ABC Radio National - Drive

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


Date: Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Sitting calendar, Julia Banks, G20, Parliamentary standards

PATRICIA KARVELAS: As the Federal Parliamentary year draws to a close the sense of chaos and division gripping the Government is intensifying. The resignation of Julia Banks from the Liberal party has cast a fresh spotlight on standards of conduct and the treatment of women. Meanwhile the confirmation the Parliament could sit for as few as ten days next year before the Federal election has Labor accusing the Government of giving up. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Welcome back to RN Drive. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So Parliament could sit for as few as 16 days between now and the election. Why only 16 days? Has the Government given up?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, absolutely not. What we have had to do next year, because there is an election due by the end of May is bring the Budget forward by six weeks. That means that there are six fewer weeks available to have Parliamentary sitting weeks prior to the Budget. That is just a matter of logical consequence. During an election period there never are Parliamentary sittings during an election period. That is again the way it always happens in an election year. So we have scheduled eleven weeks in the period to the end of August. Eleven sitting weeks, but we did have to bring the Budget forward by six weeks in order to accommodate the timing of the election in May. That means that the traditional period before a Budget when Parliament is not sitting has also been brought forward. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How do you think this looks to ordinary working Australians who have to front up to work every day whether they like it or not. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is the absolute same workload as would be taking place in the Parliament in an election year in the ordinary course of events. If we are having an election in May, we cannot deliver a Budget in May. Given that there is an election due by the end of May … interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You could have more weeks sitting before that Budget. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are just doing this in the absolute usual way. That is, taking into account the fact that we have had to bring the Budget forward by six weeks, given that we have an election in May. An election in May would mean that we would have to call that some time in April. We are going to have the Budget on the second of April as announced by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer yesterday. There is a preparation period prior to the Budget. Every year, every single year the six or so weeks prior to the Budget Parliament does not sit. That is normal business as usual practice… interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You could sit for longer if you had lots of legislation to pass. You just don’t have that much do you?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We do have a lot of legislation to pass. It would be very good if Labor passed some of our important reforms more swiftly through the Parliament. There is a lot of work to be done. But there is also a lot of work involved putting the Budget together. And whether it is a Labor government or a Liberal National government the five or six week period leading into the Budget is a period that traditionally the Parliament does not sit. That has been the case under governments of both persuasions for a long time. The reason that we have had to bring forward the Budget is to accommodate the timing of the election. Because the last election was a double dissolution election, which is not something that has happened in Australia for a long time. Because the last election was a double dissolution election and the new half Senate election has to be finalised by 1 July 2019, it means that the general election has to take place by the end of May. That has implications in terms of the Parliamentary sitting calendar next year. But that is a logical consequence of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you are just tuning in the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is my guest. Scott Morrison said today he did not know Julia Banks was going to quit the Liberal Party. Given how upset she was at her treatment during the leadership spill, or what she identified as being very bad behaviour going on, shouldn’t he or someone else have been checking in with her?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am sure that the Prime Minister has had conversations with her along the way since the events of the end of August …interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Have you had conversations with her?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have already said on the public record, I have not had conversations with her…interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why didn’t you reach out?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have got my hands full in the Senate, including working with my team and with all of the Senators to make sure that we progress our agenda through the Senate. I leave the work in relation to the team in the House of Representatives to my colleagues in the House of Representatives. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why wasn’t more effort made to keep Julia Banks in the Liberal party? Do you think that was a blunder?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end Julia Banks made her own decisions. I think she pretty well flagged after the leadership change what her intentions were going to be. I read in the media that she made her mind up some weeks ago, so that is obviously a matter for her. We are disappointed by that …interrupted 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you do not think you could have done anything else as a Government, not just individually to try and change this outcome?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is my understanding. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Nothing else could have been done?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is my understanding.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are you worried you could lose other MPs to the Crossbench? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Every individual MP has to make their own judgements. I hope that that is not going to be the case. I hope that everybody in the team is focused on the job that we have to do for the Australian people…interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you concede that it could be the case right?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I cannot speak for every single one of my colleagues. I do not want you to interpret that as me not ruling out. I cannot speak for my colleagues. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Look I understand, there is a logic to what you are saying, I will be respectful, clearly you are you saying you cannot be sure of what people will do. But given the sort of circumstances your Government finds itself in, there is a volatile situation isn’t there? Where any MP could now decide to go on the crossbench, everyone is operating as if it is the last days of the Government.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with that. This is not a new situation for the Morrison Government. The Morrison Government has been a minority Government from day one. But the Morrison Government is also a Government which clearly enjoys the confidence of the House of Representatives. If the Morrison Government did not enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives, the Labor Party would have long initiated a no confidence motion, which they have not done. The reason they have not done that is because they know that the Morrison Government enjoys the confidence of the House of Representatives and we continue to get on with the job of delivering a stronger economy, more jobs and getting the Budget back into surplus as soon as possible. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was scheduled to go to the G20 in Argentina this week. Why are you going in his place now?

