Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you very much for coming out. The first issue I would like to raise is the need for Bill Shorten to clarify Federal Labor’s position in relation to our proposed reforms to GST sharing arrangements. Reforms which will deliver a better fairer deal for Western Australia in a way that is also fair for every other State and which is good for Australia.
There has been some confusion about Labor’s position this week. Specifically, Bill Shorten, when he was last in Western Australia asserted that he was now on a unity ticket with our Prime Minister Scott Morrison when it comes to GST sharing reforms. Reforms that are needed and have been in the too hard basket for too long.
But this week, in the Federal Parliament, Federal Labor Senators from Tasmania were highly critical of the GST reform proposal put forward by Scott Morrison. They condemned the deal as a ‘dud’ deal. These are their words.
We now really need some clarification from Bill Shorten. Does he stand by what he said here in Western Australia, that he is on a unity ticket with Scott Morrison, or does he say one thing when he is in the West and another thing when he is in Tasmania.
The second issue I would like to address is in relation to the Banking Royal Commission. There is no question that the Banking Royal Commission has been doing a very good and very important job for Australian banking consumers. The Royal Commissioner Justice Kenneth Hayne in particular has been doing an outstanding job. There is also no question in our mind that despite all of our efforts as a Government to improve the powers and increase the resources for regulators, that regulators in the financial services space do have questions to answer. That is able to be pursued in the course of this Royal Commission.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: How seriously is the Government considering extending both the scope and the timeframe of the Royal Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have said for some time now that we will take the advice from the Commissioner Kenneth Hayne. We will rely on his advice. If his advice is that there is a need to extend the scope or the timetable in relation to the Banking Royal Commission then we would act on that.
QUESTION: Do you think that given the shocking nature of a lot of the evidence so far that there is a good case for extending that Commission?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, the person that is best placed to make that judgement, who is closest to all of the evidence that has been provided, all of the submissions that have been received and who has been there asking the questions, been part of the process, testing the evidence that has been provided, is the Royal Commissioner. We will rely on his advice.
QUESTION: Have you been surprised by how shocking some of that evidence has been?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As we have said if we had known what would emerge we would have acted sooner. The Royal Commission is now underway. It is doing a very good job. Some of the regulators, in particular ASIC, do have some questions to answer and these matters will be able to be pursued in the coming weeks and months.
QUESTION: If the Government wants to give ASIC more power then is this a case of too little too late?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have given ASIC more power. In our period in Government, we have also given ASIC additional resources. We will now await the findings and the recommendations of the Royal Commission in terms of what else can sensibly be done. There are issues that are needing to be addressed. Self-evidently there is more work that will need to be done.
QUESTION: And Minister should Peter Dutton refer himself to High Court?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Peter Dutton has unequivocal legal advice from the most successful QC in front of the High Court when it comes to Section 44 matters, David Bennett QC, a former long serving Solicitor General. This is a partisan campaign on behalf of the Labor party. There is absolutely no question that Peter Dutton has been validly elected to the House of Representatives. As he has been since 2001 when he won the seat of Dickson from the Labor party.
QUESTION: In previous cases a lot of the legal advice about cases that have ended up before the High Court just turned out to be wrong. Surely this is something that the Court needs to decide?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The most successful QC arguably in front of the High Court in relation to Section 44 matters is David Bennett QC. David Bennett QC is quite adamant, there is no case to answer. To be frank, if some of the arguments that have been put forward were valid then Federal Members of Parliament would not be able to access GP services, because there is a level of Federal funding involved through the Medicare rebate. The benefits provided to child care centres are provided for parents. These childcare benefits are benefits for parents. They are not benefits for the childcare centre, even when the childcare centre collects certain funds on behalf of parents. The Labor party is getting quite desperate here. As David Bennet QC said in his advice, quite clearly there is no relevant agreement between the Commonwealth and childcare centres in relation to the matters at hand here.
QUESTION: Do you think it was appropriate for Malcolm Turnbull to make any comments on the matter both publicly and to your Liberal colleagues?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is a private citizen now. He is a private citizen in New York. It is entirely up to him as to what he chooses to say and do from here.
QUESTION: Should there be an independent investigation into bullying in the Liberal party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have no evidence of bullying in the Liberal party. There is no place for bullying ever. There is no place for bullying in any workplace, not in Parliament, not on building sites around Australia, not anywhere. We are involved in a democratic process, where people with a difference of opinion in relation to policy and personnel from time to time will seek to persuade each other. That is appropriate. That should be done with courtesy and respect. If there are any cases of specific allegations of bullying, they should be put forward through the Whips then appropriate action can be taken from there.
QUESTION: Does the party have an issue with women?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As a party we are committed to increase the level of participation and representation of women in our Parliamentary team. That is something that we will continue to pursue. Here in Western Australia, at the next election we will have Linda Reynolds leading the Senate ticket. In South Australia we will have Anne Ruston leading the Senate ticket. In Tasmania we will have two out of three winnable positions held by outstanding women. We are pre-selecting outstanding women right around Australia and that is something we will need to continue to do.
QUESTION: So are you personally disappointed that a female has not been pre-selected for Wentworth?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have answered these questions in some detail yesterday. It is always incumbent on a pre-selection committee to select the best candidate. 201 pre-selection delegates in Wentworth, who heard all of the speeches, who were able to ask questions, ultimately formed a judgement that the best candidate for the Liberal party in Wentworth was Dave Sharma. Dave Sharma has now hit the ground running. He is now working very hard to win the seat of Wentworth for the Liberal party. It has been great to see that he has received such strong support from Malcolm Turnbull as the Member for Wentworth over the last 14 years. Clearly, that is very helpful in helping us secure victory in the seat of Wentworth at the by-election on 20 October.
QUESTION: Just on GST, when are you hoping to have that deal finalised now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As soon as possible. Bill Shorten came to Western Australia to say that he was now on a unity ticket with Scott Morrison when it came to GST sharing arrangements. We are prepared to legislate the GST reforms that we have put forward. We have led the charge all the way through. Under the Gillard Government, the drop in the GST for WA was left unaddressed for too long. That was a Government that Bill Shorten was a senior member of. The drop in WA’s share of the GST was left unaddressed for too long. We started off by providing top up payments to Western Australia, federal top up payments to Western Australia as a short term measure. We initiated the Productivity Commission review. We have acted on its recommendations by putting forward a deal that provides a better, fairer deal to Western Australia in a way that is fair to every other State. We are prepared to legislate it before the election. Bill Shorten is promising to legislate it after the election, but in the meantime his Senators from Tasmania have been highly critical of what is on the table and Bill Shorten really needs to clarify his position.