Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Minister do you want to tell us where we are up to with the Indonesia FTA? Do we think we are on track to get that signed at ASEAN? And if not, why not?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement negotiation was concluded by President Widodo and the Prime Minister on 31 August. There was always going to be a process on each side to finalise the text. The aspiration always was to finalise that process by the end of the year. That continues to be our aspiration. As soon as relevant processes are finalised we will get to the next stage.
QUESTION: Has the Indonesian side said to you or anyone in the Government that they are looking for a commitment that Australia won’t move its Israel Embassy to Jerusalem before they sign the deal?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a matter of public record that I spent five days in Indonesia about a week ago and as I have indicated last Friday, no that has not been put to me.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister has said after he met with President Widodo a couple of months ago now, that it would be done by the end of the year. Yesterday he said that it didn’t really matter and that it was now in the hands of the Indonesians. Is it not embarrassing for the Government that something that was so certain is something that is so uncertain?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. We value our relationship with Indonesia. We concluded the negotiations in relation to the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement on 31 August, when Prime Minister Morrison met with President Widodo. There was always going to be a process subsequent to that in relation to finalising the text through processes on each side. This is an agreement that is very much in the interests of both countries. It is in the best interests of the people of Indonesia as well as the people of Australia for this to proceed. When everybody is ready, we will get to the next step. That is the usual process.
QUESTION: The language from the Prime Minister yesterday was that it was in Indonesia’s hands. Why is it now in Indonesia’s hands if it was agreed to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There was always a process to follow after the substantial agreement had been reached. In relation to these sorts of agreements, there is always after the substance has been agreed, there is a process to finalise the text, the treaty text if you like, in relation to those sorts of agreements. That is the reason why it was not finally signed on 31 August, even though the negotiations had been concluded at that point. That is the process that we are going through. In the end, it is in the interests of the people of Indonesia as well in the interests of the people of Australia for that process to come to a conclusion. We are keen for that to happen by the end of the year, but if not, it will be soon thereafter.
QUESTION: The ABC issue last night, Michelle Guthrie raised some allegations of inappropriate behaviour on behalf of Justin Milne. Both touching behaviour and political interference. Did that concern you? Does that concern you to hear those views?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is very hard for me to comment in relation to those allegations. I have watched the program last night. From what I can understand from the program, no complaint, no official complaint was made. Very hard for me based on contradictory statements by the former chair and the former managing director to form a judgement one way or the other. In relation to some of the other matters raised, let me just say that the Government’s only interest on behalf of taxpayers is for ABC reporting to be factually accurate and impartial. Any proposition that somehow there is an expectation that the ABC should please the Government I would reject absolutely. That is not an expectation the Government has.
QUESTION: Does the Government think that the ABC has improved factually since the resignations of the two individuals?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not something that I have turned my mind to. I can say that in my whole period of working in this job either in Opposition or in Government, I do not believe that I have ever made any complaint to the ABC or about the ABC. I have raised factual inaccuracies with journalists from other news outlets. Not in any way other than wanting to make sure that the facts were properly understood. I think that that is an entirely appropriate level of engagement between Members of Parliament and journalists.
QUESTION: On another issue, national security experts have come out saying that ASIO would need 9,000 security staff in order to monitor terror suspects 24/7. Would the Government consider spending the estimated $1 billion needed to do that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is very difficult, when you have hundreds and hundreds of people under active investigation at any one point in time, 230 people as I am advised who have had their passport cancelled as we speak. In relation to these sorts of matters, it is very difficult, if not impossible for any government to provide monitoring 24/7. The truth is that we have to continue to find ways, including as the Prime Minister has indicated, by relying on relevant community leaders to identify any issues, not just by having 24/7 monitoring through intelligence and law enforcement officers.
QUESTION: So at this stage the Islamic leaders are saying that is a huge ask and that it is unreasonable to expect them to know what is happening with their youth at home. Is that really their responsibility? Or does there at least need to be some step towards expanding ASIOs capacity to do this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have significantly boosted resources for intelligence and law enforcement agencies in relation to these matters. It is unrealistic to think that we could ever reach a circumstance where every suspect is under 24/7 monitoring by a Government official. We do believe that it is incumbent on relevant community leaders to keep an eye out, to identify any problems as early as possible.
QUESTION: Is the Coalition better under Scott Morrison than it is under Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We made a judgement, given the events about a month ago that Scott Morrison was the best person to lead us to the next election – to provide good and effective government between now and the next election and to put us in the best possible position to win the next election. That is where we are.
QUESTION: But do the polls not indicate that perhaps that was the wrong decision? There was a two point gap, now there is a ten point gap.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, the polls do not indicate that at all. What you are ignoring and what too many commentators appear to be ignoring are the events of the Tuesday of that particular sitting week. If there had been a further poll after the former Prime Minister decided to bring on a surprise spill which crystallised a level of division inside the Liberal party party room, which made the former Prime Minister’s position irretrievable. We have not had another poll after that. The polls that were taken up until that point were no longer relevant from that moment onwards. What the Liberal party party room made was a decision later that week to elect Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg as leaders and they are the team that in our judgement will put us in the strongest position not only to deliver good Government to the people of Australia but also to win the next election… interrupted
QUESTION: Do you regret your role in the coup?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I helped to resolve an issue that was created by the surprise leadership spill on the Tuesday. The decision that was taken by the former Prime Minister to declare the leadership positions vacant and to call for a leadership ballot on the Tuesday was a decision made by Malcolm Turnbull. I was not aware of it. The result was what it was. As soon as the result was there, it was clear that the vote that day did not resolve the issue of the leadership of the Liberal party with sufficient certainty. The judgement was made by a majority of members in the Liberal party party room that we need to resolve it. We did resolve it. We made a judgement that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were the best equipped to unite our team and to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position to win the next election. I support that decision absolutely.
QUESTION: Minister, just on those community leaders that you mentioned. The Sheik at the Islamic Centre that the Melbourne attacker attended, Sheik Mohammed Omran is quoted in the newspapers this morning telling the Prime Minister to stop blaming the Muslim community, when he is just trying to distract from what was a policy and security failing. He has used quite strong language to use that. What do you say to that criticism, because there has been a lot of soul searching in terms of the rhetoric that we use after these attacks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very disappointed by those comments reported in The Australian today. There is no suggestion at all that the Prime Minister was blaming community leaders. He was not. I believe that the Australian people though, overwhelmingly, support the Prime Minister’s core proposition. That is that community leaders in the Islamic community can do more to help Australia identify problems. They are certainly in a better position than many others to help identify problems. I believe that the expectation of the community would be that they would do so.
QUESTION: The language you used on Mr Turnbull and the coup, sorry to go back to that, was stronger than what you used last week. Do you wish now that those events had not happened at all?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What do you mean do you wish ‘now’? I have said all the way through that I wish that those events had not happened. The person that triggered those events was Malcolm Turnbull. I have said that all the way through. That has not been a change in what I said. If you look at what I said at the time, before and after relevant meetings, if you look at what I have said since then, I have said that consistently.