Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I am going to be joined by Mathias Cormann, he is the Finance Minister. He is I suppose co-authoring this motion that is going to be censuring Fraser Anning, with Penny Wong in the Senate. I caught up with the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann a short time ago.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister said today that we cannot allow legitimate public policy debates around border protection and population growth to be hijacked by extremism. Do you believe that there is danger of that happening?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think the statement that the Prime Minister made is self-evident and stands on its own. We live in a democracy. We live in a robust democracy which has served Australia well. We need to continue to enjoy free speech, but on the occasions when somebody crosses the line, it is also important to call that out, which a number of us have done over the weekend.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you agree that we are seeing anti-Muslim attitudes being expressed more openly in sections of the media and in Parliament? Are we doing enough to challenge those views?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is very important that all of us stand against hate speech. I think it is very important that all of us focus on bringing Australians together. Australia is one of, if not the, most successful multicultural community in the world. We have had generations and generations of people from all around the world who have chosen to make Australia their home, who have successfully chosen to make Australia their home. People of all faiths and backgrounds. That is what makes Australia the great country that we are today.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But do you accept that there has been a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in this country?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have seen some ugly commentary on the weekend. I do not want to make a blanket statement across the Australian community. Where inappropriate comments are made they ought to be called out. I think that over the weekend they have been.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But don’t you think there is evidence now, substantial evidence if you look at the Parliament itself of a rise in sentiments which replicate, which mimic white supremacy. Isn’t that now evident in our political discourse?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is a successful multicultural and overwhelmingly harmonious community. It is incumbent on all of us in leadership positions to work to bring Australians together, to keep the Australian community together and to ensure that people of all backgrounds, all faiths, feel safe in Australia, feel welcome in Australia and to ensure that all of the freedoms of people around Australia are appropriately respected and protected. Including the important freedom of religion.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, the Government will provide $55 million in community grants to toughen security at mosques, at churches, synagogues and religious schools. What is your message to people of faith who are worried about their safety?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All Australians deserve to be safe. All Australians in particular as they meet in their place of worship deserve to feel safe. Our Government and the Australian Parliament is committed to do everything we can to help Australians ensure that they can feel safe. This is a $55 million program which adds to the Safer Communities fund, which will provide grants to relevant religious institutions and organisations to improve the physical safety of their respective buildings.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, Queensland Senator Fraser Anning has reiterated his extreme anti-immigration views. He has also refused to apologise for offensive comments he made after the Christchurch terror attack. What is your reaction to the fact that he is doubling down? He is not retracting. He is not apologising. He is actually saying he still supports it and doubling down.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is deeply regrettable. What we have made clear yesterday is that when the Senate goes back, the Government and the Opposition working in lock step in a bipartisan manner will make very clear the views of the Australian Senate on behalf of the Australian people. That we do not accept and that we do not tolerate that sort of divisive, inflammatory commentary, which seeks to vilify people based on their religious beliefs. It is entirely uncalled for. It is completely inappropriate. The Australian Senate in a bipartisan fashion intends to stand up in response to it.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Apart from the censure moment, what other tools do you have to deal with Senator Anning? Is there anything else you can do? Or is that it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The censure motion is a very important expression of the Senate’s view and complete disapproval of the statements that Senator Anning has made. Ultimately, in the Australian system, in our democracy, it is the privilege of the Australian people to determine who represents them in the Parliament. The Australian people in Queensland will have an opportunity very soon to express their view. That is going to be a matter for them.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: This morning the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said those on the extreme left were as bad as those on the far right like Fraser Anning. Was that an appropriate comparison?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The comments by Fraser Anning over the weekend were uniquely inappropriate. They were terrible comments. They were absolutely unacceptable comments in the circumstances where an absolutely horrific terrorist act had taken place in New Zealand, at a mosque in New Zealand. It was absolutely inappropriate. He sought to victim blame. He sought to vilify people based on their religious beliefs. He made comments that were highly divisive and inflammatory. They were completely unacceptable. We are against extremism from all sides. We are against hate speech from all perspectives. We want to ensure that … interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But Minister, if I can just politely interrupt Minister, it is not the same is it? These comments made by Fraser Anning were particularly inflammatory. They are not the same as comments that have been made by the Greens are they?