Sky News – AM Agenda

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






By-elections, Fairfax/Nine merger, Energy

TOM CONNELL: Let us go to the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann for his take on things. Minister thanks very much for your time this morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

TOM CONNELL: It is an interesting situation. If you can win a couple of these seats, do you think it will give you a little bit more bargaining power with the Senate Crossbench and say “people are liking our plan, agree to the company tax cut”. Would that be an argument that you would put?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Look, no government has won a seat from an Opposition at a by-election in just about 100 years, so we are clearly very much the underdog. This is a matter now for the people in Longman, Braddon and Mayo. They have an opportunity to send a message to Bill Shorten that they do not like, they do not support his anti-business, anti-jobs, politics of envy, high taxing agenda. They have an opportunity to endorse a strong local voice in Government with Trevor Ruthenberg in Longman, Brett Whiteley in Braddon and Georgina Downer in Mayo.

TOM CONNELL: In Mayo it is looking like a landslide right now. Do you think this is more to do with your policies or the candidate?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Georgina Downer is an outstanding candidate and she has run a very good campaign. She is committed to the electorate of Mayo and the people of Mayo over the long term. She has given it a very, very good crack. We will see what happens. It is entirely a matter now for the people of Mayo to determine who they want to represent them for the remainder of this term. In the first half of next year there will be a general election, where the future Government for Australia will be determined by people right across Australia.

TOM CONNELL: If she is an outstanding candidate then that has to mean that in this formerly blue ribbon Liberal seat, that people are not responding to either perhaps the leader or the policies.

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not quite right. By-elections always have got pretty unique dynamics to them and that is of course why no Government in about 100 years has won a seat that the Government did not hold at a by-election. In fact it is usual that the incumbent Government of the day has a swing against it at a by-election. Mayo is a seat that we do not currently hold. Certainly Georgina Downer and her team have run a very good campaign. She is an outstanding candidate who would make a great representative for the people of Mayo in the Australian Government, but we understand and we always understood that in the context of a by-election this is a challenging battle.

TOM CONNELL: I want to move on to Fairfax and the merger yesterday. What did you make of this merger that has been announced or called a takeover by others?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Fairfax and Nine, two Australian media organisations with a great tradition, have made a decision that they would both be stronger together. They face a lot of competition, a lot of global online competition when it comes to the supply of information and opinion and so on. We have welcomed the development. It is still subject to shareholder approval. It is still subject to a review by the ACCC. So there is still a bit of water to go under the bridge, but we have welcomed the development.

TOM CONNELL: So stronger together, the message seems to be if we read between the lines that this is clearly a less diverse Australian media, but the Government seems to be saying “well it is better than Fairfax or Nine or both of them disappearing”. Is that the new reality now, we are going to have less diversity but have a few bigger companies stay on the scene?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject the proposition of less diversity. The landscape in Australia today in terms of the access to information and the diversity of opinion, we have got more diversity in Australia today than we have ever had…interrupted

TOM CONNELL: Well hang on, you have just had two major companies become one. That has to be a less diverse aspect surely?

MATHIAS CORMANN: If you look at the media landscape today and compare it to the media landscape in the 1980s there is no question that Australians today have got access to a much more diverse range of information than they did then. I saw those comments by Paul Keating that were reported earlier today. Let me say with the greatest of respect to a former Prime Minister, his views are outdated. Back in the 1980s when the previous media laws were put in place, we did not have the internet, we did not have that significant global online competition for media outlets, which media outlets in Australia and around the world in the traditional platforms of print, television and radio are facing today. This is a development of the times to ensure that media organisations in Australia with a great tradition have the opportunity for a strong future in an environment where there is much greater diversity of information available to people than there ever has been in the past.

TOM CONNELL: I guess there is a lot more diversity, it is a lot easier to publish online, but the issue is there is only so many organisations that can afford for example, for what is many the bedrock of journalism, investigative journalism, to be able to afford that. In that sense you have got one less player, these two becoming one. Would you agree with that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well it is a more substantial player who is able to develop bigger scale and put themselves in a stronger position to employ more Australian journalists, providing Australian perspectives with Australian voices. Surely that is something that everyone would welcome. Let us be straight about it. The media industry has faced increasing competition. There has been significant structural change, including and in particular because of changing customer needs and preferences and this is a response to that. ­­

TOM CONNELL: What about the broader aspect because the Government has spoken about these companies, they have become bigger, they can perhaps compete with huge international companies such as Google and Facebook. What about helping them at the level where right now if you search for an article on Google and click on it, they get most of the money even if Fairfax has generated that content. Do we need to look at that mix, the amount these big companies skim off Australian companies?

MATHIAS CORMANN: There are always things that are worthwhile assessing. These are areas that are well and truly beyond my area of portfolio responsibility, so I refer you to relevant ministers like Minister Fifield. But as a general point, it is very much the Australian people who determine where they want to access their information and I guess media organisations like any other business always has to be very mindful and respond to the changing needs, requirements and preferences of the customers they serve.

TOM CONNELL: A lot of talk about energy of course lately, the National Energy Guarantee and a few reports coming out as well. I found the AEMO one interesting on the Integrated System Plan. It is a dry sounding topic, but what it said was in a neutral scenario, so we are not really making any major changes, by 2030 we will have 46 per cent renewables in Australia. Does that mean Labor’s 50 per cent target is hardly right out there?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well look there is going to be all sorts of numbers around. Our focus is very simple. Our focus is on bringing electricity prices down and making sure that there is reliable energy supplies and that we are able to meet out emissions reduction targets that we signed onto in Paris in a sensible and affordable fashion. That is what our focus is. In the end, what we want to see happen is that the energy supplies that are the most affordable and the most able to contribute to stable energy supplies are those that are favoured by investors. The National Energy Guarantee is a technology agonistic policy framework. The Energy Security Board has projected that by 2030 about 60 per cent of our energy supplies will come from coal. But in the end, it is going to be a matter for the market to determine. People can make all sorts of projections. Our only interest is in making sure that electricity prices come down, that electricity supply is more affordable, more stable, more reliable and that we attract the additional investment into increased generation in supply in a way that also helps us meet our emission reduction targets.

TOM CONNELL: Right, so you have said that all sorts of numbers are out there, but this is the Australian Energy Market Operator putting this at 46 per cent. Are you saying this a questionable figure?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not saying that at all. I am not a commentator. I am just talking to you about what the policy focus is of the Government…interrupted

TOM CONNELL: Fair enough, but to that question, sorry Minister, I mean this is Labor’s policy, a 50 per cent renewables. There has been a lot of people in the Government saying this will wreck jobs, it is a recklessly high figure. AEMO says it is just above neutral setting,

MATHIAS CORMANN: I think you are picking things out of context here. Labor also has got an excessive emissions reduction target, which would push up the cost of electricity, which would force electricity prices up for families, for retirees and for business, which would make us less competitive as an economy, which would increase the cost of doing business and cost jobs. So you now trying to pick and choose specific numbers out of context without looking at the overall plan…interrupted

TOM CONNELL: This is a big part of Labor’s policy though Minister, on renewables and I am just asking does the AEMO report suggest 50 per cent is not that high or reckless?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The biggest number in Labor’s policy is their excessive emissions reduction target, which by any measure will push up the cost of electricity if it was implemented, which by any measure would damage the economy because it would drive up the cost of doing business and it would cost jobs, because it would make us less competitive internationally. Now you can try and pick out individual figures and try to make Labor’s case for them. Let me tell you that there is no question that if Bill Shorten became Prime Minister he would push up the cost of electricity, whereas our focus is on bringing the cost of electricity down, he would damage the economy because he would be increasing the cost of doing business, which would put jobs at risk here in Australia. No question.

TOM CONNELL: Mathias Cormann, thanks for your time today.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth