Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
MATHIAS CORMANN: Scott Morrison is the architect of a genuinely fair GST deal for Western Australia. It is a deal which is good for WA, which leaves no other state worse off, in fact which leaves every other state better off and which is good for Australia. We will be providing certainty to WA and to the country in relation to the GST arrangements moving forward before the election. Bill Shorten is a late coming opportunist who proposes to legislate a band-aid after the election, still refusing to commit to fixing the GST formula. What we have put forward is a long-term plan to genuinely resolve the GST issue, to genuinely deliver a fairer deal for Western Australia. Western Australians do not want top-up payments from the Federal Government in perpetuity. West Australians want and deserve a genuinely fair deal on the GST and that is what we will be delivering. The next step is to secure the agreement of all other State and Territory Governments, the formal agreement of all State and Territory Governments at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting. If Bill Shorten was fair dinkum about helping to deliver a fair GST deal for WA, he would join in a bipartisan way and support the Prime Minister’s plan to help deliver a fairer deal for WA.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: If Bill Shorten has promised a GST floor for WA, how worried are Liberal MPs about losing their seats?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have long committed to a 75 cents in the dollar floor. What Bill Shorten has been doing so far until we announced the 75 per cent floor, was just copycat the top-up payments that we have put forward as a short-term measure pending our longer-term plan. We have been making top-up payments for a number of years now, initially stopping the drop in WA's share of the GST and then initiating the Productivity Commission inquiry into the effect of GST sharing arrangements on national productivity and growth. We also then lifted the WA share of the GST to 50 cents in the dollar in the last Budget and we made a commitment to increase the floor to 70 cents and then 75 cents in the dollar as part of our long-term plan. But we also, very importantly, committed to changing the GST distribution formula, something that Bill Shorten has steadfastly refused to endorse. Our question for Bill Shorten today and the question that the media should be asking Bill Shorten up in Carlisle today is, will he commit to fixing the GST formula? Will he commit to Scott Morrison's plan to deliver a fairer GST deal for Western Australia in a way that is fair for every other State and that is good for Australia?
QUESTION: What is wrong with legislating the GST floor though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will do whatever is required to provide certainty to WA and to the country in relation to GST sharing arrangements. But there is a process here. The process is that we now need to reach a formal agreement with all of the State and Territory Governments at the next Council of Australian Government meeting. But Bill Shorten, this is just a distraction, this is a complete red herring, it is a furphy. He is trying to distract from the fact that he has refused to commit to actually fixing the GST distribution formula. He is using shifty weasel words, trying to distract from the fact that he has declined so far to back in all of the elements of Scott Morrison's long-term plan to deliver a fairer GST deal to WA in a way that is also fair for every other State.
QUESTION: Do you think the disunity and dysfunction of last week has hurt your election chances in WA?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The events of last week are a matter of public record. The judgement of a majority of the party room was that there needed to be a change. The party room has endorsed Scott Morrison as our Prime Minister and Josh Frydenberg as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. We are all getting behind Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. I am confident that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg will unite the team and that we will be a stronger, more united, more effective Government as a result of the decisions that were made last week.
QUESTION: Do you feel you made a mistake listening to Dutton’s numbers men?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject the premise of that question. The judgement that I formed, as a result of the leadership ballot in the party room on the Tuesday, a leadership ballot that was initiated by the former Prime Minister, and subsequent representations from Ministerial colleagues and backbench colleagues, the judgement that I formed was that the party room had lost confidence in the former Prime Minister. That there was a view that there was a need for change. I had a personal view as to who I would be supporting in that context. I stand by that decision. The party room has made a decision. We now move on. We move forward. We have a responsibility to the Australian people. We are back to work and I strongly believe that we are today a stronger, more united, more effective Government, in a better position to win the next election than what we were last week.
