your initial question.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The most senior business leaders in Australia, the biggest employers in Australia, including Twiggy, have made the case that if the Senate were to pass business tax cuts in full, then they will invest more in Australia. That will mean more jobs and stronger wages growth as the tax cuts take effect. Now, have I engaged with business leaders around Australia in relation to our policy to make sure that Australia has a globally competitive business tax rate? Of course. I do not think that anybody would be surprised to hear that over the last few years, from time to time, as the Minister for Finance in the Federal Government of Australia that I talk to business leaders.
QUESTION: On the apprenticeships plan, when did you first hear about that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have seen speculation in the media. I have not confirmed any speculation in the media. If and when we are in a position to make announcements about a consensus having been reached, if a consensus is reached and on what terms, we will make those announcements at that time.
QUESTION: Your department has not run the numbers on it then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to comment on speculation.
QUESTION: Given the doubt and scepticism that the Government would actually get the full tax cut package passed, why do you think things have turned around and that the crossbenches are amenable to it. What has been the reason?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me say our Government never gets distracted by the commentary in the media. In the lead up to any major reform, my experience in the last four and a half years has been that there is always a lot of commentary in the media that it is impossible, it is not going to happen, it will not happen and here is more evidence that it will not happen. We just quietly keep working away. We keep engaging with crossbench Senators to explain the merit of our argument. But also, to try and understand what is important to them, so that there is an opportunity to find a consensus. That is what the Australian people expect us to do. They expect us to engage so that we can achieve outcomes. That is what we will continue to do, until hopefully we will get an outcome sometime next week.
QUESTION: Some crossbenchers are wanting guarantees that these tax cuts will translate into actual real wage growth. What kind of guarantees can you give them and the public.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The guarantee that I can give you is that if we make it difficult for business to be successful, we will lose jobs and we will end up with lower wages. A more profitable business will be able to invest more in their future growth, which means they will be able to hire more people and they will be able to pay them more in wages. If you have more businesses being more profitable competing for workers in the Australian economy, then that increased competition will force wages up. That has always been the driver for wages growth. But if we continue to put Australian business at a serious competitive disadvantage because we impose a materially higher business tax rate in Australia compared to the tax rate that applies in countries around the world, less successful, less profitable businesses would have to lay of people, would invest less. As more people join the unemployment queues there will be less competition for workers and wages will actually reduce. This is basic common sense. This is the sort of common sense that the Labor party under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating used to understand. Bill Shorten doesn’t get economics, which is why he would be an incredibly dangerous leader for Australia. If Bill Shorten ever becomes Prime Minister, given his lack of knowledge of economics, of basic common sense economics, it would damage our economy, it would kill jobs, it would kill investment in Australia.
QUESTION:I suppose the question is though, given that some Coalition MPs have raised the idea of this Hawke style accord where there was an agreement to actually deliver wage increases. Why have you rejected that because that might be away, for example to get Derryn Hinch’s support.
MATHIAS CORMANN: An interventionist approach by government in the economy is not a recipe for sustained economic success. What is a recipe for sustained economic success, for more jobs and for higher wages is to give businesses across Australia who employ nine out of ten working Australians the best possible opportunity to succeed and to be more profitable into the future. This is common sense. If we make it harder for business to be successful, if you make it harder for business to be profitable, there will be fewer jobs. As there are fewer jobs, there will be higher unemployment queues and there will be lower wages. If we make it easier for business to be successful, if we stop putting them at a competitive disadvantage, they will invest more, they will hire more people, there will be more competition for workers. As there is more competition for workers, wages will go up. If we were to intervene in the market by being prescriptive about these things, we will create inefficiencies which will cost money, which will increase the cost of doing business, which will actually make us less successful.
QUESTION: You have examined the idea then and rejected it then?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have asked me a question and I have answered it.
Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth