Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
OLIVER PETERSON: A little earlier the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann dropped by 6PR. We caught up. I spoke to him about Bill Shorten’s GST pledge, the Morrison Government’s GST pledge and about his involvement in bringing down Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister.
Mathias Cormann good afternoon. Welcome to the Perth Live studio.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good afternoon. Good to be here.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright, Bill Shorten and Labor’s GST plan, is it better than your plan because he is saying that he will be putting a 75 cent floor in place within 100 days of a Labor government.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is just playing catch up as he has done all the way through. When we came into Government and after Bill Shorten lost government, the GST for WA was in freefall. It was headed for less than 30 cents in the dollar. The Gillard and Rudd Labor governments did nothing. It was our Government which first put in top up payments to stop the drop in WA’s share of the GST. It was our Government which then lifted WA’s share of the GST effectively to 50 cents in the dollar. It is our Government that initiated the Productivity Commission review, which has resulted in our plan, which we released nearly two months ago, which would establish a floor, initially at 70 cents in the dollar, then 75 cents in the dollar. Importantly, which would also fix the formula, make the formula fair. We put forward a plan for WA which delivers a fairer share of the GST for WA in a way that is also fair for other states and which is good for the country. We have been calling for two months now on Bill Shorten to come in behind Scott Morrison’s plan for a fairer share of the GST for WA. It looks as if slowly, ever so slowly, Bill Shorten is now shifting behind Scott Morrison’s plan.
OLIVER PETERSON: Okay. Isn’t your plan though at the whim of the Treasurer? Bill Shorten’s plan here is enshrined in legislation.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, that is not right. Firstly, we have been following the process all the way through. What Scott Morrison is doing is taking his proposal to the next Council of Australian Governments meeting. We need formal agreement from all the State and Territory Governments. The initial response was encouraging. But we need to lock that in. An intergovernmental agreement provides certainty. We will do whatever is required, this side of the election, not 100 days after the next election, but this … interrupted
OLIVER PETERSON: You are talking about, that you can have this before we go to an election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will do everything that is required to ensure that people in Western Australia and nationally can have absolute certainty around the fairer GST sharing arrangements that Scott Morrison has put forward, which we will be taking to the next Council of Australian Governments meeting so that it can formally locked in, into an intergovernmental agreement between all of the State and Territory governments and the Commonwealth. All Bill Shorten is doing, he is just trying to piggy back, as he has done all the way through, on the plan that Scott Morrison has put forward.
OLIVER PETERSON: Okay, if you are going to do everything possible, if it requires legislation, would you go down that path?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is an option. But whatever is required we will do before the election. Again, there are intergovernmental agreements between the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments on a whole range of issues. That provides certainty in relation to all of these issues, whether that is in health or education, whether it is in relation to infrastructure investments and the like. There is a question whether it is a sensible precedent to make intergovernmental agreements subject to Senate approval when the government of the day at a Federal level does not necessarily have majority support in the Senate. That is something to carefully assess. But we will do what is required to ensure that people in Western Australia and nationally can have absolute certainty around the fairer GST deal for WA which Scott Morrison has put forward. He is the architect of it. Bill Shorten is now catching up. As he caught up initially with our top up payments. He is now catching up with our plan to fix WA’s share of the GST.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright, you have had a huge ten days, two weeks. You played a key role in rolling Malcolm Turnbull. Do you have any regrets?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I stand by the decisions that I made last week. It was a difficult week. The truth is that once Malcolm Turnbull called a leadership spill on the Tuesday and called a leadership ballot without notice to anyone other than … interrupted
OLIVER PETERSON: He blindsided you by that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He blindsided the party room. I certainly was personally blindsided and every member of the leadership group other than Julie Bishop was completely blindsided. The result was there for all to see.
OLIVER PETERSON: So did he effectively sign his own death warrant?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Essentially what happened is that it became obvious to me that on the back of the result on Tuesday and the representations from Ministers subsequently who had supported Malcolm in the leadership ballot, on top of the Ministers who had voted for the alternative in the leadership ballot on the Tuesday and offered their resignations, that in all of the circumstances the judgement that I formed was that Malcolm no longer enjoyed majority support in the party room. That the leadership of the Liberal party had not properly been settled as a result of the ballot on Tuesday. That it was in the country’s interest and the Government’s interest and in the Liberal party’s interest for the leadership to be properly settled before we left Canberra. Otherwise we would have had weeks and weeks of debilitating instability, debilitating division. Instead what we needed, we needed certainty around the leadership of our party, certainty around the leadership of our Government. The decision that the Liberal party party room made on Friday has provided that certainty. The issue is now resolved. We decided to elect Scott Morrison as our leader and Josh Frydenberg as our Deputy Leader. They will now unite the party and provide the strong and effective leadership that we require.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright, did you have the numbers when you and Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield decided to withdraw your support of Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have to look at this in sequence. The judgement that I made was that Malcolm Turnbull no longer enjoyed the majority support of the party room. That was borne out by the events, it was borne out by the vote that took place on Friday in relation to the spill of the leadership positions which was carried by a majority vote. I also indicated as a matter of integrity and openness and transparency towards Malcolm that in the case where there was a successful leadership spill that me personally I would be supporting Peter Dutton. That is a matter of public record. It is a matter of history. But the party now has made a decision. I respect the decision. I accept the decision. I support the decision. We now all move on. We have gone back to work for the Australian people. That is what the Australian people expect us to do.