QUESTION: Julia Banks has resigned, well indicated she is not going around again. She has taken a crack at internal political games, factional party figures, self-proclaimed powerbrokers. Is she talking about you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Julia Banks is a great contributor. I have very high regard for Julia Banks. I have seen the statement she has made. I am disappointed that she has made that decision, but I respect her decision. That is entirely a matter for her. But you know, we all as a team, continue to move forward and make the decisions we need to make to put Australia on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future.
QUESTION: Should the Liberal Party Secretariat investigate that complaint?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a matter for the Liberal Party organisation.
QUESTION: Should Peter Dutton be referred to the Solicitor-General, sorry, to the High Court given last week's Solicitor-General's advice?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Solicitor-General's advice and the advice of the former Solicitor-General David Bennett QC clearly indicated that Peter Dutton is validly elected as a Member of the House of Representatives.
QUESTION: Just on Julia Banks again, she says that the Dutton camp bullied and intimidated her. Do you apologise on behalf of the Dutton camp for that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not part of any camp. I am the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I was the Leader of the Government in the Senate last week who, in the wake of a leadership ballot, initiated without notice by the former Prime Minister, was presented with information by colleagues which I felt duty bound to share with Malcolm Turnbull, which I did share with Malcolm Turnbull. My judgements and my decisions are on the record. I stand by the judgements and the decisions I have made. I always treat all of my colleagues with courtesy and respect. I would never condone anyone doing otherwise. As far as I am concerned, the party room made a decision. We have elected Scott Morrison as our Leader and Josh Frydenberg as our Deputy Leader. We are back to work. This is now a matter of moving forward, providing a strong and united and effective government for the people of Australia.
QUESTION: As a senior member of the Leadership team, will you seek to convince her not to go?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every individual Member and Senator is entitled to make their own decisions in relation to their future.
QUESTION: Just back to Peter Dutton for a moment. The Senate is now enquiring into Mr Dutton’s decision to let two au pairs, who were about to be deported stay. Does Mr Dutton have to appear before that Committee and should he?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is just business as usual in the Senate. The Government does not have the numbers in the Senate. The non-Government Parties have the numbers in the Senate and from time to time, the non-Government majority in the Senate decides to scrutinise and explore and inquire into certain matters. That is a matter for these Senate Committees and I leave those Senate Committees to take their course.
QUESTION: Do you regret your actions last week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have already said I stand by my judgements. You know what? It is always easier to just sit on the sidelines and it would have been much more comfortable for me personally to do nothing, to observe the events that had taken place and to realise what my colleagues were telling me in the wake of the leadership ballot on Tuesday. It would have been much more comfortable for me personally. I took the decision that I needed to take responsibility, that I was in a particular position where I had a role to play and to take responsibility. I went to see Malcolm Turnbull directly, one on one initially, and subsequently with some colleagues. You know in the end, given the way events developed last week, I made a judgement that it would not be in the country's interests, that it would not be in the Government's interests and that it would not be in the Liberal Party's interests for the issue of the leadership to remain unresolved. If we had left Canberra last week without the issue of the leadership properly resolved we would have had weeks and weeks of instability, of uncertainty and it would have ultimately resulted in one thing and one thing only and that would have been the election of a Shorten Government. I believe that we now are in a better position, in a stronger position, in a more effective position to be successful at the next election.
QUESTION: When you walked in to the party room, did you know that Peter Dutton did not have the numbers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Leadership ballots are leadership ballots. People will make all sorts of predictions and then make all sorts of assumptions. The truth is a decision was made. I respect the decision, I accept the decision, I support the decision, I 100 per cent support Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and we now get on with it.
QUESTION: Why didn’t you support Julie Bishop?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, every individual Member of Parliament makes their own judgement as to who they think is best equipped to be the Leader of our Party. My personal position was on the public record. You know I have always engaged in these sorts of contests with a completely open and transparent position. You will find that with every single leadership ballot that has taken place, that my own position, in relation to who I was supporting, was always on the public record. That is not the case for everyone, but that is always the case for me.