Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning, welcome to the program. First to Pauline Hanson, her appearance last night on the Bolt Report with Ben Fordham where she broke down over the efforts of Senator Brian Burston, accusing him of stabbing her in the back over the issue of company tax cuts. Let’s go live to the person trying to get these company tax cuts through the Upper House, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Thanks so much. What did you make of the Hanson appearance on Sky News last night?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is all very sad. I feel sorry for Pauline. Pauline is a good person. I have had very good engagement with her. From my point of view, it would be preferable if all three One Nation Senators remained committed to the consensus that we reached to support a globally more competitive business tax rate for Australian business, because not to do so will help businesses overseas take investment and jobs away from Australia. That is manifestly not in our national interest. We did some very good work, I thought. I had a lot of engagement, a lot of positive and constructive engagement with Pauline Hanson. She was at all times focussed on the public interest. I felt that we had found a way forward that would help ensure that businesses in Australia would be able to be globally more competitive, hire more Australians and pay them better wages, but we were also able to address a range of other issues. Brian Burston decided to stick to the commitments that were made to the Government and to the Australian people at the time. My preference would be for all three One Nation Senators to do the same.
KIERAN GILBERT: But if you can get two of them that would be better than just one. I want to ask you did you send a message to Senator Georgiou last night, highlighting a news report which had this reference to Pauline Hanson saying she had great people around her, naming Mr Roberts, Malcolm Roberts that is, Queensland One Nation leader Steve Dickson, but failing to mention Senator Georgiou. It has been put to me that you sent him a link to that news story highlighting that particular message from Hanson.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I engage with all of my Senate colleagues as appropriate from time to time. A number of them reach out to me in relation to a range of issues that are up for discussion. I am not talking through the media about my private conversations with any of my Senate colleagues. I think it would not surprise anyone that I engage with all of the non-Government crossbench Senators in relation to matters related to business tax cuts.
KIERAN GILBERT: Looks like your chances of negotiating with Hanson now are gone though. They see this within One Nation, they are pushing it around that they see your effort last night in texting Georgiou as meddling in their party at a low point for them. That is how they see it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not interested in meddling in anybody’s internal affairs. What I am interested in is getting important economic reform through the Senate, which is important for our future economic prosperity and success and for the opportunity for all Australians to get ahead. Right now, if we continue to impose higher taxes on business in Australia than is imposed in other parts of the world, we are putting Australian workers at a disadvantage, because we are helping businesses overseas take investment and jobs away. Individual Senators, including individual Senators from One Nation, have reached out to me over the weeks to discuss these matters. I do not think that anyone would be surprised by that. Of course there is a level of engagement there.
KIERAN GILBERT: And is this basically fair game as well, given Senator Hanson has dudded you on a previous commitment, in fact she has had four different positions this year.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again I am not going to go into the private conversations that take place in relation to these matters. Let me say earlier this year, a lot of hard work was done. A lot of hard work was done between the Government and Senator Hanson and her team. At the end of it, we reached a consensus which was in the national interest, which was in the public interest. Firm private and public commitments were made. What has emerged since then is a matter of public record. It is not in my interest for the One Nation party to split. What is in my interest and what is in the Government’s interest is for all three One Nation Senators to stick to the commitments they made.
KIERAN GILBERT: But if, if driving a split in a minor party like that does help you get the company tax cuts through, you would do it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I want to get all three One Nation Senators to continue to support good public policy, which helps Australian workers get ahead and which makes sure that Australian workers are not put at a competitive disadvantage with workers in other parts of the world.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now when you look at the rest of the crossbench, you are more likely aren’t you, to get an incremental increase in the tax cuts, to say $500 million because Hinch has said he would back that, but no more. Is this something that at the end of the day, if it is the best you can you do, you will take it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. We have been very clear. We now need to legislate all of the remaining business tax cuts. The reason is, if we were to put an artificial cap of $500 million in place, what it would mean is that you would put a ceiling on growth. You would provide an incentive for business to stay smaller and to hire fewer Australians because if a business were to earn one dollar above $500 million they would be taxed five per cent more on all of their taxable income from zero dollars upwards. That would mean that businesses would try to stay smaller, when what we want is for smaller businesses to become bigger so that they hire more Australians than they otherwise would.
KIERAN GILBERT: Labor looks like it might be thinking about passing the income tax cut plan, at least on that front you look like you are going to get that through, according to David Crowe’s report in the Fairfax press this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor should. Labor should not stand in the way of providing income tax relief to hard working families, prioritising low and middle income earners but also addressing bracket creep and simplifying our tax system. If the report is true, then we welcome it.
KIERAN GILBERT: And basically, they would then fight the third phase at the election, which of course it is not coming into effect until several electoral cycles down the track anyway. So they could get the best of both worlds in that sense.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If that is the approach they take, I would strongly encourage them to take the same approach on business tax cuts. They could respect the fact that we took them to the last election, pass them and allow us to get them through the Senate and then fight them at the next election. They could take precisely the same view. Our proposition is that if we do not lower our business tax rate in Australia to 25 per cent, given what has happened in the US, where it has gone to 21 per cent, in the UK it is going from 30 all the way down to 17 per cent, in France it is going from 33 to 25 per cent. We make the very clear point that if we continue to keep our business tax rate high then we put Australian workers at a disadvantage with workers in other parts of the world. Labor should support that and then go to the next election fighting against it, if that is what they want to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: When we look further afield, the trade tariffs confirmed overnight. What is your reaction to that? How much of a threat is that to the global economy, those tariffs out of the Trump Administration on the EU, Mexico and Canada?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We welcome the fact that the US has confirmed that Australia is exempt from tariffs on steel and aluminium. We have a very fair and open trade relationship with the United States. We are not a trans-shipment country. We know where our steel and our aluminium comes from. As I say, we engage in trade with the United States in a fair and open way. All of these others matters will continue to work themselves through, but we stand up for the Australian interest.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you say they will work through, it is obviously going to create a negative impact an create uncertainty of a spiralling trade war, that is the real risk here isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The United States is engaging with others around the globe. We are sure that that will continue.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. When you look at the episode this week in relation to Michaelia Cash, I want to ask you about her performance this week. Has she made a bad situation worse by simply not showing up when she should have to her various Parliamentary commitments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: She did show up. She was in front of the Senate Estimates Committee … interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: A bit late.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree. She appeared at Senate Estimates as scheduled. She made herself available to a very comprehensive press conference, answering questions. This was a Labor stunt this week. It was an AWU stunt. It was confected. At all times Michaelia answered the questions that were put to her. The reason the Labor party is going Michaelia so hard, they do not like her because she is so effective. That is what this is all about. They are trying to stop her from doing the many good things she does.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, Finance Minister I appreciate your time. We will catch you next week. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, talk to you soon.