Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and Government Leader in the Senate and he’s in our Parliament House studio. Good morning Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Labor and the Greens want to know if Angus Taylor intervened in an investigation into the clearance of protected grasslands on a property belonging to a company he has links with. Now if …
MATHIAS CORMANN: He did not.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Well, we don’t know that that yet do we?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, we do.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Tell us how.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a baseless, partisan, Labor, Greens witch hunt. The Labor party knows better than what they are doing here for political reasons. Angus Taylor is a local Member in a rural seat. He stands up for the interests on his constituents, obviously many of them are famers who had a particular view in relation to some environmental matters and he represented his constituents. That is his job.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Except that that was the seat of Hume and it also covers Eden Monaro and the Member there said he wasn’t conscious of this being a problem at all.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Maybe the Member for Eden Monaro is not very much in touch with his farming constituents. The reality is that for some time, for quite a number of years, from 2014 onwards, through the National Farmers Federation and through farmers themselves individually, they raised concerns in relation to a particular policy matter. It is something that Angus Taylor as the local member took up appropriately. That is really all there is to it.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Well, I wonder if that’s exactly how One Nation will see it because the Environment Department was investigating a spraying of the grasslands by Jam Land, a company part-owned by Angus Taylor. That was underway …
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not right. It is not part-owned by Angus Taylor … interrupted
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Well his family has links with it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor Party is just running a massive smear here. It is a baseless, partisan smear with pure political intent. Angus Taylor has declared all of his interests, all of his private interests … interrupted
GERALDINE DOOGUE: He declared the Gufee interest but not in Jam Land
MATHIAS CORMANN: Angus Taylor has declared all of his interests consistent with the rules that apply in the House of Representatives and consistent with the way, incidentally, Labor Members of Parliament declare their interest. There is a lot of partisan smear being thrown around here in order to essentially destroy the reputation of a hard-working local Member of Parliament, a hard-working Minister.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: We were told this morning by Terry Butler that they have come into reception of material that suggests that with the intervention of the then Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, there was a speeding up of this process about the compliance review and these very important words, can we delist the land without actually explaining our reasons why. That’s got to be cleared up, hasn’t it? That’s just not a good look.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, that is a completely false assertion. Angus Taylor has been very clear. He has never made any representations in relation to compliance matters ever. He has involved himself in relation to some policy matters that were of importance to his constituents. That is his job as a local Member of Parliament. That is what he did.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Okay, so you think there won’t be a Senate, you feel by the sound of you, this is not going to get up as a Senate inquiry?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will not speak for the Senate, but the Government will not be supporting a Labor, Greens partisan witch hunt that is targeting a hard-working, honourable minister in this Government and Member in this Parliament.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Can I move onto Newstart issues because Labor clearly regards Angus Taylor, I take it, as one of the weaker links in the Government, but it’s also going after him on the issue …
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is your commentary. I completely reject that proposition.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: It’s clearly an observation I suppose, that they are going after him on the issue of power prices as well, yet another cost of living pressure, at least for the unemployed is the Newstart allowance. We learned over the weekend that your Coalition colleagues, the Nats, have begun modelling an increase in the payment which suggests they’re determined to push through. Would the Government countenance an increase if 80 per cent of the money was quarantined for essentials through a cashless welfare card, which is one option being explored by the Nats?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I am not going to speak for the National Party. What I will say is that over the last 25 years, Liberal-National governments and Labor governments, governments of both political persuasions, have increased Newstart allowance twice a year. They have increased it by indexing Newstart allowance by CPI. That is what governments of both political persuasions have done over 25 years. Newstart allowance is not designed to be a replacement salary. It is designed to be a transitional payment as you are looking for a new job. That is the way it has been designed for a long time. 99 per cent of recipients of Newstart allowance receive other welfare payments, rental assistance, parenting payments, energy supplements. So the proposition that somehow Newstart allowance is the only payment that Australians looking for a job are getting out of the welfare budget is not right. I would just say again what I have said on previous occasions, we are spending more than a third of our budget on welfare. These sorts of judgements in the end do have to be made with a view of ensuring that our welfare budget is sustainable into the future.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: But it’s interesting that everyone from business, the BCA, to welfare groups, to John Howard, to the Nationals and some Liberal backbenchers want an increase.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These conversations are ongoing, but in the end we have to make judgements on what is affordable within the Budget. We understand that people on welfare and people on Newstart allowance in particular when you are looking for a job that that is a tough circumstance. Our focus has been on helping all Australians, in particular those who are unemployed, with getting into work, getting a job. That is what we have quite successfully been focused on with 1.4 million new jobs created over the last six years. We want to get more Australians from welfare into a job. That is what we will continue to work hard on.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: I mean, Treasury estimates that increasing the dole by $75 a week would cost about $3 billion a year and the forecasts surpluses next year is $7 billion. It suggests that an increase is affordable without risking the surplus. This comes against a survey by ACOSS, a survey of with 500 people living on $500 a day has said that 84 per cent skip at least one meal a day to save money. 66 per cent don’t use heating in winter. These are strong indications of distress.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Which is why we will continue to work really hard to build a stronger economy where more Australians have the best possible opportunity to get a job and get ahead. We will continue to make judgements on what is affordable within the Budget.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: See Barnaby Joyce has made it clear today he will keep speaking out for an increase and he reveals some of his own financial challenges in his inimitable style. He turns off his heating to save money, slaughters his own sheep and now he regards a cup of coffee as a treat. This could be received amidst a range of sentiments don’t you think?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Barnaby is well capable of speaking for himself. I do not think that I need to provide a commentary on Barnaby’s commentary.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Look on superannuation, this is another issue MPs are speaking out on and which is likely to be certainly raised in this Parliament. It crystallised really Mr Cormann with Andrew Bragg’s maiden speech last week in which he called for compulsory super to be abandoned in favour of voluntary payments, at least for lower-income earners. The Howard Government did propose an opt-out plan for super that employees could instead receive their super guarantee contributions in the form of higher wages. John Howard said he saw merit in such a scheme. Why can’t you for instance, especially given the problem we have these days with historically flat wages growth, maybe buy into this.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Because this issue has been settled. We have had a policy conversation in Australia over a very long time in relation to these matters. It is not something that we will be re-opening. We have been very clear in the lead up to the last election in relation to superannuation what we would and would not be doing. While Bill Shorten went to the last election proposing more than $30 billion in higher taxes on superannuation as well as the changes to franking credits, we were making it very clear that we would not be making any adverse changes to superannuation policy settings that would lead to increased taxation. We will stick to that commitment.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: So you’ll be on the side of Paul Keating speaking out in his inimitable style today that any suggestion of not taking the guarantee to twelve per cent would be in effect theft, outright theft.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am on the side of our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, our Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg and all of my Liberal-National colleagues in the Ministry who have made it very clear that this is not something that we will be reopening.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Okay, just quite quickly, the other key battle this week will be over the Government’s Ensuring Integrity legislation. The Prime Minister used the Victorian union boss John Setka to pile the pressure on Labor to support the Bill. But Minister, the union busting laws are prospective. So I could ask what impact could they possible have on John Setka?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, of course we want to ensure the courts have the appropriate tools to deal with consistent and continuous law breaking. The unions do play an important role in our community and it is important that they, like anybody else, are required to comply with the law. We make no apologies for pursuing reforms that provide the courts with the appropriate tools to enforce the rule of law in particular across our building sites across Australia. It is very bad for our competiveness as an economy, it is obviously very bad for the cost of construction across the economy, to have this continuous, perpetual law breaking, militant law breaking that needs to be better addressed.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: Thank you very much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.