OLIVER PETERSON: Sure. You are a diligent, calculated politician. Do you feel as though now you got it horribly wrong though and you in saying that you backed Peter Dutton, he is not the Prime Minister now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. The important point last week, the most important point last week was that there needed to be certainty around the leadership of the Liberal party. As a result of the spill declared by Malcolm Turnbull without notice on the Tuesday and subsequent representations, in circumstances where three Cabinet Ministers had offered their resignations because they had voted for the alternative. Five further Cabinet Ministers indicated to me that they voted for Malcolm, but on reflection wanted to vote for the alternative. A whole range of backbenchers coming to see me, indicating that they voted for Malcolm but on reflection supported the alternative - the vote on Tuesday did not resolve the leadership of the Liberal party with the appropriate and necessary level of certainty. It was not in the country’s best interest, it was not in the Government’s best interest and it was not in the Liberal party’s best interest for that uncertainty to linger, for there to be debilitating division and instability for weeks if not months to come and for the situation to become completely irretrievable. I believe we have a responsibility to the Australian people to provide good and stable and effective Government and we also have a responsibility to be in the best possible position to win the next election against Bill Shorten. If we had allowed this leadership instability to linger, to continue on, it would have been very bad for the Government, bad for the country and not good for the Liberal party.
OLIVER PETERSON: Are you worried though that air has not been cleared because if we look at the spill on Tuesday, the votes 48-35, Friday 45-40. Are you certain it is all put to bed, everybody is rock solid behind Scott Morrison, the agitation era is over?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very confident that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg will be able to unite the party. We have gone through a difficult week. For an incumbent Prime Minister 48-35 did not put the issue to bed, when all Ministers are duty bound to maintain Cabinet solidarity and to vote in favour of the incumbent leader. By Friday, 35 had grown to 45. In the end, I stand by my judgement. I took the view that in the context of the vote on Tuesday and subsequent representations by Ministerial and backbench colleagues, that Malcolm no longer enjoyed majority support in the party room. I took the view in the circumstances that it was in the interest of the country, the Government and the Party for there to be an orderly transition in the leadership. I would have preferred for that to happen with Malcolm calling a further party room meeting. But be that as it may, the events, as difficult as they were, have now led to a situation where there is certainty around the leadership of the Liberal party. There is certainty around the leadership of our country and of our Government. All of us have now gone back to work and are doing the best we can to put Australia on the strongest foundation and trajectory for the future.
OLIVER PETERSON: The fallout from the resignation of Malcolm Turnbull as being Prime Minister now, Julie Bishop obviously heads to the backbench as well. Are you disappointed to see your fellow West Australian colleague step down as Foreign Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Julie Bishop is an outstanding contributor. World class. She has been an outstanding Foreign Minister. Scott Morrison would have liked to see her continue to serve in that role. She made a decision not to continue in that role. That is her decision. We respect that decision. Julie Bishop has been and I am sure will continue to be a significant contributor into the future.
OLIVER PETERSON: Julia Banks, MP for Chisholm is quitting. Has she been bullied out of the Parliament?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I hope not. She has made a judgement that she does not want to re-contest the next election, which I am disappointed. I hold Julia Banks in very high regard …interrupted
OLIVER PETERSON: It is a huge blow to the party, it was the only seat you won off Labor in the 2016 Election and she has decided not to run around again.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We lost a number of seats at the last election. We won the seat of Chisholm from the Labor party. That was a great achievement by Julia Banks. We would have preferred if she had re-contested. In the end, we are not compulsory required as individual Members and Senators to keep on going if we no longer want to keep going.
OLIVER PETERSON: Sure, are you aware though of any WA Liberals who have been accused of bullying Liberals or forcing MPs to sign a petition?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
OLIVER PETERSON: There is nobody in the Liberal party in WA who did that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I can only speak for myself. I am certainly not aware of any WA Liberal having been engaged in this. As far as I am concerned we are professionals. We form judgments on the basis of what we think is the right way forward. But we have a responsibility to treat our colleagues with courtesy and respect at all times, which is certainly the way I engage with my colleagues.
