Sky News – AM Agenda

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia






John Howard, National Energy Guarantee, GST distribution, Ensuring Integrity Bill

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now the Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate as he does every Friday, Mathias Cormann. Thanks so much for your time.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

KIERAN GILBERT: And another intervention from the very much respected elder John Howard. He has basically exhorting all Liberals to remember they carry the hopes and aspirations of millions of supporters around the country. The antics of the Monash Forum would not have been in line with that exhortation from the former PM would it? The behaviour of those individuals this week.

MATHIAS CORMANN: We all greatly admire John Howard. I greatly admire John Howard and his advice is spot on. We do have a responsibility, not only to our supporters, we have a responsibility to our country and to all Australians to continue to implement our plan to put Australia on the strongest possible economic and fiscal foundation for the future and to ensure our country is as safe and secure as possible. That is what we are doing. We are the custodians of a set of values and principles and policies that will help families around Australia to get ahead, by boosting growth, generating more investment, more jobs and higher wages. Whereas the socialist agenda pursued by Bill Shorten, higher taxes, more government spending, more red tape, less trade, higher energy costs would lead to less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs and lower wages and of course a less secure Australia, because he would not be able to stop the chaos at our borders coming back as a result of Labor’s weak approach on border protection.

KIERAN GILBERT: But you obviously have been leading the economic debate, among others and there is a case there to be made. John Howard thinks you can win on that front. If and he says this, they have got to work together in a far more purposeful way than has been evident in the last few months. It must frustrate you to see the sort of ham-fisted politics of some of these disgruntled members of your party this week?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me say, I had the privilege of having a conversation with John Howard yesterday. We reflected on the fact that back in early 2001 the Howard government was 57-43 behind in the polls. The Labor party in Opposition then, as Bill Shorten and his colleagues are doing now, were already measuring the curtains in The Lodge and checking out what carpets they want to lay down. The record shows that John Howard won the election later that year, and indeed because of a strong, purposeful and disciplined team effort focussing on the alternative agendas for the future of our country. There is no question in my mind that Australia needs a continuation of the good economic policies of the Turnbull Government, of the sound policies to secure our borders and to ensure that our national security is maximised, pursued by the Turnbull Government and that Australia does not need the discredited, left wing, anti-growth, anti-opportunity policies pursued by Bill Shorten, which would leave every Australian poorer. There is no question that we have the opportunity to win. I believe we have a responsibility to families around Australia to put our best foot forward to win, by working as a disciplined and united team. If we do that, I believe absolutely that we not only can win, but that we will win.

KIERAN GILBERT: Onto the Monash Forum proposal itself and that is a taxpayer funded coal-fired power plant. John Howard while he believes there has been a distortion in favourable of renewables in recent years, he says that is not a job for the Government. What’s your view on that central proposal, because really the rest of the argument made by that group of individuals, really the Government has already, and the Prime Minister is in line with, you have to say, except for that one proposal of a taxpayer funded coal-fired power plant.

MATHIAS CORMANN: John Howard’s view is the Government’s view. It is my view, it is the Cabinet’s view and it’s actually the party room’s view too. Because we did go through a very comprehensive process, initially through the energy sub-committee of the Cabinet taking advice from expert like those on the Energy Security Board. We did consider it through the Cabinet process. We did consider it in a very substantial discussion in the party room, where our proposal for a National Energy Guarantee received the overwhelming support of the party room. We have to remind ourselves, the National Energy Guarantee actually delivers all of the things that we need to give coal the best possible chance to continue to be economically viable into the future, but without getting the Government into the business of actually using taxpayers money to build a coal-fired power station, which would be inappropriate. As part of the National Energy Guarantee, we would be removing all subsidies on any energy generation technology. It would be technology agnostic. It would level the playing field. Of course coal will continue to play an important part of our energy generation moving forward. Our interest is on making sure that we can make energy supplies as affordable as possible and as reliable as possible while also meeting our emissions reduction targets, which we signed onto in the period of the Abbott Government incidentally, when I was part of his Cabinet. But beyond that it is going to be a matter for the market to determine how we can best ensure that we can have as affordable and as reliable an energy supply as possible. Coal is going to be part of that mix.

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Turnbull this morning has been out making the case that he has restored traditional Cabinet government and economic leadership and so has met some of the measures that he has set on the day that he challenged Tony Abbott. But the one that is causing the headaches is the thirty Newspolls. That’s looming on Monday. What’s the way you need to respond to that in order to get past that mark?

