Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
MATHIAS CORMANN: Earlier today the Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus suggested that Australia should consider weakening our national security laws because our terrorism threat level had plateaued. What he failed to say is that it had plateaued at an unacceptably high level and that the terror threat continues to be elevated at an unacceptably high level.
Our Government remains committed to doing everything we can to keep Australians safe and secure. We will continue to work to ensure that our national security laws are as strong as they need to be to keep Australians safe and secure.
It is incumbent on Anthony Albanese to clarify whether he supports this latest foray by his Shadow Attorney General when he is suggesting that we should consider weakening our national security laws. We need to hear from Anthony Albanese. Does he support a weakening of national security laws at this point in time?
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about China flexing their muscles as far as the unrest in Hong Kong, especially since there has been an escalation in their rhetoric, alluding to protestors as acting like terrorists.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to see a peaceful resolution of the issues in Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Are what the protestors doing there, is that more like terrorism or is it more like freedom of political expression?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In Australia, we absolutely support freedom of expression. We support freedom of political expression. In an Australian context we respect people expressing themselves that way.
QUESTION: Many accounts now of last August’s leadership change concludes Scott Morrison’s supporters were plotting his rise long before Malcolm Turnbull decided not run. Is Scott Morrison right when he says he rose to the job with clean hands?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is all ancient history. What Scott Morrison has said, what I have said, the reason Scott Morrison became the leader of the Liberal party is because a majority of Members and Senators in the Liberal Party room supported him. He has done a magnificent job as leader of the Liberal party since his election as our leader. He was endorsed by the Australian people at the most recent election. We are focused on the job at hand, which is to build a stronger economy, create more jobs, keep Australians safe and secure and make sure that all Australians have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. We will let commentators continue to be commentators.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you on the review of press laws. Do you think that freedom of the press is under threat at the moment.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No I do not. As a Government we support freedom of the press as a very important principle underpinning our democracy. There is a review which has been initiated through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is taking place as we speak. That will take its course. The Government looks forward to their findings and recommendations at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: That review was obviously put in place because of concerns about where things were heading.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That review was put in place to ensure that we continue to maintain the appropriate balance in our laws. Our first responsibility as a Government is to keep Australians safe and secure. We are absolutely committed to the principles of freedom of the press as an important cornerstone and foundation stone of our democracy. We do not believe that it is under threat as you have suggested.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Infrastructure Australia report that has come out, warning of these increased costs looming in the next decade or so thanks to congestion and criticising governments and saying they need to do more than just play catch-up projects. Do you think the Federal Government is doing enough in this area?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have massively increased our investment into congestion busting infrastructure across Australia. We have also provided a very specific focus on congestion busting in our cities. We have a Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure whose job it is to deal with those issues. We have increased our infrastructure investment pipeline federally to a hundred billion dollars over the decade, which is an absolute record. Here in Western Australia, the State Government could do much more to work with us to bust congestion and improve, in particular, our freight infrastructure, our trading infrastructure, by building the Roe 8 - Roe 9 Perth Freight Link. There is $1.2 billion in additional investment available to the great state of Western Australia if the State Government comes on board with us to build that important link to Fremantle Port.
QUESTION: Just also, back on the press review, sorry. The Steve Dickson report, do you think that is an example of the press going too far? The hidden camera in the strip club there, or is that still part of the important role the media plays?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not for me to provide a running commentary on the legal position in relation to events that happened overseas. In an Australian context, we do believe that our laws are appropriately balanced, that there is appropriate support for freedom of the press, as is appropriate. But it is also appropriate that the PJCIS, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has this review which is currently taking place. The Government looks forward to its findings and its recommendations.
QUESTION: On a different topic. The trade deal with Europe. Do you think it is fair that Australian manufacturers and producers have to give up words like feta cheese in order to strike a deal with Europe?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think you are getting way ahead of yourself. What we are working on as a Government is to ensure that Australian exporting businesses get the best possible access to markets all around the world. That is what we are working on. We have signed free trade agreements with China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. The European Union is a 500 million people market. We are focused on getting a better deal for Australian businesses selling Australian products and services in markets around the world. There is a consultation process now underway. The Trade Minister has initiated a process which will give the opportunity for all stakeholders to express their views whether the upside is sufficiently beneficial for the Australian economy, for people around Australia to consider some of the issues that the European Union is asking us to consider. This is an open-minded consultative process But let us be very clear, this is about protecting our markets, it is about getting better access to markets around the world. The European Union is a very, very big market for Australian businesses.
QUESTION: Just one last one, given the scale of urgency of Australia’s waste dilemma, do you think that $20 million announced today is enough to curb the problem?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a significant start. Let us see the progress we can achieve. Let us review what we can achieve with what has been committed today and in the future we can make further decisions if and as appropriate.