OLIVER PETERSON: Julia Banks says that her constituents are angry really about what happened to Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop quitting her Cabinet post. So can I just ask you, what is the point because we have seen this movie time and time again with Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull. Why didn’t the Party, I suppose, feel as though you have learnt from the past, particularly with this blow back one week later?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Last week was a difficult week. It will take a little bit of time for the dust to properly settle on these things. In the end, in our system, in our Parliamentary democracy, in our Westminster based system of democracy, the Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people. The Prime Minister is elected by a majority of members in the House of Representatives. In order to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives, you have to maintain majority support among your colleagues. If that is no longer the case, as difficult as that may be, then there are obviously consequences. The most important responsibility in many ways of the leader of a Parliamentary party, the Leader of the Government, is to keep his or her team united. Last week it became very apparent, it was the judgement certainly of a majority of people in our party room, that under the previous Prime Minster, we no longer had the best possible opportunity to go ahead as a strong and united team. I believe that as a result of the decision that we made on Friday, where Scott Morrison was elected as our Leader, Josh Frydenberg elected as our Deputy Leader, that we will be a stronger, more united, more effective Government into the future and that we will be in a better position to win the next election. That is our responsibility, as difficult as it may be in the short term. Let me say this, from a personal point of view it would have been much easier for me to stand on the side lines and just let things play out and not play a role and not to not take responsibility. That would have been a much more comfortable decision for me personally. I would have been much more popular. I would have not had to deal with the difficult questions that people are now putting to me. But the truth is I was making a judgement of what I thought was right. I was in possession of information. I did my best to deal with the issue honourably and with integrity. I went to see Malcolm face-to-face for a one on one meeting, I explained to him the judgement that I had formed and why.
OLIVER PETERSON: Have you spoken to him since Friday?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have not spoken to him since Friday, no.
OLIVER PETERSON: Do you think he will talk to you again?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I hope so. Malcolm and I had a very good working relationship. We had a very good personal relationship. You have to remember that for the last three years I have worked very hard to help unite the party behind Malcolm. Peter Dutton for that matter worked very hard to unite the party behind Malcolm Turnbull. The events of last week were not events that I initiated. They were not events I wanted to see happen, but the truth is what happened, happened. The leadership ballot on the Tuesday happened. Colleagues subsequently came to see me about their views. A number of Ministers as a result of the leadership ballot offered their resignations. More Ministerial colleagues indicated to me on reflection they would have voted for an alternative candidate. So what am I meant to do in that circumstance? Ignore that fact and let the whole thing just slide? Let Government go over the cliff. I took the view that I was in a unique position as Leader of the Government in the Senate, with a unique responsibility to help resolve what was quite frankly a leadership crisis. I did not believe we could leave Canberra last week without the leadership of the Liberal party, the leadership of the Government properly resolved. As a result of the meeting on Friday it was properly resolved. We now unite behind the new leadership team. We get back to work.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright when you head back to Parliament in two weeks are you worried that Labor is going to push Peter Dutton on his eligibility, number one and number two, on this au pair situation, when the Parliament resumes the week after next.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor party has been going after Peter Dutton and a whole range of other senior Liberal Members and Senators for a long time. The Labor party will do what the Labor Party does. The truth is that authoritative legal opinion clearly indicates that Peter Dutton is validly elected as a Member of the House of Representatives, whatever the Labor party might want to say on partisan grounds. In relation to all other matters it is just business as usual. All of us as Ministers in our portfolios, we are appropriately subject to scrutiny by Parliament, by Parliamentary Committees in relation to the decisions we make. No doubt in relation to the matter you raised the Labor party and others will seek to ask questions and we will be providing answers.
OLIVER PETERSON: With the numbers diminished, though, Malcolm Turnbull if he quits his seat, you may have one less on the floor of the House of Representatives. If Bob Katter doesn’t turn up, well could a minority Government be brought to its knees?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very confident that we will have the necessary confidence, the necessary confidence and supply support in the House of Representatives in the weeks leading up to the Wentworth by-election, going on the basis that Malcolm has announced that he would be stepping down from the Parliament. All of that is now going to work its way through the system. But I am very confident that we will have the necessary support for confidence and supply in the House of Representatives.
OLIVER PETERSON: Mathias Cormann, just finally, why should West Australians stick with the Morrison Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will tell you why, because the Morrison Government will continue to deliver stronger growth and more jobs. It will focus on lower taxes to secure more investment to generate stronger growth and more jobs. Whereas of course the Shorten alternative wants to push taxes higher, which will lead to less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs, higher unemployment and on the back of higher unemployment, lower wages. Scott Morrison is also somebody who has clearly delivered for Western Australia. The GST issue has been in the too hard basket for way too long. It was Scott Morrison who delivered the policy solution to deliver a fairer GST deal for Western Australia. He worked very hard, including to get the other States on board to support what he has put forward to deliver a fairer GST deal for WA.
OLIVER PETERSON: Alright. Will you revisit the company tax cut policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are currently working our way through how we can best support small business to create more jobs. Our Government stands for income tax relief for hard-working families. We stand to back small business so they can create more jobs. We stand for lower electricity prices. Bill Shorten on the other side, he wants higher taxes on families, higher taxes on investment, higher taxes on retirees, higher taxes on business and he would deliver higher electricity prices. We would say to all West Australians, you will be better off under a continuation of the Morrison Government after the next election.
OLIVER PETERSON: Mathias Cormann, appreciate you dropping by the Perth Live studio. Thank you very much.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.