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: There was a vote in the Senate yesterday in relation to a motion put forward by Senator Hanson, which the Government should have opposed. When the motion was first put forward in September and we considered our position on the motion, we made a decision to oppose that motion and to make a statement in our own words that as a Government we deplore racism of any kind, but not to actually support the motion.
Yesterday, as a result of an administrative process failure, the Government Senators in the Chamber ended up, on advice, voting in support of the motion. As Leader of the Government in the Senate I take responsibility for that error and I am sorry that that happened. It is indeed regrettable. As I indicated, when this motion first came up we made a very clear decision to oppose that motion. It was not voted on in September. It came back up yesterday and it slipped through. It should not have and I take responsibility for that. Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Senator, how can you blame administrative error? Isn’t it a matter of literacy? I meant 28 people can read can’t they?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, it is a matter of administrative error. There is a process involved. There are about 50 or 60 motions that get moved this way every week. There is a process involved in determining the position of the Government in relation to 50 to 60 motions on average a week. When this motion first came up in September, the formal position that was adopted was to oppose. For some reason that was not carried through to the vote yesterday. It should have been. Ultimately as Leader of the Government team in the Senate I take responsibility.
QUESTION: Wasn’t this a directive from the Attorney-General Christian Porter?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is an administrative process involved in determining the Government's position in relation to each of the 50 or 60 motions that are dealt with in the Senate every week. As I have indicated, when this issue was first raised, when this motion was first raised in September, the Government made a clear decision to oppose this motion and to make a statement that as a Government we deplore racism of any kind. That is a decision that should have been maintained yesterday and as a result of an administrative process failure it wasn't. That is regrettable and I take responsibility.
QUESTION: Just explain it to the man in the street, are the Coalition Senators a pack of robots? They do not even know what they are voting for.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We work as a team and in a team where there is a very substantial workload, including 50 to 60 motions every week, there are administrative processes in place to ensure, that as a team we make the right decisions. On this occasion the process failed and I take responsibility for that.
QUESTION: Minister, are you embarrassed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes. Yes I am.
QUESTION: And do you think it is okay to be white? Surely that is the obvious question here?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not support the form of words that is in that motion and indeed the Government made a decision not to support that motion. We deplore racism of any kind. There is no question in my mind that the decision that we made in September to oppose this motion is the decision that should have been implemented yesterday. As a result of an administrative process failure that did not happen and I regret that.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the history of those words, the association to the far right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have said to you, we made a decision to oppose this motion in September. That is a decision that should have been carried through into the vote yesterday. It was not.
QUESTION: Can you explain to the average person what it is about those words that is wrong and why you now regret it? The average person is saying what is wrong with that? What does it mean? So can you explain why the Government is opposed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me make it very clear. We did not support the form of words that was chosen in that motion. We deplore racism of any kind. That is a very clear position. We should have opposed the motion when it came up in the Senate yesterday, as we had decided to do in September, with a statement making clear that we deplore racism of any kind.