Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now is the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Thanks so much for your time. Was yesterday all about avoiding the first defeat by a Government on legislation in the House of Representatives since 1929? Was that the focus?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. The focus yesterday was to secure passage of the very important encryption laws unamended through the Senate. Mission accomplished. We were able to get that through the Senate. The second objective was to preserve our highly effective offshore processing arrangements as part of our border protection arrangements. We wanted to protect the Australian community from the negative impact of Bill Shorten siding with the Greens to weaken our border protection. We know that when Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were in government, they allowed the Greens to write their border protection policies with devastating effect. 50,000 illegal arrivals on 800 boats. More than a thousand people dead at sea. Yesterday, what we were able to do successfully is to stop the Labor party joining in with the Greens to weaken border protection arrangements. It all went according to plan.
LAURA JAYES: But you weren’t successful in passing some crucial legislation when it comes to energy. This yesterday looked like a pretty high stake game of chicken in the Parliament. Do you think that is how voters will see it? Who’s fault is it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What voters will see is that we had one key objective in the Senate yesterday and that was to pass the very important encryption laws to ensure we can give our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the powers they need to pursue terrorists, child sex offenders and serious criminals. By making sure that terrorists, child sex offenders and serious criminals cannot communicate beyond the reach of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Those laws were passed. Our judgement all the way through was that given the House of Representatives had legislated all of the amendments that had been agreed between the Government and the Opposition, I did not believe, we did not believe, that the Labor party would ultimately stand in the way. Bill Shorten and others were pursuing a tactical game, playing a high stakes tactical game, putting our border protection arrangements at risk, potentially putting our national security at risk. But in the end, when it comes to the encryption laws I did not believe that Labor could justify to the community that, given that we had amended the bill consistent with the bipartisan agreement through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, that they would stand in the way and they did not.
KIERAN GILBERT: Were you at any point yesterday willing to leave Canberra without passing those laws?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We were going to pass those laws. The question was whether those laws were going to be passed through the Senate with amendments. In order for them to be promulgated, which they now can be, they needed to pass the Senate unamended yesterday. Given that all of the amendments, more than 160 amendments, had been already passed by the House of Representatives there was no reason for Labor to insist on further amendments to be passed … interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So you were never going to leave Canberra without the passage of those laws, because much of yesterday that was the risk.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. That was the … interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: It was never going to happen.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That was Labor’s spin. Our judgement was that when it was all said and done, given the Government had done the right thing, acting consistent with the agreement that was reached in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, that ultimately these encryption laws would pass unamended. I should say here, that throughout all of the noise, Penny Wong as the Leader of the Opposition and I did work behind the scenes to make sure we reached the right outcome here. Again, I have to say Penny Wong very much did the right thing in helping to facilitate, in the end, the passage of that legislation through the Senate last night.
LAURA JAYES: Is the legislation to force the divestiture of energy companies effectively dead, because this has been pushed off to a committee next year, that committee is not due to report back until March. That gives only two days to pass this legislation before an election.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Watch this space. We now have two months until the Parliament comes back to work with relevant crossbenchers. If Labor wants to stand in the way of our efforts to bring electricity prices down and ensure that we can have more reliable supplies of energy, that is a matter for the Labor party. But we now have two months to work with relevant crossbenchers. We need eight out of the ten to bring this on in early February. Any decision to refer an inquiry to a committee by a certain date does not mean that committee cannot report earlier. We will certainly want to see the committee report earlier. The Senate is able to make judgements early next year to bring this on as soon as we get back.
KEIRAN GILBERT: So you have not given up on that …interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: No not all.
KEIRAN GILBERT: … despite the howls of disapproval from the business community and from the energy sector?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We respect that there are a range of vested interests in this space. We engage with the business community. We went through a consultative process when it comes to that relevant legislation. In the end, if there is market misconduct, in all of the circumstances, we believe that the Government needs to give itself those powers with appropriate safeguards. These are court orders. These are orders that would only be pursued in the most extreme circumstances, in the context of market misconduct that leads to market manipulation. It is not unusual internationally for public authorities to have powers to intervene in these circumstances.
LAURA JAYES: The RBA last night Mathias Cormann, warned that there could be a further official cut to the interest rate. We saw the growth figures coming well under done this week. What does this all say about the state of our economy at the moment? Are you less confident than you were perhaps a couple of months ago?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Our economy continues to grow stronger than the OECD average. We continue to grow more strongly than any of the G7 countries other than the United States. Certainly there have been, internationally, some of the downside risks, that had previously been identified in terms of the global economy have certainly materialised. These are things that hopefully will continue to improve into the months ahead. The RBA makes their judgements independently. That is a matter for them. In terms of the economic growth outlook, we continue to be optimistic. We have to remember, our unemployment rate is down at 5 per cent. When we came into Government it was set at in excess of 6 and a quarter per cent. It is well below where it was and it is well below where it was anticipated it would be.
KEIRAN GILBERT: Okay, Mathias Cormann, thanks very much for your time. We will talk to you soon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: A pleasure to talk to you.