Transcripts → 2019


Sky News – AM Agenda

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 March 2019

Energy, Budget, wages, climate action

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to the Leader of the Government in Senate as we do every Friday. The Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann joins us. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

KIERAN GILBERT: What is your take on this comment by Malcolm Turnbull. It seems to me to be stating the obvious that if you have internal divisions on show it is not going to help anyone.

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is good to see Malcolm help to win the election in New South Wales. Gladys Berejiklian is leading a great government. We wish Gladys and her team all the very best. We will continue to focus on the issues that are important to families around Australia, working hard to make the economy stronger, make sure that families have the best possible opportunity to get ahead, that the country is safe and secure and deal with all of the policy issues that we have been dealing with consistently for the last five and a half years to make sure Australia is in the best possible position for the future.

KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to Gladys Berejiklian though and her campaign, just a bit over a week from that election, it must be frustrating for her given some of the commentary this week by your Cabinet colleagues, Matt Canavan and so on, backing Barnaby Joyce in his push for coal and Government-funded coal.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave the commentary to you. What I can say to you is that our Government is fully focused on bringing down the price of electricity and improving the reliability and the affordability of electricity supplies, something that families around Australia expect us to do. As part of those efforts we have a program to underwrite investment in new electricity generation, because increased supplies of energy is what helps bring prices down, which is what helps improve reliability. We have been receiving great interest in that program. Sixty-six submissions across a whole range of different energy technologies, from gas to hydro and a number in relation to potential coal fired power stations. We are reviewing those submissions and those proposals carefully to make sure that we get our decisions right. We continue to focus on the job at hand, which is to deliver a better policy outcome for families around Australia, to help bring down the cost of electricity, to help improve the reliability of electricity supplies into the future. We are not getting distracted.

LAURA JAYES: We are well into Budget speculation season. I know that you and Josh Frydenberg are working hard on it. How excited are you getting and should we get about these higher iron ore prices? Is that going to make your job easier come Budget time. Could there be a little present in there for voters?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me just make the point that when we first came into Government we inherited from the Labor party a rapidly deteriorating Budget position, in part because their forecasting assumptions on the price of iron ore were completely unrealistic. Over a number of Budgets and Budget updates we had to downgrade revenue forecasts because the price of iron ore went from about $120 a tonne down to the mid-40s. It is true that under our Government we have been much more realistic and much more cautious in terms of our forecasting assumptions when it comes to things like the price of iron ore. That helps to ensure that updates are more likely to be positive on the upside, rather than to require writedowns. But having said that, in between any Budget and Budget update there are movements across a whole range of indicators in different directions. All of that gets reconciled at Budget time. It is not much longer to go, 2 April, the first Tuesday in April.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah absolutely, there is not long to go. You know the wages issue and this debate, we discussed it last week. We have got some other questions to canvas this morning. But in relation to tax cuts, it is pivotal that there be more tax relief isn’t there, right now?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have already legislated $144 billion in tax relief for hard working families around Australia. Bill Shorten wants to reverse about half of that and increase the tax burden on hard working families going into this election. He is proposing to increase the tax burden on the economy by more than $200 billion over the next decade, which would harm the economy, which would lead to less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs, higher unemployment and on the back of higher unemployment, lower wages. That is the situation that Labor left behind last time. When Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen last were senior Cabinet Ministers in an outgoing Labor government, they left behind a weakening economy and rising unemployment. Chris Bowen back then said that the test of our success or failure was whether we could keep the unemployment rate below 6.25 per cent. It is down to 5 per cent. Our economic agenda has been successful in delivering stronger growth, in delivering stronger employment growth, in helping to drive the unemployment rate down and wages growth is picking up.

LAURA JAYES: Labor will make a submission to the Fair Work Commission today arguing that higher wages are good for the economy, company profits have not actually flowed through to a wages increase. Do you disagree with any of that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, our minimum wage here in Australia is already the third highest in the world behind Luxembourg and France. What I would say is that Bill Shorten trying to pursue this central command, central planning model here in Australia now will lead to higher unemployment. If he pushes more people, in particular low income earners, lowly skilled workers, young people trying to get into the labour market, onto the unemployment queue, they will not get a wage, they will get the dole. That does not help them. The way to increase wages is to pursue an agenda that delivers stronger growth, stronger productivity growth, which delivers higher employment growth, as we have been doing, which delivers a lower unemployment rate, so there is competition for workers …interrupted

KIERAN GILBERT: So the minimum wage is not too low?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Anyone who loses their job because we increased the minimum wage by too much will not get a wage, they will get the dole. So what we need to be doing is to ensure that the economy grows more strongly, that employment growth continues to grow more strongly, as it has under our Government, that the unemployment rate continues to trend down, so that competition for workers increases and wages grow more strongly based on a sustainable economic performance, rather than on a central planning, central command model, which in countries around the world has pushed people into unemployment and poverty. Bill Shorten somehow wants to ignore decades and decades of economic history in countries around the world, where this sort of approach has pushed families into unemployment and poverty. It is highly disruptive to push families into unemployment. That is not something that any Government should want to do. Our agenda is successful in delivering more employment, less unemployment and stronger wages growth will continue to follow on the back of a lower unemployment rate and additional economic growth.

KIERAN GILBERT: Senator we will get a right of reply from Kristina Keneally on some of those points you made in a moment, but there has been plenty of reporting about what you might or might not do post the election. Do you commit to staying on in politics before and after the election no matter what happens?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am very bemused by all of these reports. I am absolutely in it for the long haul. The Labor party might want to see the back of me, but not so much luck.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, that is good. We can keep you as a regular, sign you up for a regular position.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Wishful thinking by the Labor party is what I would say. I look forward to serving in the Morrison Government after the next election.

LAURA JAYES: What if it is not a Morrison Government though, what if it is a Liberal Opposition.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am fighting to help ensure that a Morrison Government after the election will continue to deliver better outcomes for Australians. That is what I am focused on. I am not going to give you the pleasure of entertaining what the Labor party would want us to entertain, which is the opportunity for Bill Shorten to drive people into poverty by pursuing an anti-business, high taxing, central command, central planning agenda. Let me assure you, I am in it for the long haul. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Just finally on the climate strike of school students. Reports in The Australian that it has been organised in part by some adult activists. What is your thought on this initiative? Is it good for kids to be engaged with these sorts of issues? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a free world and during their free time kids can pursue whatever agendas and issues they want to pursue. I think that most Australians though will take a very cynical view of professional adult activists using and abusing kids for this purpose, for their purposes during school time. During school time kids should be at school. They should not be used as pawns by professional adult activists as part of a cynical political strategy. I think that that is the view that most reasonable Australians would take in relation to this issue. I call on all involved to ensure that kids during the day, during school time attend school.

KIERAN GILBERT: Thank you Mathias Cormann. We will see you next week.