Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now joining us to discuss this and more is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time and your patience while we ran through everything that is happening in Washington at the moment. What do you make of Labor’s request of the PM that he should be pushing for more progress on the US China trade impasse?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We always call on both the US and China to resolve their issues as swiftly as possible, because that is in Australia’s interest and we believe it is in the interest of the United States and China. Indeed it is in the interest of trading nations around the world. That is something that we do as a matter of course.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: And what are you hoping that the Prime Minister can achieve in this visit? As Laura Jayes was just saying, it is a remarkable show of support for Australia, that it is such an extended visit. That he has been granted a state dinner, just the second one in Trump’s presidency.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a great demonstration of the amazing friendship, partnership, strategic alliance between Australia and the United States, which has underpinned our national security and our economic prosperity for a very long time. It is an incredibly important relationship. As the Prime Minister just said there, while it is a strong and deep and broad relationship you do need to tend to these relationships so that 100 years of mateship can follow on the last one hundred years of mateship.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: What is really quite remarkable about this trip too is that there is a lot business leaders joining the Prime Minister. There is going to be a trip to the Visy plant with Anthony Pratt. The Prime Minister and President Trump going to Ohio. At the state dinner, we have got Kerry Stokes, Anthony Pratt as well, Gina Rinehart, Andy Penn. Is that a deliberate move by the Australian Government to bolstering Australian businesses in the United States?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our relationship with the US is our biggest economic relationship in that the United States is our biggest source of foreign investment. Two way investment combined with the level of two way trade makes for a very significant trade and investment relationship. Our trade relationship with China is the biggest. But in terms of the overall economic relationship that is still with the United States. This is all about making sure that we continue to build on the foundation that is there, so that we can have the best possible opportunities into the future to take that even further.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now when it comes to news back in Canberra, we had the Final Budget Outcome released yesterday, which did show that we are very close, or the Budget is in balance. So that has been spruiked as positive news. But Labor says this is due to an underspend in the NDIS. Bill Shorten says it is because the NDIS is constipated. What do you make of that accusation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is wrong. In 2018-19 we more than doubled the level of spending on the NDIS. We took spending from $4 billion a year before to $8.5 billion in 2018-19. We increased the number of participants by 115,000. Over the last three years we took the level of participants in the NDIS from 30,000 to 300,000. The objective is to take it to 500,000 as swiftly as we can. This is a massive reform undertaking. For a very long time Australians with a disability had inadequate support. The funding was organised at a state-based level through so called block funding arrangements, where organisations would get a certain level of funding and had to do the best they could with it. Whereas now there is an entitlement for every eligible Australian with a disability to get the services they need on a demand driven formula. It is a massive rollout. There are whole range of things that need to come together. Yes, one is the funding and the funding is there. Two, the States have to cooperate and some of the States were sadly slower than we would have liked in coming on board. But also the providers have to catch up with their capacity to provide the services that are needed, that we need and are able to pay for. The fact that we have been able to increase the level of participants from 30,000 to 300,000 in three years has been a massive achievement. But there is further to go and we will go as fast as we can. But bearing in mind, we are dealing with some constraints in terms of how fast the service provider market can keep up with meeting that demand as well.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Do you have any contingency plan if the iron ore prices fall?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have made very cautious assumptions. We have put in place very cautious forecasting assumptions when it comes to iron ore price. Our expectation is that the iron ore price will reduce down to $55 a tonne. We have in the past, in 2018-19 we have assumed that the iron ore price would be $55 a tonne, but in fact it was $72 a tonne. Compare and contrast that with Labor. Labor assumed that the iron ore price would be high. In fact we inherited a $120 a tonne iron ore price assumption. They assumed therefore that revenue would be much higher than it ultimately was. They spent all the money they thought they would raise and more and when we first came into Government we had to chase revenue down because Labor used unrealistic pie in the sky assumptions. The way we are protecting ourselves from the volatility, the potential volatility in iron ore prices is by making more realistic, more conservative assumptions on where the price will be so that we are not at risk of spending money that ultimately we will not have. That is why over the last three years, for three Budgets in a row now, we have been able to out-perform our Budget forecasts. The Final Budget Outcome for the last three years has been better, materially better, than the Budget forecast at the time of delivering the Budget. In fact, $37.1 billion better. The bottom line has been $37.1 billion better than anticipated at Budget time over the last three years compared to the Budget bottom line being $70 billion worse than anticipated at Budget time during the last three years of the Labor government.