Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 1 November 2019
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now joining us live from Perth Western Australia is Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister. Mathias, thank you so much for your time. Firstly, we will get your response just to the Prime Minister’s speech today. That is quite strong language. Don’t Australians have the right to protest?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course Australians have the right to protest. That has been a right that people have exercised for a very long time. But, it is all a matter of balance. Australians also have a right to go ahead with their lawful business and enterprise and pursue their jobs. When things are taken to an extreme and when there is deliberate and persistent efforts to, at times violently and entirely inappropriately, stop Australians to pursue their legitimate business activities and their jobs, then as a community I think we have to reassess where to more appropriately draw the line.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now when we come to the right of Australians they also have the right to safe healthcare in their ageing years. We have seen shocking results from the Aged Care Royal Commission’s interim report yesterday. The Prime Minister was just on radio a short time ago said there will be a financial response before the end of the year. You’re the money man, is this going to eat into the surplus?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, the findings out of the Royal Commission are deeply disturbing. Scott Morrison as Prime Minister very early on in his Prime Ministership initiated the Royal Commission into the aged care sector. We did feel that this was a very, very important process to go through. As I say, the findings are disturbing and we will address them. There will be a short and a longer term response. The Prime Minister and I with the Treasurer, we have had an initial conversation yesterday. Yes, our intention is to provide additional funding in terms of the short term response in the half yearly Budget update. In terms of what that means for the numbers overall, all of that will be revealed in the half yearly Budget update in the middle of December.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Leading Age Services Australia says $500 million would be enough to get rid of waiting lists in aged care. Will it be a figure like that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I suspect it will be a substantial figure. It will be the figure required to provide an appropriate immediate response while also pursuing the longer term reforms required to ensure that all of the issues that were identified by the Royal Commission are addressed as appropriate. There will be a strong response. We will have both an immediate and a longer term response. We are already working on that now with a view of having that included in our half yearly Budget update.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Should the position of aged care, or the portfolio rather be a Cabinet portfolio. Right now it sits in the outer Ministry, should they not be at the table making Cabinet decisions. When it is serious enough that we have a Royal Commission with extremely damning findings.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The aged care portfolio is represented around the Cabinet table by Greg Hunt as the Health Minister. I do not think that that is the issue here. There has been substantial additional spending into the aged care sector from about just over $13 billion in 2012-13 to above $21 billion now and projected to grow much further. But there is a need, there is an identified further need. Across the senior levels of Government we will make sure, working with Senator Colbeck as the Minister for Aged Care, we will make sure there is an appropriate immediate response, as well as pursuing the necessary longer term reforms.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: If we can turn to a story that is in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. It is about the tickets you were provided through Helloworld last year, that it turned out you didn’t pay for. They now say two whistleblowers have been contacted by police and they are facing questioning over where this information came from. Is that appropriate use of police powers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I found out about what had happened in the media this morning in terms of the police processes. This is State police in Victoria, a Labor jurisdiction. I do not think that anyone can credibly suggest that anything there is happening at my behest, if that is the implication of what was suggested in the story today. I suspect that State police in Victoria, like police everywhere, acts independently. I should also just say there were a whole series of factual errors in that story this morning. There never was any free travel provided to me and my family. I booked travel. I supplied my credit card, expecting obviously that the payment would be processed. When it was not processed, what I would have expected staff to do that became aware of that would be to either process the payment with the credit card details that were provided for that purpose. Or if there was an outstanding invoice that had not been paid and a credit card payment couldn’t be processed to chase me for it. Instead, somebody inside that business made a decision to do otherwise. Not to pursue me for payment but to provide that information to the media. From my personal point of view, I would have much rather if like any other business would do in the circumstances, I had been chased for the outstanding invoice. The fact that there was an outstanding invoice just proves the point that this was never free. It was never intended to be free. I never assumed it to be free. I always assumed that I had paid. When it was brought to my attention that there had been a stuff up in the company where that had not been processed the right way, I immediately corrected that.