Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 15 February 2019
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now is the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Thanks very much for your time. I want to start with the US transfer deal, the Government has still got about 700 to transfer to the United States under the asylum seeker transfer arrangement, but the Government’s message in relation to the people on Manus and Nauru is warning about security threats. Is the Government trying to blow up that US transfer deal?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. The US, as they have outlined right from the word go, is going through their own extreme vetting processes, as they call it, in relation to any transferee that they accept and they have access to all of the relevant information. In relation to the sorts of people that Bill Shorten has exposed our country to, the US would not accept them as transferees. But what Bill Shorten has done this week, he has weakened the position of the Australian Government to turn away people in circumstances where the US would not accept them.
KIERAN GILBERT: But the language that the Government is using, that you have used, that others have used about this security threat that makes it sound like they are all criminals, this is going to go down very badly in Washington.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a very serious issue. That is not true. I completely reject that proposition. What we have said is that to the extent that there are individuals, and there are, who pose a potential security risk or safety risk to Australians, then the opportunity for the Australian Government to turn them away or keep them away from Australia has been weakened…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: But why is it not true what I said, because you said rapists, paedophiles…interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: You made the blanket assertion that we said this in relation to all, that is not right…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: You do not think it has that effect?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have not characterised all in this particular way. What I can tell you, on Manus Island for example right now, there is somebody who is charged with four counts of sexual penetration of a minor, but because the person has only been charged, has not be convicted and sentenced, under the laws passed by Bill Shorten, that particular person would not be able to be kept away. That is a live example. On Nauru there is somebody who has been charged with an indecent act against a child under 16, under the laws passed by Bill Shorten we are not able to keep him away…interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Why wouldn’t you be able to make that decision?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Because the law that was passed by the Parliament at the instigation of Bill Shorten has taken that power away from us and indeed, there is somebody on Nauru who has assaulted a psychiatrist and again has been charged accordingly. So, this is what we are saying, the laws that were passed very narrowly define…interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Yeah Senator, but why wouldn’t you be able to make those decisions, not on character grounds, but purely on national security grounds alone and the second part to my question is if you are so concerned about these so called loop holes, you are still the Government of the day last time I checked, why won’t you move an amendment in the House to fix them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I tell you what we will do on the second question, we will repeal the Bill. This is going to be a matter that goes to the Australian people at the election in about three months time and we will explain very clearly to the Australian people the risks that Bill Shorten has exposed the country to. Your first question, why is this so, the reason this is so is because Bill Shorten deliberately decided to weaken our border protection arrangements and the reason he did that was, well there were two reasons, one because he was too weak to stand up to the left in his own Party in support of our national interest and our border protection arrangements and secondly, because he was attracted to pursue a tactical political win on the floor of the House of the Representatives at the expense of the Government. So he was prepared to compromise our…interrupted
LAURA JAYES: But these two individuals, these examples, sorry Senator, these examples that you give about these two individuals on Manus Island, why can’t you turn them away on national security grounds?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, there was one example on Manus and two examples on Nauru and the reason we can’t turn them away or keep them away ultimately is because Bill Shorten has legislated to take that power away from the Government. That is the whole point. That is why we have made this argument that what Bill Shorten is doing is exposing the Australian community to…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: You could not on national security grounds though if ASIO warns against these individuals?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. These are criminal offences, these are not ASIO related. The opportunity to turn people around on national security grounds under the ASIO legislation is very narrow. They do not capture somebody who is charged for four counts of sexual penetration against a minor or somebody who is charged for indecent acts against a child under 16 or somebody who is charged for assaulting a psychiatrist on Nauru. These are all issues that were raised with the Leader of the Opposition. He was fully aware of these risks and he decided to proceed the way he has irrespective.
KIERAN GILBERT: On those matters, why would a jurisdiction, Nauru or PNG allow an individual to leave their jurisdiction if they are accused of such heinous crimes? Why would you let them go? You would want to prosecute them yourself.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me tell you, I cannot speak for PNG and for Nauru and I will not reflect on their decision making power. But the truth is that the legislation in Australia, if Nauru and PNG were happy to see the back of them, the legislation in Australia now would not allow us to keep them away if the process is triggered that Bill Shorten has legislated this week.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, Border Force have been subject to budget cuts or at least restrictions under this Government. There have been fuel rations, pay disputes, in these changed circumstances as you outlined this morning, will you bolster the Australian Border Force’s budget now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject what you are saying there. The border protection budget has been significantly boosted under our Government. The records are there for all to see. Whoever has briefed that to you is not telling you the truth. They have in relation to the agency, as is the case for all agencies, there are enterprise bargaining arrangement negations along the way and they have gone through the normal and usual process in relation to Australian Border Force and they will continue to work their way through. We have put significant additional resources into border protection, including and in particular to deal with the legacy caseload that we inherited from Labor after they changed policy last time in Government, weakened our border protection policy last time in Government, and caused 50,000 illegal arrivals on 800 boats and about 1,200 deaths at sea.
