ABC Radio National - Breakfast

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


Date: Monday, 10 September 2018

Wagga Wagga by-election, Leadership, Minister Dutton, Liberal Party, National Energy Guarantee

FRAN KELLY: It is a difficult week ahead for the Morrison Government, which has not just seen its majority disappear on the floor of the House of Representatives, until the Wentworth by-election is held and perhaps then too. But it is also facing the loss of up to 30 seats at the next election if the polling numbers in today’s Newspoll are to be believed. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins me in the Parliament House studios. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.

FRAN KELLY: The State by-election was the first electoral test for the Liberals since you helped change the Prime Minister. You have just been smashed, the Liberals in State level have been smashed in Wagga Wagga, your support has crashed in the Newspoll. These are the transactional costs of dumping another Prime Minister aren’t they? Do you have any regrets about what you did?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to Wagga Wagga, I think it is very clear that the previous Member had to resign under a serious cloud and in the circumstances, combined with a very popular local independent running, I am not surprised by that result at all. Inevitably you get swings against long serving incumbent Governments at by-elections. Clearly, the federal dynamics in recent weeks would not have helped, there is no question about that. The most significant factor I would have thought, is that when you have an incumbent Member being forced to resign under a corruption cloud, I do not know that anyone can really credibly point the finger at the federal sphere as the major reason for that result.

FRAN KELLY: Well, when the Premier says trust was the biggest issue in the campaign and quote “voters are so disappointed, so angry and so disheartened at the way politicians conduct themselves”, you cannot credibly claim that not a few points might have been lost because of the chaos of you and your colleagues over the last few weeks, can you?

MATHIAS CORMANN: A local Member being forced to resign over corruption allegations, which were admitted, clearly of course voters would be very upset about that.

FRAN KELLY: Do you have any real appreciation of how fed up people are with the kind of behaviour that we saw on display here a few weeks ago?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end we went through a difficult period, we had to make some judgements and we now move forward. What Australians expect us to do is to work hard, to keep Australia strong, to keep the economy strong, to keep Australians safe and to keep Australians together and that is what we are doing.

FRAN KELLY: You did make some judgements and yet we learned last week the Australian economy grew in the three months since June at 3.4 per cent, the fastest growth in almost six years. The economy was in good shape under Malcolm Turnbull. The Coalition was closing in on Labor in the opinion polls, you were 49-51 just before the spill, now you are facing election wipe out, potential loss of 30 seats. The further we move away from those events, the less it seems to make sense. If you had your time over, would you do it again?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is actually very early days, let us just remind ourselves…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: But would you do it again if you had your time over?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have made the judgements, we are now getting on with the job. What I would just remind everyone is that when we came into Government in 2013 we inherited from the Labor Party, from the Government that Bill Shorten was a senior member of, a weakening economy, rising unemployment, a rapidly deteriorating Budget position. As a result of the hard work of the Abbott Government and the Turnbull Government, which is now going to be built on by the Morrison Government, the economy now is stronger, employment growth is stronger, the unemployment rate is well below where it was anticipated it would be and the Budget is in a much stronger position. We are getting on with the job and the Australian people expect us to get on with the job.

FRAN KELLY: I know you are not keen to look in the rear vision mirror, but I still think the Australian people are at a loss to know what it was about. What was the judgement you and your colleagues made? What was that judgement?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have actually explained that many, many times. I am happy to indulge you one more time…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: Great, thanks.

MATHIAS CORMANN: …very clearly, when a leadership ballot was called, taking the party room by surprise on the Tuesday, it crystallised a level of angst among our colleagues in the party room. In subsequent days it became clear that the Leader at the time had lost majority support in the party room which was ultimately borne out in the party room meeting that took place on the Friday. We have now elected a new leadership team in Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and all of us are getting behind Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to unite the team, to unite the Government and to get on with the job of building on the achievements of the Abbott and Turnbull Governments, to keep the economy strong, to keep Australians safe and to keep Australians together.

FRAN KELLY: So it was an unhappy team, it was not about any policy, nothing about that affects the lives of Australians?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The most important job, the most important job of any leader is to ensure that the team is strong, united…interrupted


MATHIAS CORMANN: I believe and clearly the Party made a judgement that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were in the best position to unite the team moving forward. I believe that we will be a stronger, more united, more effective Government into the future.

FRAN KELLY: There will be a no confidence motion in Peter Dutton over the au pair saga. Tony Burke has signalled that. Labor will try to refer him to the High Court over his eligibility to sit in the Parliament. He will battle to retain his seat at the election, Dickson he holds by 1.6 per cent. Do you think Peter Dutton’s Prime Ministership hankerings are over?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Peter Dutton won a seat off the Labor Party back in 2001 and he has held it at every election since, including elections where we lost Government. It has always been a marginal seat and the people of Dickson have continued to express their trust and confidence in him at subsequent elections ever since 2001. So I am confident that Peter Dutton is going to be a very strong and effective local campaigner when it comes to holding the seat of Dickon for the Liberal Party. We have got a lot of work to do between now and the next election in the first half of next year.

