Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
FRAN KELLY: Federal Parliament resumes today for a final sitting fortnight before the May election. Banks and boats will be the dominant issues as the major parties jostle for the upper hand. The Government could be embarrassed by a vote to add extra sitting weeks to start dealing with the recommendations from the banking Royal Commission. While Labor, as we have been discussing is on the back foot after compromising on a Crossbencher Bill to expedite the medical transfer of refugees. Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and the Leader of the Government of the Senate. Minister welcome back to Breakfast.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.
FRAN KELLY: Let’s start with the medical transfer Bill because that will be the major clash this morning. The vote has to come on this today in the House. It is the legislation to give doctors a key say on whether asylum seekers should be transferred to Australia for medical treatment. Labor has backed down a little in the face of the Government’s concerns over the Bill, the security concerns and it has put forward amendments. Is that enough for the Government to support this Bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, the Government…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Why not?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government will continue to support our national security and our strong border protection arrangements. Bill Shorten before Christmas sought to ram through the Senate and through the House of Representatives a Bill, which he now recognises would have prevented the Australian Government from turning away criminals from Australia…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: They are changing that now, so now that the murders and the paedophiles and the rapists would not be allowed in under this plan, which is quite a scary thought, it is a warning from Scott Morrison. Will the Government support this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No we will not support any weakening of our border protection arrangements. We will not support any proposition that the Government should be contracting out our responsibility on behalf of the Australian people as the elected Government of Australia to make judgements to protect the integrity and the security of our borders. But what I am pointing out and what I do not think we should be moving away from so quickly is that what Bill Shorten today is effectively acknowledging is that before Christmas he was prepared to vote and to ram through the Parliament a piece of legislation that could have been law by now, that would have prevented the elected Australian Government from turning away criminals and he did so without having sought any security advice, national security advice from our security agencies. This goes to his fitness for office. This goes to his judgement and to his character. All Australians should be very concerned that Bill Shorten was prepared to sacrifice our national security and border security arrangements in pursuit of a tactical, political win on the floor of the House of Representatives.
FRAN KELLY: But Minister the Government’s rhetoric on this seems very over the top, that this would be a dismantling of our border protection system. Why would it be, it is not as if the Government has not brought hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people off Manus Island and Nauru already by now. Has that dismantled it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a very big difference between the executive…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Why?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will tell you why if I can answer the question. The executive Government managing the affairs on behalf of our nation, for example through resettlement arrangements into the United States and managing things carefully without sending the wrong signals to people smugglers, without encouraging people to take the dangerous journey across those seas, which have seen about 1200 people die in the period of the previous Labor Government…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Sure.
MATHIAS CORMANN: …If we now set up an arrangement where essentially the elected Government would be contracting out the decision making on who can come to Australia and the circumstances in which they come to two doctors and it is very easy to…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Minister that is just a mischaracterisation of what this Bill would be…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a mischaracterisation.
FRAN KELLY: The Bill as it stands would say two doctors recommend that a person needs immediate medical transfer. If the Minister looks at that and thinks there is not a case for it or these people would be a threat under national security grounds, which is now expanded, the Minister can block it. If the Minister blocks that, the medical panel appointed, which includes the surgeon general for Border Force, which includes the chief medical officer for Home Affairs would have the final say.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Hang on, if what you are saying is true, why are we dealing with this legislation at all? The Government now is able to bring people in need of medical treatment or medical assessment to Australia…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Yes, but we keep hearing that the bureaucrats are holding that up sometimes for weeks and months.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is just not true.
FRAN KELLY: It is true Minister and there was proof of it before Senate Estimates.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Anyone who needs access to medical treatment gets access to medical treatment. Now, let me say…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: With recourse to the courts in most cases.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is after Labor last weakened our border protection arrangements that we ended up with 8,000 children in detention, 8,000 children in detention. It is under our Government, dealing with that legacy of the Labor Government that we have been able to get all children out of detention, but in an orderly and well managed way that did not put at risk our very important border security arrangements. Putting legislation in like this would weaken our border protection arrangements. We said that in December. Bill Shorten has now effectively acknowledged this. Bill Shorten never sought the necessary advice. If he had been Prime Minster and had made decisions the way he has done in the lead up to Christmas, he would have seriously undermined our border protection arrangements the same way as Kevin Rudd did back in 2008. Last time Labor was in Government, 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat on 800 boats, 1,200 deaths at sea.
FRAN KELLY: That is not what we are dealing with now…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is precisely what we are dealing with.
FRAN KELLY: The Prime Minister is preparing a strong national security message in the run up to the election. He is painting a pretty dark picture of how dangerous Australia is at the Press Club yesterday. He spoke of terrorists, paedophiles, drug dealers, bullies, wife beaters, criminals who need deporting…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are dealing with all of these things. That is just the reality.
FRAN KELLY: Yeah but is that Australian life, that picture?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, we want Australia to be as strong and as prosperous and as peaceful and as safe and secure as possible. Australia is a fantastic country, but we want to keep it that way, we want to keep it that way so that families around Australia have the best possible opportunity to enjoy a fantastic life here in Australia. Personal safety and our national security are important features of that.
FRAN KELLY: Yes, but so are services, like health and education…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: And you know what, we are investing record amounts in services, health and education. Let me tell you…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Newscorp today shows…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: … Labor in Government stopped listing medicines required, very important medicines, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme because they had lost control of our Budget. We are listing thousands and thousands of new medicines across cancer treatment and the like because we have got the Budget back under control.
FRAN KELLY: Newspoll today shows 33 per cent of voters believe funding for services like health and education should be a Government’s top priority…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is.
FRAN KELLY: … Ahead of tax cuts and paying off debt.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are making sure that we keep the economy strong, in fact that the economy can be stronger, whereas under Labor it would be weaker. A stronger economy gives us more revenue so that we can invest more in the services Australians rely on across health, education, you name it. Now, higher taxes, as Bill Shorten is suggesting will lead to a weaker economy, a weaker country, less revenue for Government to fund the important services that Government provides, which is precisely what happened last time when Labor stopped listing medicines on the Pharmaceuticals Benefit Scheme.
FRAN KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast it is 13 past eight, our guest is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann the Government could face a binding vote this week to add two sitting weeks next month to start dealing with the banking Royal Commission recommendations. Why not save yourself the pain and embarrassment of defeat on the floor and just agree to the extra sitting weeks?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a very fundamental error in your opening assertion there. The Government is already dealing with the Banking Royal Commission recommendations. We are taking action on all 76. There is about half a dozen Bills in the Senate as we speak to increase penalties for white collar crime, to increase powers for APRA to abolish exit fees for superannuation, that Labor could vote for this week. Now, there are 40 odd recommendations out of 76 that require the drafting of complex legislation and there is a process involved. Even the Law Council, not always an apologist for a Liberal National Government, came out the other day suggesting that proper process in putting these legislative reforms together is important and it is…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: Well Labor’s argument to that is there are some though that could be done quickly, for instance the recommendation to end the grandfathering commission for financial advisers, that could happen now, banning the hawkers of super and insurance…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor has not even told us what their position is, their actual position in relation to the 76 recommendations. They have given us some weasel words around how they support in principle the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission. We actually are taking action in relation to all 76, but we are doing it in an orderly and methodical fashion. This is just another Labor stunt. We do not believe that there is a case to rush the Parliament back to deal with legislation that is not actually yet drafted.
FRAN KELLY: It does mean though that and for people listening and we know that there is the banking warriors, so called, a group of people who have gripes with the banks in Canberra today wanting action. It does mean that because of the election, nothing, none of those recommendations will be legislated, those 40 pieces of legislation for at least what, six months we are talking now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, the proposition that nothing is happening is wrong…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: No, no, no, those 40…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: …We have got a lot of legislation in the Parliament this week to deal with a whole series of recommendations…interrupted
FRAN KELLY: As I mentioned the trailing commissions for the financial advisers.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have half a dozen Bills in the Parliament this week where we can deal with a lot of the recommendations already. Furthermore, we are taking steps to pay compensation to about 300 victims that have unpaid determinations from the financial ombudsman service and the like, that we want to be dealt with as soon as possible, about $30 million worth of compensation. We are also looking at expending the scope of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. There are a whole range of things that we are doing now, acting swiftly, but some of the reforms necessarily will involve some complex drafting of complex legislation. It is very important for our future economic success that we get that legislation right and that we do not expose ourselves to unintended consequences.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.