Sky News – AM Agenda

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






Wentworth by-election, jobs growth, Nationals, Budget repair, Royal visit

LAURA JAYES: Let’s bring in now Leader of the Government in the Senate, Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann Wentworth is all everyone has got their eye on at the moment. Is there expectation management going on from your side of politics at the moment. Or do you really think that you are going to lose this?

MATHIAS CORMANN: By-elections are difficult for incumbent governments at the best of times. The circumstances for this by-election have made it even more challenging for us. We do have an outstanding candidate in Dave Sharma, who would provide great service to the people of Wentworth and make a fantastic contribution as part of the team in Canberra. But the context and the circumstances are even more challenging than they would be at any normal by-election for an incumbent government.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, he is a good candidate no doubt. But he has had a tough campaign with a lot of headwinds. And he is facing s strong candidate in Kerryn Phelps. If the Government does lose its majority, are you confident you can manage a stable outfit up until the next election, likely in May of next year?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are not going to get ahead of ourselves. Dave Sharma and the Liberal team in Wentworth will be campaigning for every single vote until 6pm tomorrow night. We will cross whatever bridge needs to be crossed on the other side of that. Right now our message to the people of Wentworth is that not only is Dave Sharma an outstanding candidate, a vote for Dave Sharma will also be a vote for stable government. Clearly the independent challenger has not been able to unequivocally commit to supporting confidence in the Government. That is the last thing we need in the context of a Parliament with a one seat majority since the 2016 election. It would not be good for the country and it would not be good for the people of Wentworth if there was that sort of cloud over the stability of government moving forward.

LAURA JAYES: Your government has been anything but stable this week. So how can you be preaching stability when we have seen the chaos that has gone on this week in Parliament, capped off with leadership talk within the Nationals?

MATHIAS CORMANN: What we have seen this week is that the unemployment rate went down to five per cent. You have to remember that when we came into Government as a team in September 2013, we inherited a weakening economy and rising unemployment. Chris Bowen set a benchmark for our Government when it comes to economic performance, saying that we should be measured against whether or not we would be able to keep the unemployment rate below 6.25 per cent. He did not say that at the time because he thought it was an easy target to reach. Unemployment is at five per cent. The economy is growing more strongly than any of the G7 economies in the world. The country is heading in the right direction. Our Budget is in a much stronger position. The Budget outcome for the last financial year was $19.3 billion better than had been forecast when we delivered the Budget. So what we would be saying to the people of Wentworth is that over the last five years, as a Liberal National Government, having inherited a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a rapidly deteriorating Budget position, we have been able to turn that situation around, which is good for families right around Australia, including in Wentworth.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, yeah it is a compelling case on the economic front. We have seen the Trans Pacific Partnership deal done this week. The unemployment rate down. But as the Finance Minister, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate, does it frustrate you that all of that good message is drowned out by navel gazing, by internal fights, by this erupting again within the National party this week and really helping to derail the efforts of Dave Sharma?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have to say, I have talked to my friends and colleagues in the National party every single day when Parliament is sitting. All of those National party Members and Senators who have spoken to me are all strongly supporting Michael McCormack. Nobody really quite understands where all of this media speculation is coming from. Michael McCormack is doing a very good job. As far as I am concerned, he is very well supported by his colleagues. 

KIERAN GILBERT: It is coming from Barnaby Joyce. That is where it is coming from. Barnaby Joyce said it to David Speers a couple of days ago. He was asked do you want your job back. He said well I would take it. That is not what you say if you are trying to calm speculation.

MATHIAS CORMANN: This is being interpreted in a particular way. The leadership of the National party is a matter for the National party, but all of the indications that I have from my friends and colleagues in the National party is that they are supporting Michael McCormack very strongly.

LAURA JAYES: Just back on the economy and the people of Wentworth, the constituents there, I would describe them as economic conservatives, but probably a little bit more socially progressive compared to some other seats in New South Wales in particular. With that in mind Mathias Cormann and these great economic indicators yesterday, with an unemployment rate of five per cent, how does this and how will this shape your Budget and the Budget update? Is there an argument now that the Government should pull back on spending and look to get the Budget back into surplus earlier than you forecast?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have controlled expenditure much better than our predecessors. We inherited spending growth of about four per cent above inflation year on year on average and we have more than halved that. Looking back, we have been able to reduce spending growth to 1.9 per cent on average…interrupted

LAURA JAYES: But you have broken your own Budget fiscal rules haven’t you?

MATHIAS CORMANN: When was that?

LAURA JAYES: With spending not being offset by savings. That seems to have gone by the wayside.

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is you speculating. The next budget update is at the half-yearly Budget update in December. As we have indicated before, the fiscal rule is there for all to see. It is very clear. All new spending measures have to be offset with spending reductions in other parts of the Budget. Our next update against all of these fiscal rules, our next update on the Budget will be the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook. That is when all of the movements up and down that happen in between every Budget and Budget update are reconciled.

KIERAN GILBERT: How is your sense of things, actually I should mention now, our viewers will notice on the bottom of the screen there Prince Harry and Meghan now embracing the other surfers and people on the beach there in the anti-bad vibes circle there, raising awareness for mental health issues. As Laura and I mentioned at the start, a fantastic initiative, we will have more on the royals and their visit there. The anti-bad vibes circle, so Bondi isn’t Laura? Anyway, we will get more on that in a moment, but Mathias Cormann …interrupted

LAURA JAYES: What are you saying? That is an outrageous slur Kieran Gilbert, very Bondi.

KIERAN GILBERT: It is a compliment, it is a compliment, I love it. Sorry Mathias Cormann, we are just getting off track there a bit. In terms of bad vibes, what are your vibes when it comes to global economy right now? We have seen the ongoing trade war, China and the US and the market is all over the shop. Have you get sense that things might level out a bit?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The global economy is in better shape than it was for the first few years of our period in Government and certainly the global economic growth outlook is better than what it has been for the early parts of our period in Government. But there are always downside risks and geopolitical risks. From an Australian point of view, we are very strong supporters of a rules based, open market, free trading system. We are always working to get the best possible access for our exporting businesses to key markets around the world. In this week, through the Senate, we were able to pass legislation that will give Australian businesses, Australia’s exporting businesses, better access to about half a billion customers in key countries in our neighbourhood. We always need to ensure that we put Australia on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future, including in the context of global economic headwinds that might come our way from time to time. 

LAURA JAYES: Well Mathias Cormann, seeing as it is Friday and the Royals are in town. You are on the other side of the country, I am sure you wish you were in Bondi and I am sure it is an open invitation any time. But are you a monarchist? Are you a republican? Are you a Harry guy? Are you more of a Meghan person?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am most definitely a monarchist. That is very much a matter of public record. You clearly have never read my first speech to the Parliament.

LAURA JAYES: You have exposed me there, sorry.

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is compulsory reading Laura. 

LAURA JAYES: Alright, I will do that by next Friday Mathias Cormann. I have a few more questions for you on that. But more seriously, every time we see the Royals and this new generation of Royals, you see the republican campaign really fall flat don’t you? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, they are just a wonderful couple. Clearly, along with Prince William and Princess Kate and the whole Royal family they have made a fine contribution. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, what an amazing contribution she has made for so many decades now. I believe that the support for the monarchy in Australia in strong and indeed visits like this only add to that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, and in the anti-bad vibes circle at Bondi, gotta love it. Talk to you soon Mathias Cormann. Appreciate it.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth