Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. You can understand Josh Frydenberg might be losing a bit of patience though with Mr Abbott, given it is Mr Frydenberg who is trying to get that National Energy Guarantee secured and the undermining, well there is really no other way to put it, really continues from Mr Abbott when it comes to his push for a greater focus on coal.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Josh Frydenberg has done an outstanding job in putting the policy together in relation to the National Energy Guarantee, which is all about bringing power prices down, improving reliability and helping us meet the emissions reduction targets that we signed on to during the period of the Abbott Government in the most affordable and the most reliable way possible when it comes to energy supplies. That is a policy that was developed based on advice from the experts. It was decided by the energy sub-committee of Cabinet. It was considered and endorsed by the Cabinet and was considered in detail and comprehensively discussed by our Coalition party room and adopted as Coalition policy. Josh Frydenberg is implementing this, with the imprimatur of our party room, which overwhelmingly supports the policy that we have adopted and hat is very important that his is successful in doing it. Tony Abbott is just helping us make sure that we can properly explain the reasons why our policy approach is the right way forward for Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: And do you, well is it generally the view expressed by Josh Frydenberg this morning in a light hearted way, but he said it on the Nine Network, is it generally the view across the board that this is Mr Abbott’s approach?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All I can say is that we have talked and considered for a long time the right policy approach to energy for example. Our focus is on bringing energy prices down, making sure that energy is as reliable as possible, that we keep the lights on and that we are able to meet the emissions reduction targets that we signed onto during the period of the Abbott Government in the best, most efficient, lowest cost way possible. That is what we are doing. The arguments that Mr Abbott has been putting forward in recent times on policy are appropriately put forward in the context of the party room, which they were. They were considered. The party room overwhelmingly adopted as policy the recommendations put forward by the Prime Minister and by Josh Frydenberg.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, that’s true, but this week it hasn’t been in the party room it has been in the Latrobe Valley with lyrca on. It has been a very different approach.
MATHIAS CORMANN: By Tony continuing to pursue that argument, which he is entitled to do, an argument that was considered by the party room but rejected by the party room, obviously he enables us to explain very clearly to the Australian people why we believe it is important to provide certainty to investors, so that we can increase the level of energy generation, to provide certainty to investors when it comes to investment in energy generation in a technology neutral way. Removing the subsidies that have applied to renewable energy by the time the National Energy Guarantee comes into place. But also not investing taxpayers’ dollars into compulsory acquisition of privately owned coal-fired power generation businesses. That is not our way. That is not the way a Liberal National Government proposes to proceed. But he is entitled to express his views. That gives us the opportunity to explain why we do not think that is the right way forward for Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: I know. Well, you and Josh Frydenberg both chuckling about it this morning and it has got to that point given how transparent some of this stuff is. But it is interesting that just a couple of years ago, it was you and Josh Frydenberg sitting with Mr Abbott and his team trying to secure his leadership. Just a few years ago, you were both the most loyal individuals and yet you are having to repudiate his position today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Kieran, Josh and I we are team players. We know that in politics to make a difference for the Australian people, to achieve the best possible outcomes for the Australian people, to make sure that our economy is as strong as it can be, that as many jobs are created as possible, that our energy supplies are as reliable and as affordable as possible, all of these things the way to achieve them is by working as part of a team. You consider the issues. You consider the challenges that Australia faces, the opportunities to make a positive difference. You make a decision as a team. The place we make these decisions is inside our party room. Ultimately the Cabinet makes recommendations to the party room on the right way forward. There is the opportunity for a substantial discussion in the party room. We make a decision and then we move forward as a team. That is what Josh Frydenberg and I are doing. Ideally that is what all of the members of our team would be doing.
KIERAN GILBERT: And it is crucial isn’t it for the industry and for power supply in this country that there is some level of bipartisanship. But at least on the framework here, because if there is not, who is going to invest in assets, ten, twenty, thirty year life cycle of assets when we know that if Labor doesn’t win the next election they will probably win the one after, and then these investments can’t be made.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is precisely the point. It is a fair expectation that over the next thirty to forty years there will be at some point a change of government. I would like that to be later rather than sooner, but at some point over the next thirty to forty years there will be a change of government. Investors in very capital intensive energy generation will be looking for policy certainty. We have had a period now over ten, fifteen years where there has been too much policy uncertainty in this space. The Prime Minister has provided very strong leadership here, coming up with, together with Josh Frydenberg, with a policy framework that offers the opportunity for policy certainty so that we can attract more investment into energy generation. We need more investment in energy generation across all viable energy sources. That is increasing supply is the only way we will reliably reduce power prices and increase the stability and the reliability of our energy supplies.