KIERAN GILBERT: Given you are the Government though, do you accept that the electorate will judge this Government if boats arrive within in the next few months
MATHIAS CORMANN: The electorate knows that we are absolutely committed to strong border protection and that we will do everything we can to ensure the boats do not come again. We stopped the boats and people know that we will do everything we can to keep them away, no question. But the Australian people also need to understand that this week, in pursuit of a tactical, political win, Bill Shorten decided to weaken our border protection arrangements, which will put Australians at risk.
KIERAN GILBERT: Has Mr Morrison baulked though, has he blinked and not called the election? Why wouldn’t you just go straight away?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. We continue to be the Government. We continue to make the decisions to keep Australians safe and to make the Australian economy stronger. There will be an election in about three months. There will be a Budget in the intervening period and what the Australian people will be able to see is that under the Liberal National Government the economy will be stronger, the country will be stronger, whereas under Bill Shorten the economy and the country would be weaker.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, can I ask you about your energy policy. What is it, do you have one at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course, we are fully focused and committed to bringing electricity prices down. We have already introduced a whole series of measures of course, including the price safety net. We are also, at the recommendation of the ACCC, pursuing legislation to deal with anti-competitive behaviour in the market also as part of our efforts to bring down electricity prices and that is something that we are absolutely committed to pursue.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the big stick? Bridget McKenzie seems to think it will be introduced in the Budget week, is that right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, we will take this legislation to the next election. The introduction of the Bill is one thing, but we believe the biggest stick that we can get in order to drive electricity prices down is a mandate from the Australian people at the next election.
KIERAN GILBERT: So she says it will be introduced in the Budget week. You are the Finance Minister, is she right or wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The introduction of the Bill is one thing. What I am saying to you is this is a Bill that ultimately will be subject to judgement by the Australian people. The biggest stick that any Government can get to keep the economy strong, to protect our borders, to bring electricity prices down through this legislation and other measures is a strong mandate from the Australian people and that is what we will seek at the next election…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: You do not sound like you are endorsing her position though.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely reject that characterisation…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So you will introduce it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Introduction of the Bill is one thing, but what I am saying to you is this is a policy and this is a piece of legislation that ultimately will be the subject of judgement by the Australian people at the next election…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So it will be introduced, but won’t pass is the point?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I could not be more clear. We will take this to the Australian people at the next election because ultimately the biggest stick that we can have to bring electricity prices down by addressing anti-competitive behaviour in the energy market is by seeking and receiving a strong mandate from the Australian people and we believe that having a choice between lower electricity prices under us or higher electricity prices under Bill Shorten, people will vote for lower electricity prices under the Liberal National Government.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, just back to my original question about what your energy policy is at the moment. You have been unable to legislate some of your key planks, this is a Government that came to power promising lower electricity prices, the carbon tax was scrapped, but the prices went down slightly after that, they have since gone up. You have had six years in Government, it is true that you have not been able to bring prices down have you? What is the plan? What do you have available to you at the moment to change that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, let me say again, electricity prices would be much higher if Labor’s carbon tax was still in place, no question about that whatsoever. Electricity prices are much lower than they would have been under Labor. We have also pursued a whole range of other reforms, including those recommended by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and we will continue to do more. What I can also say is at the next election the Labor Party will be pursuing a 45 per cent emissions reduction target, which will drive electricity prices up by more and more and more, there is no question, they would have to bring back a carbon tax. Whatever Bill Shorten says before the election, he will try and say that there will be no carbon tax under a Government he leads, but of course we know that there will be and that will drive electricity prices up. We will continue to, wherever we can, introduce measures like the electricity price safety net and the like to drive prices down wherever the opportunity arises and we will also pursue the big stick legislation seeking a mandate from the Australian people…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: One final question on that big stick divestiture plan. You are a free market Liberal, are you, feel a bit uneasy when some of your colleagues bash the big corporates. Will you be saying just ease up on that language because obviously they are out to make a profit, that is what businesses do.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is not about bashing up the big corporates. I support individual freedom, free enterprise, reward for effort, encouraging people to stretch themselves, take risk, have a go, but in order to ensure the market operates properly, I mean we do have an ACCC to ensure that where there is anti-competitive behaviour, that can be addressed and the ACCC has identified that there are issues in the electricity market that need to be addressed…interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: So no bashing big business though?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, for Australia to be successful, business needs to be successful. Nine out of ten Australians work for a private sector business, so we want a stronger economy into the future, we want business to be more successful, but we also want to ensure that consumers across Australia get a fair deal.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mathias Cormann, thanks very much for your time, appreciate it.