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now the situation with the Biloela family, the Tamil family continues. They say that they aren’t being kept in the same standards of living that the Home Affairs Minister has presented in photographs that they have been staying on Christmas Island. Why shouldn’t they be brought back to Biloela to await the final outcome to the Federal Court hearing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: They arrived in Australia without a visa illegally by boat in 2012. They have gone through a very comprehensive assessment by Government. They have gone through a very comprehensive assessment through the courts, all the way to the High Court. At every level, the assessments and after the scrutiny it has been confirmed that they are not validly here in Australia. They are not refugees. They have pursued a last minute attempt to pursue further proceedings through the courts. That is taking its course. But pending that outcome it is entirely appropriate, given all of the findings that have been made so far, that they arrived in Australia illegally without a visa by boat, that they are not entitled to the protection as refugees here in Australia under our laws and relevant international conventions – it is quite appropriate that they are treated the same way as everybody else. 1,500 Sri Lankans in the same circumstance have already returned to Sri Lanka. It would be entirely unreasonable and unfair to all of those Sri Lankans to treat these arrivals differently to the people that went before them.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: There’s been quite a bit of outrage about Pauline Hanson being appointed to lead or co-lead this family law inquiry from domestic violence victims. Her comments about women faking violence claims against their partners just to damage them are just appalling. Do you think it’s appropriate that she continues to co-chair this inquiry?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with her comments, but she is not co-chairing the inquiry. She is the deputy chair of the inquiry. There has been quite a lot of misreporting… interrupted
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Isn’t that semantics really?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No it is not semantics. The chair of the committee is Kevin Andrews on behalf of the Government. Every Parliamentary committee has a chair and a deputy chair. Most Parliamentary committees have a Labor deputy chair. Some have Greens deputy chairs, or indeed one of them has Rex Patrick from Centre Alliance as a deputy chair. The truth is, in relation to all sorts of issues from the economy to the environment to agriculture, infrastructure, I would fundamentally disagree with what Labor stands for, what the Greens stand for, yet they still have the opportunity to serve as deputy chairs on these committees. Because in the end, these Parliamentary committees are a reflection of the result at the last election and the diversity of views across the community. The way these Parliamentary committees operate and ultimately reach findings and recommendations is to ensure all of the different views, as much as we might disagree with them, can be properly tested and scrutinised. I hope that every member of the committee will be educated by listening to the Australian people in relation to what is a very complex, sensitive and difficult issue. One where we would like to think we can do better than what is currently the case. The way democracy works is to allow people to express their views even as much as we disagree with them, so that ultimately we can get closer to the truth and closer to a better position. If somebody has got bad views, I am very confident that a committee process like this will expose those views for what they are.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: But as the deputy chair she’ll have direction about what’s being heard and in what capacity. Why not just put her on the inquiry as opposed to deputy chair when those are really quite evocative statements?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is quite inaccurate. The committee determines the conduct of the committee inquiry. Senator Hanson is one of 10 members of that committee. The Government has got five members on that committee. Senator Hanson is one member on a 10-member committee. This is a normal, run-of-the-mill Parliamentary inquiry. This is not a court proceeding incidentally. This is a Parliamentary committee inquiry, part of our democratic process. The way our democracy works is that, ultimately, these committees, as the Parliament is, is a representation of the diversity of views across the community consistent with the result at the last election. Ultimately, if we want to get the best possible findings and the best possible recommendations on the way forward, then it is important that the various views across the community are properly tested and ultimately that judgements are made about the best way forward.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: So, if the role of deputy chair is that insignificant in the capacity of committee, why have a deputy chair? Why have her as deputy chair?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is just the normal part of Parliamentary procedure. Every committee has a chair and a deputy chair. Most committees which have a Government chair have an Opposition deputy chair. A number of committees have crossbench deputy chairs from the Greens, or from Centre Alliance, or indeed this committee from One Nation. That is a function of the results at the last election. Senator Hanson has expressed views in relation to this topic for a very long time. She has been an advocate in relation to this topic for a very long time. I do not agree with all of her views. Indeed, I suspect most Australians would not agree with most of her views. But there is a section of the community who has got a particular perspective, which this committee will be able to test and ultimately form judgements about.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Just to be clear, you don’t agree with her assessment that women fake domestic violence claims to punish their partners?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have already made that very clear. No I do not agree.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Okay. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.