KIERAN GILBERT: And those who are floating the idea of a taxpayer funded coal-fired plant for example aren’t recognising that fact are they. The fact if Labor did win the next election or the one after given it takes five to eight years to build one of those things, it would be over before it began.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We believe it is in our national interest to put forward and settle on an energy policy framework that facilitates long term investment in increased energy generation in Australia. That is in the interest of families, it is in the interest of business, it is clearly in our national interest. We are not getting distracted by essentially what are arguments that have been considered and that were lost inside our internal policy discussions some time ago.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Simon Benson reports, front page of The Australian today about the number for next year likely and this current year to be likely below, well below the 190,000 cap for immigration. Will you have to then revise down the revenue numbers in the Budget? Will it have that sort of flow on effect because that was the warning from the Treasurer Scott Morrison, that if you were to cut immigration too substantially it would have a flow on effect in terms of the bottom line.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No Kieran. The story by Simon Benson today is accurate, but it is not new. What we have said consistently all the way through is that we will not be changing the cap when it comes to net permanent migration, which sits at 190,000. What we have also consistently said is it is a cap, it is not a target. It is a matter of public record that in last year’s Budget we pursued the most substantial and most significant reforms to our temporary migration system for a very long time through the abolition of the 457 visa arrangements and replacing them with a temporary skilled migration visa in relation to critical skills shortages. When it comes to permanent migration, we have always said that this is an upper limit. We will continue to ensure that our laws are properly administered and properly implemented and the appropriate scrutiny is applied to ensure that we attract the right mix when it comes to permanent migration into Australia. That is nothing new. That is the way it has been under our Government all the way through.
KIERAN GILBERT: And as the Minister himself has pointed out, a big chunk of the increase has been foreign students, which I think from memory, that education sector is our third biggest export.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is in relation to the temporary migration. If you look at our temporary migration, the biggest number of temporary migrants to Australia are New Zealanders, followed by students, followed by tourists. Students and tourists in particular, the number of students and tourists coming to Australia have significantly increased in recent years under the period of our Government, which is a good thing because these are drivers of our economic growth. International education is our third biggest export earner. We of course want to attract more tourists to Australia so they can spend money here in our cafes, in our hotels and generally in our tourist facilities, because that helps create jobs. The most significant growth when it comes to migration into Australia in recent times has been in relation to students and in relation to tourists.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it time for the Government, on another front and a related front really given so many of those tourists are coming from China, is it time for the Government to try and smooth things over and to get the Prime Minister in to Beijing as quickly as possible because it seems like it is having a flow over effect and the Prime Minister conceded as much yesterday that things have been tense in that bilateral relationship.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our relationship with China is a very important relationship. The Prime Minister meets regularly with President Xi Jinping. Premier Li was in Australia not that long ago. From time to time, Australia is a sovereign nation and we pursue our national interests in relation to issues if and as they arise, as does China. From time to time there are issues that need to be worked through and there are a number of issues that need to be worked through at present. Mostly we believe based on some misunderstandings and perhaps some misrepresentations of what our motivations are in making sure that our internal political and Government processes are not subject to inappropriate foreign interference, which is not directed at any one country. It is a general proposition that we believe countries around the world appropriately pursue. There are some issues that need to be worked through and that will happen.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think some of the language has been misplaced in terms of references to Sam Dastyari, Shanghai Sam, things like that and Anthony Albanese this morning said some of the rhetoric has been overblown and guess what they noticed was the point that he made on the Nine network. Does some of the language need to be reined in even if we do take their foreign policy assertiveness very seriously and their militarisation of these reclaimed islands in the South China Sea and all that sort of stuff, the cyber issues. You could take it seriously on the one hand but maybe not over do the rhetoric on the other?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Sam Dastyari made a very serious error of judgement. The proof is in the pudding. He is no longer in the Senate as a result. He has been replaced by somebody else. So it is a bit rich for the Labor Party to try and now wag the finger when arguably Sam Dastyari and his actions were in part responsible for the issues that we now have to deal with in relation to the bilateral relationship. If he had not done what he had done, these issues would not have emerged the way they have.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in Senate Mathias Cormann, thanks, we will talk to you next week from the United States where you will be carrying out a visit. We will talk to you from Washington next week, thanks for that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Will do, looking forward to it.