Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now we are going live to the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann in Adelaide, South Australia. Mathias Cormann thank you for joining us. First story of the day has been the lead story all week. Gladys Liu. Is the Prime Minister playing the race card by saying we can’t criticise her because of her Chinese heritage?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister is defending a good Member of Parliament who is being absolutely unfairly attacked by the Labor party. Let us not beat around the bush. The Labor party is running this dog whistle, that Gladys Liu, because she was born in China and was involved in Chinese community organisations, that her Labor opponent was involved in as well incidentally, that somehow that makes her a spy. That is the smear. That is the dog whistle that the Labor party is running. They would not be doing that if it was anybody else other than a Chinese-born Member of Parliament who was involved in Chinese community organisations, or who has been involved in a whole series of Chinese community organisations here in Australia.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: The issue isn’t that she is Chinese born, it is her associations with groups linked to the Chinese Government, including today we have learned about a $40,000 donation that wasn’t properly declared, associations she can’t remember being a part of and inconsistencies with her statements.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Chinese community organisations that she was involved in and is being criticised for, her Labor opponent was involved with as well. I just heard Anthony Albanese say that well that shouldn’t matter because her opponent was Taiwanese. That is not the point. We are not actually criticising the Labor candidate for having been part of these organisations either. Just because you are a member of a community organisation does not necessarily mean that you are aware or involved in anything else that might be going on without your knowledge. This is a complete and utter beat up. The truth of the matter is that the reason we are having this conversation the way we have is because the Labor party still cannot accept the verdict of the Australian people at the last election. They cannot accept that they lost an election that they thought they had already won. In particular in the seat of Chisholm, they were absolutely convinced that Chisholm was one of the first seats that were in their bag of seats at the election. Do you think that if the Labor candidate had been elected, having been a member of the same organisations, having been appointed as honorary chairman of one of those organisations and having declared that she was not aware that she had been, do you think that the Labor party would be asking these sorts of questions now and running these sorts of smears now.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Why won’t Gladys Liu put her statement on the record in Parliament in a way that would make her liable if there is a misrepresentation in it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Her statement as I understand it was tabled in Parliament. Her statement was publicly released. She stands by her statement. I do not quite understand the point here. She has clearly made a public statement, put her name to it, explained her view and assessment of the situation that needed to be clarified. She stands by that statement.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now if we turn to the economy, I know that that is something that Labor was still pushing this week. We have heard the line from them a few times that the Reserve Bank Governor has called for financial stimulus seven times. Isn’t that correct? He has called for that hasn’t he?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are providing significant financial stimulus. We have legislated for more than $300 billion of income tax relief. We have boosted our infrastructure investment pipeline from $75 billion to $100 billion over the next decade at our last Budget. I would point to repeated statements from the Governor of the Reserve Bank, a week or so ago and over the last two or three months, repeated statements where he made very clear that his expectation was that economic growth would gradually strengthen moving forward on the back of lower interest rates, our income tax cuts, continued high investment in infrastructure, the stabilisation of the property market in particular in New South Wales and Victoria and our comparatively lower currency at present. All of the stabilisers are working and monetary policy and fiscal policy are heading in the same direction. We are continuing to pursue a pro-growth agenda, which was framed in our Budget in the context of the global economic headwinds that we knew were coming our way. The fundamental point here is that monetary policy and fiscal policy are heading in the same direction, seeking to build a stronger more resilient economy into the future in the context of undoubted global economic headwinds continuing to come our way.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Realistically, the Reserve Bank Governor said he has only got two more interest rate cuts up his sleeve, before he is not going to really have any impact on the economy with an interest rate cut. Surely that is a very concerning sign for the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We continue to assess all of the economic information, all of the economic data. Once a year there is a Budget. Six months later there is a half yearly Budget update. At the next Budget update, which is due in the middle of December or thereabouts, after the third quarter national accounts data has been released, we will continue to make judgements in the context of the economic data and what is in the best interests of keeping the Australian economy strong moving forward. But the point is, our Budget delivered on 2 April, was framed in the context of the global economic headwinds we knew were there and were coming, in the context of the downside risks in the domestic economy that were there and that we had to deal with. We very much have a pro-growth Budget, a plan to build a stronger, more resilient economy into the future to deal with all of the challenges in front of us.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Will we see a surplus in that mid-year budget forecast?
MATHIAS CORMANN: 2019-20 is the year when the budget returns to surplus. We will continue to work to maintain that surplus and maintain the Budget in surplus over the forward estimates and, indeed, over the medium term.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Jacqui Lambie, Tasmania’s Senator, has written a very scathing op-ed about John Setka refusing to stand down. She says that she’s giving you guys more ammunition to be able to attack the union movement. What did you make of her thoughts?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speak on behalf of Jacqui. I am not going to provide a running commentary on the comments of a colleague. But what I would say is that the Government does not attack the union movement. The Government is focused on making sure that all of the various organisations, whether they are employee or employer organisations, comply with the law. That where there is consistent and persistent breaking of the law, that the system is improved and that the opportunities to impose the rule-of-law are strengthened. That is why we have pieces of legislation in front of the parliament, like the ensuring integrity bill, which targets not just unions, it focuses on both unions and employer organisations to ensure that we can maintain the rule-of-law because that is very important for our economic prosperity into the future.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: But the Government has used John Setka as an example of why the ensuring integrity bill needs to go through.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is a pattern of constant law-breaking in sections of the union movement. We want to ensure that the tools are available to deal with that more effectively, because clearly the legal framework that has been in place so far has not been able to deal with this constant pattern of law-breaking that is bad for the economy, bad for jobs and bad for wages growth. That is one of the things that we want to address. That is why we pursuing pieces of legislation like that.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: One of the other pieces of legislation that has been going through this week was about the vegan activists going onto farms. Senator Rex Patrick was saying that he was concerned that there weren’t sufficient protections for journalists. Can you ensure there won’t be any journalists prosecuted under this legislation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Journalists are not the targets of this legislation. This is a bill that was debated quite thoroughly in the Senate this week. Some amendments were passed in cooperation with non-Government senators through the Senate. We believe we have the balance right. This is about protecting farmers from completely unreasonable extreme activities that they have been exposed to in recent times.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: So there are sufficient protections for journalists in that legislation as it’s drafted?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, the answer is yes. I do not believe that journalists have got anything to be worried about in relation to this legislation. Journalists are not the target here. I think everybody understands who the target is of this legislation. As I have said, it has gone through a thorough process in the Senate. We believe that at the end of the process, we have got the balance right.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.