Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, the 46th Parliament officially gets under way today, and the Government has put its tax cut package and religious discrimination firm at the top of the agenda. Ahead of Parliament’s opening, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins us now from Canberra. Mathias Cormann, good morning. Thanks for joining us today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Look, here's what I'm interested in, because you clearly have the numbers on the crossbench to pass that tax bill in its entirety. The Centre Alliance see no impediment. That's their phrase. Cory Bernardi votes with you. Jacqui Lambie is on board. Why this repeated focus on Labor, Labor, Labor, to quote Barnaby Joyce?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor party is deeply divided on a core economic policy measure. The last election was very much fought on two competing tax agendas. We put forward our plan to provide income tax relief to all working Australians, because that is very important for us to build a stronger economy into the future. Whereas Labor went to the election with a high-taxing politics of envy agenda, which Australians understood would have made our economy weaker... interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, that's your rhetoric. I'm not accepting that as truth. I'm jumping in there, Mathias Cormann, for this reason alone. My question goes to: You have the support on the crossbench, but clearly it suits your political partisan interests to keep pointing the finger and focusing at Labor. Do you really think voters want to see you doing that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is actually not what it is about … interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yeah, it is, it's about getting it passed.
MATHIAS CORMANN: …that is your opinion … interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You don't want to get it passed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do want to get it passed. Let me say that if Labor had come on board more swiftly, accepting the verdict of the Australian people, respecting the verdict of the Australian people, there would have been an opportunity for very efficient passage of this important reform that Australians voted for right from the outset … interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Parliament only resumes today. They couldn't do anything beforehand and you've got the crossbenchers. Let's stop playing ducks and drakes on this. You have the crossbenchers but like the idea of just beating up the Labor Party, yeah?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is completely false. Personally, I do not ever take anything for granted when it comes to non-Government senators. There are conversations that are continuing. But the truth of the matter is, if Labor was not so deeply divided between those who want to cut their losses and accept that they lost the election and those on the other hand who want to persist with a losing pre-election higher-taxing politics-of-envy agenda, then we would have absolute certainty… interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Again, your rhetoric.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not rhetoric. That is fact. That is absolute fact. You tell me what the unified position of the Labor party is in relation to this. If they had a unified position there would be absolutely no doubt that this would swiftly pass the Parliament by the end of this week … interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I'm not repeating your rhetoric that you've constantly gone on with. But I'm gonna move on. Because you have the numbers, you'll introduce the bill...
MATHIAS CORMANN: That's your assertion. It is good to know that you are running this.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It's what the crossbenchers are saying, Mathias Cormann. Do you imagine it's going to be passed by the end of the week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is obviously our intention. We want to see this passed by the end of the week so that hardworking Australians can start to get their tax refunds into their bank accounts by the end of next week.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yeah, if they submit their tax return, of course, yes.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is right.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, the Prime Minister has spoken about the religious freedom bill that he wants to introduce before the end of this year. What does the Government want people to be able to say and do that they're prevented from doing now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave that to the Attorney-General to articulate, because that is squarely in his portfolio, and not in my portfolio of Finance. I am focused on securing passage this week of our income tax relief plans through the Senate. That is what I am here to talk about.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That's interesting that you don't want to speak about that, because that's a key part - the number two issue on the ticket for your Government, and Government starts today. Do you not have a view on that one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I am responsible for our number one priority, which is to secure passage of income tax relief through the Parliament this week. The Attorney-General has got lead responsibility for our number two priority. I am sure that if you want to invite him on to your program he will be very helpful in explaining the Government's position in relation to these matters.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So as a key member of the frontbench, if I go on and ask you any other questions about any other subjects, you'll just handball it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. This is a very important issue for which he has responsibility. He is the best equipped to provide answers in relation to this.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me ask you this, do you believe that further opening up religious freedom is a pressing issue for Australia right now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do believe it is a pressing issue to protect Australia's right to religious freedom. That is something that we have said that we would pursue. The Prime Minister and others have made very clear that this is something that we will pursue through legislation by the end of this year. At the right time the Attorney-General will explain all of the ins and outs of what we are proposing to do.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Okay, so you do believe it's a pressing issue, which allows me to return to my question. What do you want Australians to be allowed to say and do that they're prevented from doing now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Attorney-General will deal with these issues in great detail at the right time … interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You can’t have it both ways. You can't say it's a pressing issue and refuse to say what the pressing issue is.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am focused on securing the passage of income tax cuts through the Parliament this week.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That's having it both ways.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Penalty rates for Sunday now drop from between 10-15 per cent. The Government's argument has always been, if the rate is lower, then small businesses can go on and employ more people. So, in your mind, how many more Australians should be employed, say, in the next six months because of this cut? Can you put a figure on the number you want to see as a direct result of cutting penalty rates?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly this has not been a decision of the Government. This is a decision that is independently taken by the Fair Work Commission, which was set up that way, in the same way as the Reserve Bank makes independent decisions. The Fair Work Commission makes independent decisions … interrupted
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But you're happy to see it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the number of jobs, we have been able to secure record employment growth in our economy during our period in Government. 2.9 per cent growth over the most recent 12-month period. 1.3 million new jobs in the first five years of our period in Government. Employment growth, stronger employment growth, has been a core feature of our economic plan. But the Fair Work Commission, as is well understood, makes these decisions independently, assessing all of the economic data, all of the relevant economic information, based on what they believe is in the best interests, including in terms of employment creation, into the future.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, on Nikki Savva's portrait of Malcolm Turnbull's demise, I know, Mathias Cormann, you've dismissed this as ancient history. But I'm a student of Renaissance art, so you need to hit 500 years before I accept that last May is actually considered antiquity. So, on that, my only question is this to you, you're entitled to change your mind. You're even entitled to be disloyal, as you have been described. That's politics. My question is this, would you do the same thing in the same way all over again?
MATHIAS CORMANN: One hundred per cent. That was a very difficult week. After the initial surprise leadership ballot, which was initiated by Malcolm Turnbull at the time, we had to deal with the reality. I made the judgement at the time, based on what I thought was right, was in the best interests of the country, the best interests of the Government, and the best interests of the Liberal Party. If I was focused on my personal popularity at the time I would have gone and run for the hills. I would have gone and hide under the carpet. But I had a job to do, I had a responsibility. I was in a unique position to help resolve a very difficult situation for the Government at the time. Our focus was on making sure that we were in the best, most competitive position possible to be successful at the next election so that we could continue to implement our agenda to build a stronger economy and protect Australians from the alternative, which would have made our country and our economy weaker and left Australians worse off.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So, does it hurt when Julie Bishop describes you as the most disloyal man in politics?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I hold Julie Bishop in very high regard. She has made an outstanding contribution to our country, through an extensive period of public service, a long period of public service. I am not going to provide any commentary on these things.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Does it hurt?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I say, I am not going to provide any commentary. I wish Julie Bishop all the very best.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: She doesn't wish you the best, clearly!
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave that to you.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Thanks for joining us today, Mathias Cormann.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.