Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SHARRI MARKSON: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann took some time to speak to with me after attending the memorial this afternoon. He mainly spoke about the tax cuts but I started by asking him if there was a moment in the service that really moved him.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a very special celebration of a great Australian life. Bob Hawke, an amazing contribution to our country and servant to our country. It was a very special service. I guess the thing that stood out for me was the fact that so many people from right across the political spectrum were there to pay their respects. A lot of stories were told, with great humour. It was a very special occasion. I thought it was a very special and appropriate way to mark a great Australian life.
SHARRI MARKSON: To the $158 billion tax cut package. Are you doing any deals with the crossbench Senators in order to get this package through the Senate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are committed to getting income tax relief for all working Australians legislated. It is a very important economic reform in our national interest. It is required in order to ensure that we continue to address bracket creep, which is a brake on the economy. It is required to ensure that we put more money into workers pockets, to stimulate the economy, to help create more jobs. It is something that we would call on all parties to support. We took it to the last election. It was a core plan. It is a core part of our plan to build a stronger economy into the future, to secure our future. The Australian people gave it their tick of approval. We would call on all parties in the Senate to come in behind this very important economic reform.
SHARRI MARKSON: Does that mean you are not going to be doing any deals with Centre Alliance or with One Nation in order to get this through the Senate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to secure a majority of votes in the Australian Senate in support of our income tax relief reform. What we would be saying to the Labor party is, this was an issue that was at the core of the election debate, at the core of the contest and the battle of ideas in the last election. It was settled by the Australian people. It is in the national interest for us to continue to build a stronger economy. Putting more money into workers pockets, making sure that more Australians can get a job… interrupted
SHARRI MARKSON: But apart from Labor, if Labor and the Greens do not support it, you will need the support of four crossbench Senators, including Centre Alliance and One Nation. And Pauline Hanson has said that she would consider backing it if you put taxpayer funds toward a coal fired power station. And Centre Alliance has also come up with a complex gas supply proposal. Are these two topics, are you negotiating on these subjects with Centre Alliance and One Nation in order to get tax relief to families?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are different issues. These are separate issues. What we will continue to do is to persuade all Senators, all non-Government Senators of the merits of the reform that we took to the last election and which was endorsed by the Australian people. That is to provide income tax relief to all working Australians, prioritising low and middle income earners … interrupted
SHARRI MARKSON: So basically you are not ruling out, you are not ruling out negotiating at all…
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I can finish my sentence.
SHARRI MARKSON: Of course.
MATHIAS CORMANN: So we put to the Australian people a reform proposal to provide income tax relief to all working Australians, prioritising low and middle income earners, but providing tax relief to all working Australians. We are phasing it in over a seven year period in order to ensure that it is affordable within the Budget. Because we want to ensure that we can pay for significant increases in funding for hospitals and schools and infrastructure and other essential services. We want to ensure that we keep the Budget in surplus all the way over the medium term and beyond. And we want to be able to provide this income tax relief, which will put more money into workers pockets, which will help to create more jobs by stimulating the economy on the back of additional resources in the economy … interrupted
SHARRI MARKSON: You have mounted the case for it Minister. You have definitely mounted the case for it but what I am asking, is are you going to be negotiating with these Senators in order to get these tax relief to families?
MATHIAS CORMANN: And my answer is very clear. We will continue to make the case to convince all members of the Senate, the Labor party, the Greens, crossbench Senators, that they should vote in support of an important economic reform, which is in our national interest, which was endorsed by the Australian people at an election only a few weeks ago. A number of other issues were raised by individual Senators. For example the desire to deliver lower energy prices. That is a desire that the Government shares. We have a very ambitious agenda to lower energy prices. That is something that we have announced before the election. We announced before the election measures to increase the supply of gas into the domestic market. We have announced before the election our plans for a feasibility study into a high efficiency, low emissions coal fired power plant in Collinsville in Central Queensland. We have announced before the election our plans for a price safety net and our measure to stop price gouging, which takes effect from 1 July 2019. These are issues that are raised by other non-Government Senators. They go to issues where the Government has a clear agenda. We are always prepared to engage constructively and in good faith with the crossbench, of course we do. But these are issues to the extent that they are raising issues with us, they have to be assessed on their own merits. We will continue to make the case that every Senator in the Australian Senate should respect the verdict of the Australian people at this election, should act in the national interest. It is in the national interest to continue to build a stronger economy on the back of lower income taxes, prioritising low and middle income earners, but providing income tax relief to all Australians.
SHARRI MARKSON: Minister, the reason why the tax cuts are needed now more than even before the election, is because the RBA has of course last week lowered the cash rate and the Governor Philip Lowe has urged the Government to make some fiscal policy changes, whether it is infrastructure spending or passing on the tax cuts. But in a piece yesterday in The Australian, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers basically says the floundering economy is the Government’s fault. He blamed the Government for the lower growth rate. He also argues the Government has slashed infrastructure funding delivering $5.1 billion less than was promised in the first five Budgets. And he says the claim that the Government has managed the economy well, he calls it ridiculous. What is your response to this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is wrong. We were very candid with the Australian people in the lead up to the Budget and indeed in the lead up to the election that we were facing global economy headwinds and that we were dealing with downside risks in the domestic economy, which is why we made the point that this was not the time for $387 billion in higher Labor taxes as was proposed by our political opponents in the lead up to the last election. Of course we are dealing with downside risks. Of course we are dealing with global economic headwinds, which is precisely the reason why we need to make policy decisions to strengthen our position domestically, including by providing income tax relief, including by continuing to rollout our record $100 billion infrastructure investment program. When we were putting our Budget together for the 2019-20 financial year…interrupted
SHARRI MARKSON: Would you consider bringing the infrastructure spending forward like the RBA suggested?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When we put the Budget together, we were putting our Budget together on the basis of all of that relevant information being in front of us. We boosted our investment in infrastructure. About $100 billion worth of infrastructure investment over the next decade. About half of that over the forward estimates period. We will always look for other opportunities to do more to the extent that that is affordable in in the Budget. There are a range of objectives that we are pursuing … interrupted
SHARRI MARKSON: It is a difficult balancing act isn’t though to have a growth strategy when you are trying to deliver a surplus in the next financial year?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our Budget is a growth Budget. It was deliberately designed as a growth Budget when it was put together prior to 2 April, when the Budget was delivered. What we focused on is delivering increased funding for hospitals, schools and infrastructure and all of the other essential services Australians rely on, while also providing much needed income tax relief, prioritising low and middle income earners, addressing bracket creep, building a stronger economy, maintaining the Budget in surplus all the way through the forward estimates and over the medium term and beyond. That is what we have been able to achieve in the Budget that we delivered on 2 April.
SHARRI MARKSON: Minister, during the week of the leadership spill last August you had a crisis of conscience and I know since then you have thought long and hard about the actions you took during that week and you are a very reflective sort of person. Do you think now that the election is done and dusted that Peter Dutton was right to bring on the momentum that caused the spill that week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are events in the past. The Australian people at the election endorsed among other things the choice that the Liberal Party party room made in terms of the leadership of the Liberal Party. At that time there was an initial leadership ballot, which was not caused by any of us in the party room. In the wake of the outcome of that leadership ballot I certainly was of the view and I have said that publicly on many occasions then and since then, that we needed to resolve the leadership of the country, the Government and the Liberal Party with more certainty before we left Canberra that week. I stand by that judgement. It was a very, very difficult week. It did not give any of us any pleasure whatsoever. But we were acting on the basis that we felt it was necessary …interrupted
SHARRI MARKSON: But do you think it was the right decision, the leadership change?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I stand by the judgements that I and others made at the time. We were absolutely committed to do the right thing for the right reasons. These were not easy decisions, but once that initial leadership ballot happened and in the context of the outcome that happened, we had to do the best we could to get ourselves in the strongest, most competitive possible position in the lead up the election. That is what we did.
SHARRI MARKSON: Thank you so much for your time this evening Minister, I really appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.