MATHIAS CORMANN: As far as I am concerned, as far as the Government is concerned, we do not get distracted by commentary and political analysis of others. We have a job to do. We focus on delivering outcomes and by any measure the Turnbull Government has been extremely successful in delivering outcomes. If you look at the number of savings that we have been able to pass through the Parliament. If you look at contested reforms like the re-introduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the introduction of the Registered Organisation Commission, substantial reforms to our superannuation taxation arrangements, the initial three years of our enterprise tax plan, reducing the business tax rate for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million. Where ever you look we are making progress and delivering results. The results in the economy are there for all to see, more than 400,000 new jobs, wages growth is picking up, the Budget is on a credible path back to surplus. We have a job to do for the Australian people. At the time of the next election we will present ourselves presenting our record of achievement to the Australian people, presenting our plan for the future and outlining the risks with the alternative if shifty socialist Bill Shorten were to be elected as Prime Minister of Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: When it comes to the return of Cabinet government as the Prime Minister has argued and you have articulated and proper procedures are back in place. Kevin Andrews, former Minister in the Abbott Government was on with Peta Credlin last night, here on Sky News and questioned the policy debate within the party room, says that it needs to be given more prominence, that it has been put to the end of the party room meetings and often falls off the agenda. Do you have sympathy for his line of argument on that front for a greater focus on policy within the party room and with the backbench?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Every member of the party room at any time can stand up and raise issues in the party room. Senior Members of Parliament like Kevin Andrews of course have that opportunity to make that point inside the party room. Let me say that in relation to the National Energy Guarantee and the reforms we are putting forward to put downward pressure on electricity prices and improve reliability, there was a substantial debate in the party room on that. Josh Frydenberg put forward a substantial presentation. There was extensive opportunity for every colleague to ask questions, to express their view and at the end of it, while there was not unanimity as you wouldn’t expect, there was overwhelming, audible overwhelming support for the approach put forward by the Prime Minister and by the Energy Minister. There is no question that the approach that we are pursuing is right for Australia, has got the overwhelming support of the party room and that what has emerged this week was essentially an attempt to re-litigate something that has previously very comprehensively been settled, which will help to secure the necessary energy supplies in a way that will bring prices down and improve reliability while also helping to ensure that we meet our emissions reductions commitments.

KIERAN GILBERT: Last week the Government put on the backburner the public interest test on union mergers. Just in relation to this, it is generating a lot of coverage today. Is this a permanent abandoning of a public interest test or is this still your focus?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Any suggestion, as I have read in the paper today, that somehow the Government abandoned the re-introduction of a public interest test on union mergers is false. We remain 100 per cent committed to that proposal. Craig Laundy and the team and all of us are working very hard to secure the necessary support in the Senate. Some people in the last sitting fortnight, which was a short fortnight, wanted us to press ahead without the necessary support in the Senate. Now the Government does not have the numbers. At any time we have a long list of high policy priorities that we need to get through the Parliament. This last fortnight we were able to bank a further $400 million worth of welfare savings. We were able to deal with a whole series of other very critical, time sensitive legislation through the Senate. If we had pressed ahead without the necessary support in the Senate on contested legislation like that one, we would have spent either the whole two weeks of just dealing with that and not dealing with anything else, or it would have gone down on the spot, forcing us to start from scratch. The legislation is still in front of the Senate. We continue to work to secure the necessary support and as soon as we do, we will press ahead. Let me say we have a very strong track record when it comes to industrial relations. We did bring back the Australia Building and Construction Commission to deal with lawlessness in the construction sector and we did introduce the Registered Organisation Commission to force union officials and other officials in registered organisations to comply with the same accountability arrangements as company directors.  

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay and finally a tough one for you as the most senior, or one of the, along with Julie Bishop of course, but one of the senior Liberals from WA. 47 per cent of the state’s GST is returned to WA, still under the current distribution of the GST will you have something more positive to tell the Liberal voters and constituents in WA before the next election in relation to the way that this is all done?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Turnbull Government has taken action in terms of short term measures by providing more than $1.2 billion worth of top up payments to Western Australia so far in recognition of the unacceptably low GST share to WA. We have also intimated a Productivity Commission review as an avenue to pursue more medium to long terms reforms of the GST sharing arrangements, with a view to maximising national productivity and growth. That review is due to report in the middle of May and the Government will consider any recommendations and have more to say about that at the end of that process.

KIERAN GILBERT: And before the election just to confirm that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is the intention. We are getting the report by the middle of May. The Government will consider it in the aftermath of that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, no worries. Finance Minister, thanks as always. Talk to you soon.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth