Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SABRA LANE: Mathias Cormann, welcome back.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be back.
SABRA LANE: The detention of Yang Hengjun, it is now suggested that this is pay back for Parliament passing laws on foreign interference during the last term. How worrying is that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to start speculating in relation to these matters. We are very concerned by what is happening. We are in regular contact at a very senior level with Chinese authorities and we are in touch with the Australian citizen who is detained in China. We will continue to do whatever we can to support him.
SABRA LANE: A senior analyst has told AM that he thinks that is the case. If China has taken a hostage here, that’s pretty.. how do you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide commentary. It is one matter for analysts to express their opinions. I just do not think it is helpful for me to add to any commentary or speculation.
SABRA LANE: It’s expected that you will update the Senate today on the post-political jobs of Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop. What will you tell MPs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As the Prime Minister has indicated during the last sitting week, he sought advice from Dr Parkinson the Secretary of his department in relation to these matters. Dr Parkinson reviewed all of the relevant information. He spoke to both former Ministers Pyne and Bishop. His advice to the Prime Minister is that there is no breach of Ministerial standards. That is the advice I will be providing to the Senate this morning.
SABRA LANE: Have you spoken with crossbenchers about this because they have been talking about setting up a committee hearing into this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have regular meetings with non-Government Senators. I will be having meetings later today and we will be working through all of these issues.
SABRA LANE: Having ex-ministers go straight into private sector jobs linked to their last portfolios fuels public disenchantment with politics. What do you say to Australians who are uncomfortable with this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Members of Parliament when they leave Parliament obviously still have to work. What is important is whatever employment they take on does not put them in breach of the Statement of Ministerial Standards and the advice that the Prime Minister has received from the Secretary of his department, independently, is that former Ministers Pyne and Bishop are not in breach of the Statement of Ministerial Standards.
SABRA LANE: That code says that Ministers once they leave Parliament, shouldn’t lobby, advocate or hold meetings with people of interest with their portfolios. Why do you think those companies then hire these Ministers if they can’t do those things?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I cannot comment on behalf of those companies. But what I can say is that both former Ministers Pyne and Bishop are well aware of their obligations under the Statement of Ministerial Standards. They know what they need to do. I am very confident that they will continue to act consistent with those requirements.
SABRA LANE: The Government also wants legislation passed during this term on temporary exclusion orders, keeping foreign fighters out of Australia. But crossbenchers say they don’t want to look at this until the Government adopts all 18 recommendations in full from the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee. Why won’t the Government do that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have acted on those recommendations that we think need to be taken on board. But this is a very important piece of legislation designed to keep the Australian community safe. We want to deal with foreign fighters seeking to return to Australia, foreign terrorist fighters seeking to return to Australia, as far away from our shores as possible to ensure we can have the tools to manage the risk that their return potentially poses to Australia and the safety of Australians appropriately.
SABRA LANE: This is a Government-dominated committee. There are still a number of recommendations that have been either rejected, ignored or adopted in part. I think it’s the first time the Government hasn’t adopted recommendations from this committee in five years. It gives the impression of political game playing.
Not at all. This is all about keeping the Australian community safe. The Labor Party will have to think very carefully about whose side they are on. The Australian Government is on the side of keeping the Australian people safe. We will be putting that legislation to the Senate this week. We will be asking the Senate to support that legislation this week. It is an important additional tool for the Government to ensure that we can appropriately manage the risk that is presented to the safety of the Australian community from foreign terrorist fighters seeking to return to Australia.
SABRA LANE: The Government has said that it is using the UK legislation as an example here of why it’s moving on this, but that legislation has been in place there since 2015. Why have you waited so long?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working our way through a whole series of national security-related legislation as swiftly as possible and in the context of what is feasible through our Parliament.
SABRA LANE: You also want Parliament to approve the Future Drought Fund, but the money for that is coming from an infrastructure fund. It sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is wrong. We have provided record funding for infrastructure, a $100 billion infrastructure investment pipeline … interrupted
SABRA LANE: But what’s wrong? The Government does want this money to come from an infrastructure fund. That’s not wrong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are redirecting funds out of a fund that has been dormant for some time, because we are directly funding, providing record funding for infrastructure from the Budget. What we are doing here is to ensure that we can, on a fiscally sustainable basis, provide additional support to drought-affected communities, support projects to improve drought resilience in regional communities across Australia. Again, the Labor Party needs to consider whose side they are on. Why are they seeking to act against the interests of drought-affected regional communities? Why are they so opposed to helping farmers around Australia deal with the impacts of the drought?
SABRA LANE: Could you live on 40 bucks a day?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Newstart allowance which is I guess, what you are now raising is a transitional payment for … interrupted
SABRA LANE: It is and you’ve diverted straight away. Could you live on 40 bucks a day?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Newstart allowance is a transitional payment. It is a payment that is increased twice a year. It is indexed twice a year. Most Australians who are on Newstart allowance are on that payment for a very short period. Our focus is on getting people … interrupted
SABRA LANE: That’s not my question. Could you…
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are focused on getting Australians into work. We are focused on making sure that Australians are on Newstart allowance for as brief a period as possible. That is what we … interrupted
SABRA LANE: Could you live on it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is actually not the question here. The question here is … interrupted
SABRA LANE: I’m sorry Minister that is the question I am asking you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do not want Australians to have to live on $40 a day. We want them to get into a job. We want them to earn more. We want to ensure that more Australians can get back from welfare into work. More than 1.3 million jobs were created under our Government and that is … interrupted
SABRA LANE: Do I take it that’s a no?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am obviously not currently on Newstart allowance. I am in a job and we want to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to get a job and get ahead, which is why we are continuing to implement for a stronger economy and more jobs.
SABRA LANE: Minister, thanks for talking to AM this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.