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Why didn’t you just book through the website as normal, then? Why did you book through the chief executive Andrew Burnes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have a longstanding relationship with Andrew Burnes. I have done this on a number of occasions before, principally because of privacy quite frankly. On each occasion in the past, payment had been processed in the appropriate way. With the benefit of hindsight, that is what I should have done. To be honest, I did not really think much of it. I paid for it, as far as I was concerned, I paid for it on that occasion. When it was brought to my attention that there was an outstanding invoice, I immediately ensured that it was paid in full. I make the point again, I am not sure that you can describe as whistleblowers somebody who brings to the attention of the media that there is an outstanding invoice. If there is someone in a business that is aware, an employee in a business that is aware of an outstanding invoice, I would have thought the appropriate course of action is to pursue payment.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Can you just explain that to me? What does privacy mean in that point? What implications for privacy would there be if you just booked through the website as normal?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have never booked travel through the website. Normally I would go through a travel agent. At the time, I made bookings from time to time in that way. That is a matter of public record. That has been gone through in some detail through Senate Estimates earlier in the year. My credit card details were supplied for payment. That was all there was to it.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: It’s just that you said you booked through Andrew Burnes principally for privacy reasons. It just seems like a bit of a weird way to do it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As opposed to walking into a travel agency.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Right, but that wouldn’t have an issue with the website. You could do that at home.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I could have. That is right. I could have. That is quite right.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: When it comes to these two whistleblowers who have been spoken to by police, do you know who has filed the complaint with police?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I do not. It certainly has not got anything to do with me. I was not involved with any complaints. I really do not know. I could speculate, but I do not know.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: So you haven’t lodged a complaint yourself?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Will you be following up to find out who has laid these complaints?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not think that this has got anything to do with me to be honest. This now serves to bring this whole issue up again. I will just remind you again, I booked travel, I supplied my credit card details to pay for it. I was shocked and surprised when that payment had not been processed and as soon as I became aware of that, I made sure that it was. I would have personally expected, from my point of view, that if anyone in the company, any employee in the company that I booked the travel with had been aware that the invoice was still outstanding that they would have either used the credit card details to process the payment, which had been supplied for that purpose, or they would have pursed me for payment of an outstanding invoice. That is what I would have expected to happen in the circumstance. I do not know what the circumstances are in which that information went to the media. Quite frankly, I had forgotten about the story.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: When it’s being investigated by the Victoria Police, their fraud and extortion squad, are you concerned that this may have been an attempt to extort you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Me?
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Yes.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have not had any involvement with this whatsoever. I was unaware that this particular squad was involved in this. I do not think that anyone can credibly suggest that the squad that you just referenced would be, in Victoria a Labor jurisdiction, would be doing anything at the behest of a Commonwealth Minister. I suspect that you are not suggesting that.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: No, I was thinking you might be a victim in that scenario.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: But just finally before we have to wrap up, there is an interest rates decision next Tuesday. We are expecting, well I guess there is mixed commentary about whether it will be left on hold or if there will be another cut. What are you predicting for next week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not speculate about monetary policy. In the end, these are matters for the Reserve Bank Governor and the Reserve Bank board to consider. They will do as they always do. That is to review all of the data and relevant economic information and make a judgement. I would just point you to recent comments by the RBA Governor when he has pointed out that he expects economic growth to gradually strengthen and he expects a return to trend growth within 12 months. That is broadly consistent with our assessment. We will be providing our own updated economic outlook as part of our half-yearly budget update in December.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Is an interest rate as low as the level it is now sustainable?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a judgement for the Reserve Bank to make. As the Reserve Bank Governor has said now on a number of occasions, they are keeping an eye on what is happening to official cash rate settings in jurisdictions all around the world. That is a relevant consideration for them. I am sure they will continue to assess all of the relevant factors in making their judgements.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Mathias Cormann, as always, thank you for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.