MATHIAS CORMANN: This will be the fourth G20 Leaders’ Summit in succession that I am attending. I have attended all three G20 Leaders’ Summits attended by Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister with him. The Treasurer and the Finance Minister in Australia traditionally share these responsibilities around. I attended a number of G20 Finance Ministers’ meetings before on behalf of the Treasurer over the years, including earlier this year the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Washington. But as I say, I have supported the Prime Minister at G20 Leaders Summits for the last three …interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay but Josh Frydenberg was meant to go Mathias Cormann and he is not now, so why?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Because we made a judgment that I should do what I have done over the last three years …interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is it based on the numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is based on the fact that we work as a team, that Josh Frydenberg is the Deputy Leader as well as the Treasurer and he has got some domestic priorities to deal with at the moment …interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What are the domestic priorities? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a matter for Josh to explain …interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: No, but you can explain because you made the decision as a Government. Why all of a sudden is he needed here?

MATHIAS CORMANN: He is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and he has got some work to do here. I will let him explain all of that …interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, but is the work because the House of Representatives is now less workable than it was?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Patricia, what I am saying to you is I have got the experience of supporting Prime Ministers at G20 Leaders’ Summits having gone there when it was in Turkey in 2015, in China in 2016 and in Germany in 2017. The judgement was made, as part of the team, that given this is a weekend in between sitting weeks, that in all of the circumstances I was in the best position to support the Prime Minister at this G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires. That is really all there is to it. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Labor and the Greens have accused LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan of trashing standards in the Senate over remarks he made about Sarah Hanson-Young. Are they right?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I thought the comments were inappropriate. I have said so on the public record. The President of the Senate called him up on it and asked him to withdraw and Senator O’Sullivan withdrew his remarks. Both Senator Wong on behalf of the Opposition and myself on behalf of the Government made some comments in the Senate today observing that the Senate is a Chamber where there is, appropriately, a robust debate as we engage in the battle of ideas on behalf of our communities and the people we represent. But that as much as it can be robust and willing at times, it is important for us at all times to also treat each other with the appropriate courtesy and respect and operate with the appropriate standards.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So what sort of role do you play in that? I mean I know what Senator Scott Ryan has said as the President of the Senate, I know about the rules, but in terms of you individually leading this place for the Government, do you just say to someone like Barry O’Sullivan ‘Pull your head in, don’t use this kind of sexist language in the Parliament’? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go publicly into private conversations. I do talk to my colleagues of course from time to time as required. But let me just make the general point, every individual Member and Senator has a responsibility in relation to their own conduct. But the point that we very clearly make is that as much as there is a place for robust debate, it is also important that we treat each other with the appropriate level of respect and that is something that the President, Senator Wong and myself all again reminded the Senate Chamber of today.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So are you disgusted that men in your own Party talk like this to women?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into private conversations … interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I am asking you, don’t tell me what you said to him, you tell me what you think. Is it disgusting that he would say what he said?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have already answered the question. I have made the point that the comments were inappropriate. That they should not have been made. He was appropriately pulled up by the President. The President asked him to withdraw and he has withdrawn. That is really all there is to it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Senator Lucy Gichuhi she has told Triple J she wouldn’t want her 18 year old daughter in Parliament at the moment. Here she is.

SENATOR LUCY GICHUHI [EXCERPT]: I was in this country for about 19 years before I got to Parliament and I had never felt insecure, I had never thought of myself as black, never remembered I was a woman, until I got to Parliament. So it is a place that culture must change.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is it shocking to you to hear that from her?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have not got a son I have got two girls, but if I had a son, whether it is an 18 year old son or an 18 year old daughter I would not want either of them to be in Parliament at 18 years of age is the first point I would make. The second point I would make is it is in the nature of parliamentary democracy and the Westminster system is a particularly robust system of parliamentary democracy, that at times the system can become very combative. I think it is very important that we always watch that very carefully and that we always remind ourselves of the need to treat each other with the appropriate levels of courtesy and respect and that we observe … interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Has that been lost on people? Because according to what she just said, you know, she said she didn’t think about her race or her gender, and all of a sudden these issues are there, that means there is racism and sexism in the Senate?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe there is racism in the Senate. I genuinely do not believe there is racism in the Senate. I also do not believe there is sexism in the Senate. I think that what happens from time to time is that in the heat of debate people get carried away. That is not acceptable. That is not an excuse.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You really do not think there is sexism in the Senate?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe that there is a systemic issue. I think that from time to time we need to remind ourselves of the standards expected of us in the context of what can be a robust battle of ideas.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But those comments from Barry O’Sullivan, they were sexist weren’t they?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have already made the point the comments were unacceptable and appropriately … interrupted

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But they demonstrate sexism, don’t they?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I would not concede that there is a systemic issue of sexism in the Senate. That is the proposition that you put to me. That is not something that I accept.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, thanks so much for coming on the show.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.