ABC TV – News Breakfast

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






ABC, Melbourne terror attack, RBA, Climate policy, Newspoll

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let us turn to federal politics now and Senators are back in Canberra this week, but there has not been much good news for the Morrison Government.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yesterday's Newspoll showed that support for the Coalition Government has slid again, despite Scott Morrison's high-profile tour of Queensland. We are joined from Canberra by the Minister for Finance and the Government's Leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann. Senator Cormann, good morning, welcome back to News Breakfast.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: A lot to get through so let us try and quickly whip through a whole wide range of topics. We should start with the Four Corners investigation into us, the ABC last night, because some interesting observations made there that do concern the Government. The former Managing Director saying it was her impression from the Chair that it was important that the ABC pleased the Government and the Chair acknowledging that it would be naive to think that you do not need to keep the Government in mind and look after what the Government might be thinking. Does the Government need to be pleased by the ABC?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Not at all. What we expect on behalf of Australian taxpayers is that the ABC reports accurately and impartially on events as it sees fit. There is absolutely no need to please the Government. These are obviously conversations that allegedly took place between the former Chair and the former Managing Director. So these were not conversations that we were part of in any way. But the answer to your question is no.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer was on this program yesterday, in which he said that the ideologues in his Party, your Party should really back off their criticism of the ABC, that there was nothing like the ABC for taking care of and representing and broadcasting to rural and regional Australia, in particular. Is that a fair observation?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I agree with him that the ABC has got a very important role and a very important responsibility in the public interest. You will find that personally I have never ever criticised the ABC. I love the ABC. I appear on ABC outlets on regular occasions and I respect the job that you have as journalists. Go your hardest. From time to time, whether it is the ABC or any other media outlet, there can be questions raised in relation to accuracy of certain reports. Personally, I do not believe I have queried an ABC story directly myself. I have certainly queried stories with other journalists in private sector outlets. So there is nothing wrong with having a conversation about whether a particular report was accurate or not. In the broad, the ABC is a very important organisation and we recognise it as such.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now I just feel like I am fishing for compliments, so I am going to move on. The issue around mental illness being used as an excuse for terrorism and this is the observation that was made yesterday by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The former President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs was on Q&A and of course, many others have made this point too in recent days, saying it is a false dichotomy to actually draw a distinction between that, because almost always in these cases, these people are found to have some mental illness, some mental problem. That is a fair point isn't it? It does not really get us anywhere trying to hive those two things off into separate parts.

MATHIAS CORMANN: When it is all said and done, we have to continue to find better and more effective ways to keep the community safe and secure. When you have got several hundred people under active investigation at any one point in time, about 230 odd Australians with their passports cancelled, it is very difficult to keep an eye on all of those people on a 24-7 basis. Look, there are all sorts of different elements to why somebody does what they do in these terrible, terrible circumstances. We have to continue to think as a community and as policymakers through how we can even better respond to the challenges at hand. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I will move on to some other matters. West Australian Liberal Dean Smith has warned that you could lose the next election because the Government is not appealing to younger voters. He says that you, the lot of you, need to deal with climate change in order to get them on board, to get some credible policies in place to deal with climate change in order to persuade younger voters to you. Do you agree?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well we are dealing with climate change…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But he says you are not. He says you are not. He is a member of your Party. It is not me saying this, it is an elected member of your Party saying that his own Party does not have those credible policies to deal with climate change to attract younger voters. Does he have to be listened to? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: If I could finish my sentence. As I was about to say, we are dealing with climate change, but we are dealing with climate change in a way that does not undermine the opportunity for young people in particular, to get a job, to build a career in Australia into the future. We are dealing with climate change in a way that is economically responsible…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: My interjection stands because you are not answering the question. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am directly answering the question. We are absolutely focused on the best interests of younger Australians and the best interest of younger Australians, yes deals with a whole variety issues including making sure that young Australians today have the best possible opportunity to get ahead in years to come…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well he says they are not buying it.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am quite happy for you to put that proposition to me…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That is not my proposition.

MATHIAS CORMANN: The proof will be in the pudding at the next election. My view is and our view is that we have to continue to take strong and effective action in relation to climate change, but in a way that is economically responsible, that does not undermine the opportunity for young Australians in the future to get a good job and to be able to build a career here in Australia.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The Free Trade Agreement with Jakarta has been shelved following, it would appear, that country's anger over the Government's proposed move of the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So is it time now to abandon that policy formally?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept at all what you have just asserted, that the Indonesia Australia Free Trade Agreement has been shelved. Obviously,…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It has, it has been put to one side. It is not being proceeded with at this stage.

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not right. It was concluded by the Prime Minister with President Widodo on the 31st August. There is now a process to go through, which was always going to be the case, in terms of finalising the text. As soon as possible, after the text has been finalised, consistent with processes both in Indonesia and Australia, we would expect that to be finalised in its ultimate form.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The Former Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin has publicly called for the Central Bank to start lifting interest rates. He says this should have been done long ago. Do you agree?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not express opinions as a Minister on what judgements the Reserve Bank of Australia makes independently in relation to monetary policy. The Reserve Bank of Australia has got the job of assessing all of the relevant economic information and all of the relevant data that they consider relevant and make judgements. It is a very important feature of our system that the Reserve Bank of Australia makes those decisions independently from Government and, as such, it would not be appropriate for me to comment.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You have conceded that the Government had worked itself into a more competitive position before Malcolm Turnbull was deposed. You made those remarks following the former Prime Minister's appearance in Q&A on Thursday. But at the time of the spill you said that Peter Dutton was the best person to lead the Party. Your Government is slipping even further in the polls under Scott Morrison, so I guess you probably still believe that, given the poll position right now, that Peter Dutton, right now, would be a better person to lead the Party. Yes, no?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No and I think you are leaving an important element out. What I said is that up until the point Malcolm Turnbull called the surprise leadership spill, which formally crystallised the level of division inside the Liberal Party, which had been building up, that is up until that point, the Government had been effective in getting ourselves back into a more competitive position. What was clear that once Malcolm declared the leadership positions vacant and called for a ballot on the Tuesday and the result was what it was, it was clear that the issue had to be resolved with more certainty. Later that week it was resolved with more certainty and the Liberal Party party room decided that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were best equipped to unite the Party moving forward, to ensure that we would be in the best possible position to provide strong and effective Government for Australia and to be in the best possible position to be competitive in the lead up to the next election. I am very confident that with six months to go, or thereabouts, to the next election, that we have every opportunity, based on our track record, based on our plans for the future, based on the risks that Bill Shorten presents to the Australian economy with his reckless high taxing agenda, that we have every opportunity to be competitive at the next election.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Would you be in a better poll position if Peter Dutton was in charge?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We made our judgement, the party room made our judgement…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That is not an answer. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a direct answer. I absolutely 100 per cent support the judgement that the party room made, that Scott Morrison puts us in the best possible position to win the next election. It is a matter of public record what position I took in the lead up to that second party room. That is a matter of public record, but the party room made a decision and I fully support that decision. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Good to talk to you, Mathias Cormann, thank you.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth