Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Can we expect an early Budget prior to the election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have read that speculation in the media today. Next year is an election year. The election is due by the end of May next year. That has potential implications for the timing of the Budget. But no such decision has yet been made. If such a decision is made, when such a decision is made in relation to the timing of the Budget, that would be announced in due course.
QUESTION: How do you turn around what happened on Saturday at a Federal level, for Victorian implications?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is still quite a bit of time before the next election. When we go to the next election, we will go to the Australian people pointing to our track record, presenting our plans for the future and pointing out that under Bill Shorten’s agenda Australia would be weaker, Australians would be poorer - fewer jobs and higher unemployment would mean lower wages. There is a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and then. We have gone through a difficult period in Government in recent months. That is not a secret. That is a matter of public record. We have to continue to work hard to put ourselves in the best possible position, because we have a responsibility to the Australian people to win the next election, because Bill Shorten’s agenda would have a very negative impact on the opportunities for Australian families to get ahead.
QUESTION: A negative campaign in Victoria from a Liberals perspective didn’t seem to work. Is there going to be a change of strategy at a Federal level? You just talked quite negatively there about attacking the Opposition. Is there a need to change and sell a more positive message at a Federal level?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I was not involved in the logistics on the ground in terms of the campaign in Victoria. When it comes to the next election, it is very important that we point out that having inherited a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a rapidly deteriorating Budget position from Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and others that we have been able to turn that situation around. Economic growth is stronger today. The economic growth outlook is better. Employment growth is much stronger. Unemployment is lower and below where it was anticipated it would be. Wages growth has started to pick up. The Budget is in a stronger and improving position. All of that is very important for the opportunities for Australian families today and into the future to get ahead. Of course it is our responsibility to both present our track record, to present our plans for the future and to explain the risks of the alternative. That is a part of the democratic process. We will engage in that between now and the next election. Of course we will.
QUESTION: Did Federal factors influence the Victorian result?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Federal factors as you call them, would not have helped given the events of a few months ago. But our feedback from the ground certainly is that predominantly this was an election that was fought on State issues. But I would readily concede that the events of a few months ago here in Canberra would not have helped.
QUESTION: Given the latest Newspoll do you think that the Government needs to do better in selling its message than what you have just described?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have to continue to work hard to provide good Government, to implement our plans to ensure the economy is as strong as it can be, that as many jobs are created as possible, so that there is the driver for increased wages growth moving forward. We have to ensure that in the lead up to the next election, we not only explain the achievements that we have been able to secure for Australian families, but also explain why it is important for us to stay the course, rather than to change direction and adopt an agenda that would make Australia weaker and Australians poorer.
QUESTION: Daniel Andrews said Malcolm Turnbull texted him to congratulate him on Saturday night. Is that helpful?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a courteous thing to do, I would have thought.
QUESTION: Senator, Deloitte’s Budget Monitor today, they have obviously highlighted higher than forecast revenues and a booming economy. But the Opposition has come out and said that shows there is no excuse for the Government to be having rising debt. Would you mind responding to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Government net debt as a share of GDP peaked in the last financial year. The Labor party is really unbelievably brazen. They have got no shame. They left behind a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a rapidly deteriorating Budget position. In the period from Labor’s last Budget in government to the 2013 election, the Budget bottom line deteriorated by $33 billion, $3 billion a week. So we don’t take any lectures from the Labor party. We have worked very hard over the last five years to put the economy on a stronger foundation and trajectory for the future, to create more jobs, more than 1.1 million new jobs created in the economy and to repair the Budget. In 2017-18, 350,000 new jobs were created in the economy. 150,000 more than we had anticipated when we delivered the Budget in May 2017. That means 150,000 more Australians paying personal income tax. It means 150,000 more Australians not claiming the same welfare payments. These are the sorts of reasons why our Budget is in a stronger position now than it was when Labor was last in government. You have to remember, Labor benefited from the best terms of trade in Australia in 140 years. Labor benefited from record prices for our key commodity exports. Record global prices for our key commodity exports. In the whole period that we have been in Government, we have had to deal with significant falls in global prices for our key commodity exports. Global prices for our key commodity exports are still well below where they were at their peak under the period of Labor in government. Yet, we are continuing to implement our plan for a stronger economy, for more jobs, to put the Budget on a stronger and improving position and trajectory for the future, because we understand that that actually is what helps Australian families today and into the future to get ahead. It helps us fund the important and essential services Australians rely on.
QUESTION: Was it wise to dump Malcolm Turnbull given he was popular in Victoria and you have since gone backwards in the polls nationally?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are now events that are part of history. These events were triggered in a way that I think all of you understand. We had to deal with the circumstance as it developed that week. It was not ideal as I have already conceded. There is no doubt that the events of a few months ago would not have helped in Victoria. But we are where we are. We have a responsibility to do the best we can for the Australian people between now and the next election.
QUESTION: Senator Cormann, Jane Hume, one of your colleagues in the Senate writes today that the Liberal party can no longer rely on just guaranteeing prosperity. The very prosperity that you were just talking about. That is also has to stop these [inaudible] ideological and social issues, issues like climate change do you agree?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very much of the view that families around Australia need us to ensure that our economy is as strong as it possibly can be. That as many jobs are created as we possibly can, to ensure that Australians today and into the future, that Australian families today and the kids and grandkids of Australians today, have the best possible opportunity to get head. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We do address a whole range of issues, including social issues. We do so according to our considered judgement as a team.
QUESTION: Senator I know it is not within your house, but just wondering how you are seeing things, how you expect things to play out today with the debate around the corruption watchdog.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have my hands full in the Senate. I will leave the House of Representatives to my colleagues. I would just make the point that I think there is a broad consensus across the Parliament that we need effective measures to fight corruption. Our approach at a federal level is a multi-agency approach, which has been very effective. Australia is recognised internationally as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. But we should always be open to suggestions on how that can be improved. We are concerned that the bill that has been put forward by crossbenchers, based apparently on work of The Australia Institute is overreach. Just to use one example. Journalists with the ABC and SBS, under that legislation, we believe, could be forced to appear in front of that integrity commission to give evidence, to reveal sources and to reveal legal advice that they have received in the context of stories that they might run from time to time. I would not have thought journalists in the great Australian press gallery would be all that attracted to that sort of proposition. So with these sorts of proposals, the devil is always in the detail. What I would say is that as a Government, we are always open to good suggestions on how existing arrangements can be improved. But it actually must be about improving existing arrangements, not coming up with things just for a political line that ultimately could make things less desirable.