FRAN KELLY: Should he still harbour leadership ambitions, in your view?

MATHIAS CORMANN: He is a member of the leadership team. We have, as a Party made a decision that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are best equipped to lead our team moving forward. We are all strongly behind Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg as our leadership team.

FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Labor has got new legal advice casting doubt over thousands of Ministerial decisions that Peter Dutton has made. Is it now a matter of urgency for his eligibility to be cleared up once and for all?

MATHIAS CORMANN: His eligibility is clear. The Solicitor General has provided very clear advice that he is eligible…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: There are a few prevarications in that advice from the Solicitor General.

MATHIAS CORMANN: … and the former long serving Solicitor General David Bennett QC also provided unequivocal advice that Peter Dutton is eligible to sit in the Parliament. The Labor Party relies on advice from lawyers who told us for a very long time that there were no problems with citizenship issues on the Labor side…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: Well the Solicitor General said Barnaby Joyce was in the clear.

MATHIAS CORMANN: What Labor has released today is actually an answer based on the wrong question. To ask the question, if this happens, then that could happen, that is like saying if Bill Shorten lost his seat in Parliament at the next election, he could not possibly run for Prime Minister. To suggest that if he was ineligible, then this is the consequence. He is eligible, he is not ineligible, so the whole question and the whole premise of the question that Labor put forward is completely false.

FRAN KELLY: A consequence of the leadership coup is a number of Liberal women coming forward to say they have been bullied or threatened or intimidated within your Party. Senator Lucy Gichuhi says she is prepared to name names. You are the Government Leader in the Senate, do you support her in that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is entirely up to her. I would be very disappointed if anyone bullied any colleagues. I think it is very important in our Parliamentary democracy for people to exchange views and try and convince each other of the merits of our arguments, but it should always be done with curtesy and respect. But I support Senator Gichuhi in whatever she chooses to do.

FRAN KELLY: Have you spoken to her about this?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have had conversations with Senator Gichuhi.

FRAN KELLY: And is it your understanding she is going to stand and name names?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speak on her behalf.

FRAN KELLY: Some of your male colleagues are starting to come forward to lament the lack of female representation, to say the Party has to do better and certainly many of your female colleagues have said the same thing. There is going to be a by-election in Wentworth within the next six to eight weeks you would think, gives you a golden opportunity to put your money where your mouth is and pre-select a women. There are three strong female candidates, should this safe seat go to a woman?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not my job to select the candidate for Wentworth…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: No, but do you think it would be a good idea?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am looking forward to the good Liberal members in Wentworth selecting the best possible candidate. If that candidate is a woman, that would be great and of course we do need to do more to select women into strong and winnable seats. I am not going to interfere with the local pre-selection decisions of the Liberal Party organisation in Wentworth.

FRAN KELLY: But until the Liberal Party adopts quotas or some other measure to install women in safe seats, you are never going to meet your 50/50 target by 2025. I would suggest you are not going to meet it anyway.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Let’s just see how we go, we are committed to it…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: Well how you go is not delivering.

MATHIAS CORMANN: If you are asking me to determine who should be the candidate for Wentworth, that is not my job and I will not do it.

FRAN KELLY: Are quotas are a good idea?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have got a target and that is a matter for the Party organisation.

FRAN KELLY: Scott Morrison will ask Cabinet today to formally to dump the National Energy Guarantee. Scott Morrison is all about bringing power prices down, that is his mantra, his golden rule. That was the selling point for the National Energy Guarantee, that it will save $150 off your power bills every year. Doesn’t dumping that policy also rob people of $150 cut to their power bills?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, we have already done a whole lot of things and we have also commissioned the ACCC…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: Yes, but this could have done this as well.

MATHIAS CORMANN: The ACCC Report, which has come back with a whole series of recommendations that will help us bring power prices down by more, that is what we will prioritise. We will focus on things like making sure that there is a minimum default price available for customers, making sure that we use the big stick of Government to improve behaviour across major energy generators…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: But why not add in the NEG, $150 in the bag?

MATHIAS CORMANN: … and also make decisions to increase the level of investment into energy generation. Look, in the end, politics is the art of the possible. Given the obstructionist and negative approach taken by the Labor Party, there was no prospect of getting some aspects of the NEG through the House of Representatives. That is a matter of public record…interrupted

FRAN KELLY: But Malcolm Turnbull said you dropped it because you could not get your own colleagues on side.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Actually, that is not quite what he said, what he said is there was no prospect of getting it through the Parliament.

FRAN KELLY: Because of your own colleagues not supporting it.

MATHIAS CORMANN: There was no prospect of getting it through the Parliament.

FRAN KELLY: Senator Cormann, thank you very much for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.