Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: The Government is being accused of trying to avoid Parliament with few sitting days before the likely election date. Are you running away from Parliament?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely not. The Government is continuing to get on with the job delivering a stronger economy, more jobs and getting the Budget back into surplus as soon as possible, so that we can put funding for the important services government provides and Australians expect on a sustainable foundation and trajectory for the future. What we have had to do is make a decision to bring the Budget next year forward by six weeks, to accommodate the timing of the election. Everybody knows that next year is an election year. An election is due by the end of May next year and bringing forward the Budget by six weeks means that there are six fewer weeks available in the first part of the year to have sitting weeks. That is just a reflection of that. I have heard comments from the Labor party that supposedly we only scheduled ten sitting days in the first eight months of this year. That is plainly wrong. That is plainly false. If you look at the Parliamentary calendar for 2019, there are eleven sitting weeks scheduled for the first eight months of next year. But of course again, we all know that next year is an election year and that will have implications for the sitting periods next year, as it always does in an election year. That is nothing unusual.
QUESTION: Julia Banks let the crossbenchers know a couple of weeks of her intention to move there. Did she let the Prime Minister know at the same time?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe that she did let the Prime Minister know. We are obviously disappointed by the decision that she has made. But the Morrison Government has been a minority government from day one. But the Morrison Government continues to enjoy the confidence of the House of Representatives.
QUESTION: Have you spoken to Julia Banks?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
QUESTION: Have you secured a deal with the Labor party to pass a Budget measure from the 2018 Budget that will make migrants wait longer for welfare?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As with all Budget measures we seek to secure support and passage through the Parliament and yes this is a measure in relation to which the Government was able to secure a consensus with the Labor party.
QUESTION: What were the concessions that were made?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be able to secure savings of about $1.3 billion over the next forward estimates period as a result of the legislation that will now pass the Parliament. All of the detail in relation to what has been agreed is reflected in a media statement, comprehensive media statements both from the Government and from the Opposition.
QUESTION: After the intelligence committee hearings this week, do you think that there has been a substantial case made from the agencies’ perspective to rush through the decryption bill before Christmas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We think that it is very important for the encryption bill to be passed by the Parliament as soon as possible. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are facing a significant problem when potential terrorists are able to operate and communicate with each other completely beyond reach of relevant law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That exposes the community to an unacceptable level of risk and that is the reason why the Government has been working with the relevant committee in the Parliament to facilitate the passage of that very important reform.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the compromise on that to pass the elements that give counter terror agencies new powers on an interim basis and then come back and deal with the rest of the bill later?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave it to the responsible Minister to deal with these matters to that level of detail. All I would say is that for obvious reasons, the Government is very keen to secure the passage of that reform before we leave this sitting fortnight.
QUESTION: With Julia Banks leaving, just sixteen per cent of the seats on your side are filled by women. How is that a good look?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly in the lead up to the next election, we are working very hard to secure the nomination of as many high quality, outstanding women across Australia as possible. Including, I might add, in the seat of Chisholm, where we have selected Gladys Liu to represent the Liberal party. But we have been selecting outstanding women right across Australia. Two women in winnable positions on the Liberal Senate Team in Tasmania, Georgina Downer of course in Mayo, but right around Australia we are selecting outstanding women to join the outstanding women that are already part of our team here in Canberra today.
QUESTION: Have you got a process in place to get those women?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have got a selection process through the Liberal party organisation, which operates in the usual way. The Liberal party organisation is very conscious of the need to ensure that we have got broad representation from right across the community, including an appropriate number of high quality, outstanding women to join our team here in Canberra.
QUESTION: Have you had any update on the Prime Minister’s investigation, review into bullying claims?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are matters for the organisation. I will leave it to them.
QUESTION: Just again on the intelligence committee if I may, there is a very long running tradition of bipartisanship on national security in recent Parliaments and the Committee has been really key to that success, I think a mutually agreed success. This Bill, the Assistance and Access Bill, Mark Dreyfus yesterday was saying Labor will not be rushed into supporting bad laws that are contained within it. Aren’t we really seeing here a potentially crumbling of that long standing bipartisanship on national security?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us just see where we end up. I certainly agree that it is always desirable for national security related reforms to have bipartisan support and indeed the Government is engaging with the Opposition in relation to that particular Bill, as we should. It is our intention to see good legislation pass. Let us just see how this works out.