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I just made the point that the comments that Fraser Anning made on the weekend were uniquely inappropriate, which is why the Government and the Opposition have taken the very rare step of issuing a joint statement and releasing a joint draft motion for the consideration of the Senate, which the Government and the Opposition intend to support when the Senate resumes on 2 April. That is a very unique step. There is a difference between what Senator Anning has said over the weekend and robust political debate, as much as we can disagree with each other on a whole range of issues. Robust political debate in a democracy is appropriate and important, but I also hasten to add that we must stand up against extremism and extremists and people promoting hate from whatever background and whatever corner of the political spectrum they come.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you don’t think there is an equivalency do you between white supremacy and people of the left?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think my comments are very, very clear. I made it very clear that the comments that Fraser Anning made on the weekend were uniquely outrageous and uniquely unacceptable and deserved to be condemned in the way they have been all round. But we need to ensure that we stand up against extremism wherever it comes from.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So Minister does that mean you also think you have to stand up to extremism on your own side, including in LNP ranks? Is your message to your colleagues that they need to be more careful with the language that they have been using about immigration, about Islam, is that something that is a message that you share also with your colleagues?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Liberal National Party is absolutely a mainstream political party. I completely reject the premise of that question there. I think that it belittles the appropriate response that has been made in a bipartisan fashion against the statements by Fraser Anning. To try and now draw that sort of bow, I do not think that that is helpful at all.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson says she won’t support the censure motion. Are you disappointed by that? Does it show that those views are not just held by Fraser Anning, but are actually much more mainstream in the Parliament, including held by One Nation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe that they are mainstream views in the Parliament. I think you will find that there will be overwhelming support for the censure motion against Fraser Anning to be moved jointly by Senator Wong and myself on behalf of the Government and the Opposition. I think you will find that there will be overwhelming support across the Senate and that those taking a different view will be very isolated indeed.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Morrison Government will deliver its first Budget in a fortnight, do not think I am going to forget about that. Will you still deliver the surplus announced in December?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Budget will be delivered on 2 April and indeed the most recent update shows a surplus for 2019-20. But I will leave it to the Treasurer to reveal the updated numbers for 2019-20 on 2 April.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Government has been struggling with how to lift stagnant wage growth. Will we see tax cuts beyond what the Government has already flagged in the Budget?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have already legislated $144 billion worth of income tax relief for hardworking families. We have reduced the tax burden small, family and medium sized businesses significantly by five per cent over the past year. We always consider how we can make further decisions to help improve economic growth into the future, to help improve jobs growth opportunities into the future, to help improve the opportunities for Australian families to get ahead. We want to see stronger jobs growth into the future. But we understand that the way to sustainably achieve stronger jobs growth into the future is on the back of stronger economic growth, stronger productivity growth. Continuing to bring the unemployment rate down on the back of stronger employment growth is what we have been achieving in recent years.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, you said in an interview not that long ago that the wage situation that we are seeing in this country was a function of a design of our economic system. Do you stand by those comments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There has been a lot of verballing going on. The point that I made is that at a time when as a country we face global economic headwinds and perhaps softer economic growth, as we did when we came into Government in 2013 – the economy was weakening and unemployment was rising – the point that I made is that if wages had grown more strongly in that context, that more people would have ended up unemployed. Part of the reason why, whether that was under the Hawke and Keating governments or under subsequent governments, part of the reason why Governments of both persuasions, as part of the Australian economic architecture have recognised the importance of flexibility in the labour market, is to ensure that wages can adjust in the context of economic conditions. In the end, the most important thing that we need to focus on is to ensure that as many jobs are created as possible. That the unemployment rate is as low as possible, because unemployment is incredibly disruptive for families that are impacted by it. If you do as Bill Shorten seems to be suggesting, impose mandated, legislated wage increases by Government fiat rather than focusing on what is affordable within the economy, then more people will end up unemployed. That is incredibly disruptive for many families around Australia that would be impacted by that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mathias Cormann, thank you so much for joining me.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.