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, 22 March 2019

Preferences, immigration program, coal exports, energy reliability

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s bring in Mathias Cormann now, the Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Thanks very much for your time Senator Cormann. Well first of all what did you make of the interview last night and I guess the second question that will need to be asked of that immediately is, why didn’t the Prime Minister just say you will put One Nation last in terms of the how to vote cards?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, what the Prime Minister demonstrated yesterday is that when there are difficult conversations to be had he fronts up. Bill Shorten avoids fronting up to difficult interviews. The Prime Minister fronts up and he explains himself. I think that that was very important for him to do. The other point that I would make is that the Prime Minister is somebody who is focused on bringing people together. He is focused on building a stronger, more cohesive country not on turning people against each other. In relation to preferences, the Prime Minister has made very clear that we will not be doing any preference deals with One Nation or others along those lines, not do any preference deals whatsoever. But we do not know who is in the race at the moment. These are judgements that are made through our ordinary processes, through the party at the appropriate time. I would just point out the rank hypocrisy of the Labor party, when the major shareholder of the Labor party, the ACTU, continues to run a very high profile campaign to preference One Nation ahead of the Liberal party. If you go onto the ACTU website right now, they will ask you to take the pledge to put the Liberals last, that is to put One Nation ahead of the Liberal candidate in seats around Australia. You have Bill Shorten’s hypocrisy completely exposed here.

LAURA JAYES: Well you are right, at the last election, One Nation actually delivered victory to Labor in some key seats. But when it comes to the how to vote cards, Mathias Cormann, which way do you see this? Is this just a numbers game, or the rank and order of the how to vote cards is it a reflection of your values as a party?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. What we are focused on, on behalf of the millions and millions of Australian families who rely on us in Government delivering stronger growth, more jobs, better opportunities for them to get ahead and to keep the country safe and secure, what we are focused on is on securing as many primary votes around Australia as possible. We want to win as much support in seats all around the country as possible for our agenda. That is our focus, first and foremost. What people can see in terms of what our values are is what we put forward in our agenda, based on our track record of achievement over the last five and a half years. We also would point out that the alternative in terms of who we are actually competing with, in terms of who will form government, is standing for a high taxing, anti-business, class warfare agenda, which would make the Australian economy weaker and which would make Australians poorer. The contest at the next election is between Scott Morrison and the Liberal-National team and Bill Shorten and the Labor team. That is what we are focused on.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, you were a member of the shadow ministry back in opposition in 2010 when that report, well it was based on a 2010 meeting, the report was in 2011, but is your recollection, were you at that meeting in question and does your recollection of the meeting stack up with what the Prime Minister said last night when he very strongly repudiated the suggestion that he was arguing at the time to exploit concerns about Islam in the community?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Back in 2010, I was the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, so I was not in the Shadow Cabinet and no, I was not at the purported meeting. But I do know that Scott Morrison over the last eight years or so, ever since this has been brought up from time to time has consistently and strongly repudiated these sorts of reports. Let me also say, I have worked very closely with Scott Morrison over a very, very long time. I know that his focus is on bringing people together. His focus is not on exploiting Islamophobia but on confronting it. His focus is on making sure that in Australia we continue to have the most cohesive society possible, where people can enjoy their individual freedoms, including their freedom to pursue their religious faith safely and in peace. 

LAURA JAYES: Mathias Cormann what do you do about individual members within your party, within the LNP. George Christensen is one who has attended rallies that’s argued, standing alongside white supremacists. Now I accept the argument that the Prime Minister put forward last night that there is a free speech element here, individual members can speak out. But does the Prime Minister, do you have a role in calling out this Islamophobia more strongly? Or do you just ignore it?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is very important for the integrity of this debate that we do not belittle the strong response to the outrageous and unacceptable comments made by Fraser Anning by somehow creating some equivalency with expressions of, using freedom of speech by individual Members of Parliament. I do not think that anything that George or others have said in relation to these matters comes anywhere near the propositions that were put forward in a completely unacceptable fashion by Fraser Anning. I think you have m to be very careful not to overreach here and to try and bludgeon people into not expressing any views in relation to any matters as they see fit. In the end, individual Members of Parliament are elected by their local communities, in order to represent the views of their local communities and issues have to be worked through at a national level and they are. But I would strongly argue that all of my colleagues operate within the mainstream of Australian values. None of that is comparable with what we saw last weekend from Senator Anning.

KIERAN GILBERT: I noticed this morning Ed Husic on Facebook said that, well basically targeted the interviews that Pauline Hanson does regularly and says that her views shouldn’t be mainstreamed bascially is the point that he is making. Given that she wouldn’t agree to the censure against Anning for his disgraceful comments, what is your view in terms of giving Pauline Hanson a platform?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator. Pauline Hanson is an elected Member of Parliament. It is up to media outlets to decide who they interview, where and when. That is not a matter for me. I am focused on the job that we are doing, to make the economy stronger, to create more jobs, to give Australian families the best opportunity to get ahead and to ensure that our country is as safe and secure as possible. There is always going to be a lot of conversations about all sorts of things, but I will focus on the areas that we are directly responsible for.

LAURA JAYES: Yeah fair enough and we will get to some of those areas that are firmly within your portfolio in a moment. But I think you are such an important figure within the Liberal party because we have seen your conduct in the Senate. At times banding together with the other side, with Penny Wong, to really firmly call this out and I think you should be commended for that. But Minister do you think that since the Christchurch attack a week on that politics has changed. Have you or your colleagues taken pause for thought about how you conduct some of these debates and how you might bring down the temperature for example around asylum seekers and refugees.

MATHIAS CORMANN: The events in Christchurch were horrific. There is no question about that. But let us not confuse the issues here though. Irrespective we still need to ensure that our borders are safe and secure. We still need to ensure that our immigration program is managed in an orderly fashion, including our very generous refugee program, our humanitarian intake. That will continue to be the case under our Government moving forward. We will need to continue to ensure that we determine the circumstances in which people come here, who comes here and the circumstances in which they come here. That is what the Australian people expect us to do into the future as well.

KIERAN GILBERT: But there hasn’t been any, you don’t believe the Government has been guilty from time to time of demonising refugees?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. There is always a lot of media commentary and let me say it is not always objective media commentary. For us it is very simple. We are a sovereign nation. A sovereign nation protects its borders. A core feature of a sovereign nation is that it determines through its elected government who can come into the country and the circumstances in which they can come here. We do have a very generous, non-discriminatory refugee program. We do have a very generous humanitarian intake, second highest on a per capita basis, only behind Canada. One of the highest refugee intakes on a per capita basis in the world. We have just got to make sure that we do not confuse the various debates here. 

LAURA JAYES: Okay one final question on this, just a couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers were seizing on reports in The Australian newspaper that Labor’s refugee program, the humanitarian intake was going to cost some $6 billion. I mean it is that kind of reporting that is just one example …interrupted

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is true. That is a fact.

LAURA JAYES: But it is having this tough stance on border protection without kind of equalling it up on the humanitarian side. Do you think you have more room to be more generous or is this just coming down to raw economics?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are one of the most generous countries in the world when it comes to the level of refugee intake already. Bill Shorten is proposing to increase that further and as a matter of fact the assessment of the additional cost to be incurred from that would be an additional $6.2 billion. That is just a matter of pure maths. If you further increase a program that is already very generous it comes with additional costs. In the context of the fiscal circumstances that … interrupted

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah but the Government said the cost would come at, what Laura is alluding is the ads and social media where the Government said it is going to $6 billion but Labor wants to spend it on more refugees … interrupted

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is true.

KIERAN GILBERT: … raising money from retirees to spend on refugees. I mean that seems like quite a link.

MATHIAS CORMANN: But Kieran in the end, in a Budget you will always have to make decisions on how you allocate limited resources to a series of priorities. It is true that Bill Shorten has decided to increase taxes on retirees. He has also decided to increase spending in relation to further increasing our already generous refugee intake. These are the decisions and judgements that he has made. We are quite entitled to point that out.

LAURA JAYES: Let’s ask you about the China coal situation. Are you concerned about this? We have seen Australian coal stopped being accepted at a key port in China. Now it looks like there could be a situation where a deal between China and the US could freeze Australian exporters out. Is this on your radar? Are you concerned about it? What can you do about it?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, Australia is a highly reliable and highly regarded exporter of energy resources around the world. We export a lot of energy into China and other places around Asia. We are involved in international competition. There will always be other countries and businesses in other countries wanting to take market share away from us. We are always going to have to be focused on being as competitive as we can be to ensure that we can sell as many Australian products and services into countries around the world as possible. That is why we have been so focused on our ambitious free trade agenda, finalising free trade agreements with China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia because we want to ensure that our exporting businesses right across the board have the best possible opportunity to sell as many Australian products and services as possible all around the world. But other countries will try to do the same. Other countries from time to time will try to cut our lunch. We have to make sure that we are focussed and that we are focussed on competing and on being as competitive as possible and indeed, we are. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah on that front, do you think that the Government has landed in the right spot now in terms of its language and diplomacy with China because there had been some criticism, certainly from the business community if not from the security groups in Canberra and further afield. Certainly the members of the business community felt that some of the language used by the former Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull in quoting Mao and that sort of thing was counterproductive. Do you feel like the Government has landed in a more diplomatic space here that will put the trade relationship on a better footing?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I will leave the commentary to you. What I would observe is that we have a very strong and important economic, trade and investment relationship with China. Indeed, we have a very strong, strategic, economic, trade and investment relationship with the United States. We have a very strong and important relationship with China. It is going to continue to be important for us to balance all of that in our national interest and we will.  

LAURA JAYES: Minister, just finally, I wonder looking on here from Western Australia, do you thank your lucky stars that you landed in politics in Australia rather than Europe sometimes, looking at what is going on at Brexit?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I could never have planned for this. But I am extremely lucky to have ended up in Australia as a citizen of this great country. I am grateful every single day.

LAURA JAYES: I will take that as a yes.

KIERAN GILBERT: I should ask you just quickly, Laura we should ask Mathias Cormann just quickly in terms of the jobs numbers yesterday before you go. The jobless number was down, but more part time work. Is this a sign that people are taking second, third jobs to try and supplement their incomes given wages have not been growing as much as many would like?

MATHIAS CORMANN: So Kieran, even when the unemployment rate goes down to 4.9 per cent you are still looking to come up with some negative spin on it. When we came into Government the unemployment rate was rising. Chris Bowen in December 2013 was saying that we would be successful as long as we kept the unemployment rate below 6.25 per cent. It is down to 4.9 per cent. Our focus will always be on making the economy stronger, making sure that as many jobs as possibly can be created, as many full time jobs as possibly can be created. With the unemployment rate continuing to go down and competition for workers increasing, wages growth will strengthen. It is inevitable. That will happen. We have to stay the course. We have to continue to ensure the economy is as strong as possibly, that as many jobs as possible are created, that we continue to invest in improved productivity, so that we are competitive in terms of attracting additional investments. These are all things that as a Liberal National Government we are focused on every single day.

LAURA JAYES: Mathias Cormann as always, thanks so much for your time, see next week.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.