Transcripts → 2019


Doorstop - Mural Hall

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Monday, 25 November 2019

Allegations of foreign interference, Westpac

QUESTION: Senator how concerning is it that we see that ASIO seems to be confirming reports they are investigating the death of a Chinese individual in Melbourne?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept the way you have framed that question. But let me make the general point that the allegations that aired on 60 Minutes last night are very serious allegations. We take them very seriously as a Government. ASIO has confirmed through a statement by the Director General that they have been aware of the allegations and have been investigating them. But I am not in a position to speculate beyond that what the findings of that investigation will ultimately be.

QUESTION: If Mr Wang’s story stacks up should he be given asylum?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, these are not matters for me to make judgements on. Under our laws, relevant officials are assessing the claims that have been made. Once these claims have been properly assessed, appropriate judgements will be made consistent with our laws.

QUESTION: Mr Wang’s family is potentially unsafe. Have they been provided with any protection by the Government against CCP operatives?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a question that is best addressed to the Minister for Home Affairs.

QUESTION: Senator should we be having a relationship with China that is based on trust?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia wants to have a positive and constructive relationship with China. That is in our national interest. From time to time, issues will arise that need to be dealt with. Where there is bad or inappropriate conduct, we will call that out. We will seek to have that addressed. But right now, I think it is important that we do not get ahead of ourselves. Some allegations have been aired in the media. These allegations are being appropriately assessed by ASIO and other relevant officials. These processes should be allowed to take their course.

QUESTION: What does this do to the relationship between the Australian Government and China?

MATHIAS CORMANN: At this stage, we have a media report airing some very serious allegations, allegations we take very seriously as a Government, but … interrupted

QUESTION: You also had ASIO say that they are investigating very serious allegations.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Which is you saying what I have just said. That there is an investigation into some serious allegations. We are not going to get ahead of ourselves. We will let these processes take their course. If and as appropriate the Australian Government will respond and deal with these issues as they come in front of us.

QUESTION: Do you find Mr Zhao’s death suspicious?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not in a position to answer that question. There is a coronial inquiry underway. I am sure that the report last night will lead to further inquiries and investigations. I am not personally aware of all of the facts surrounding what has occurred. I am confident that all of the official processes will ultimately get to the bottom of it. 

QUESTION: These are very serious allegations. I am sure many Australians who were watching 60 Minutes last night would have been watching with some caution. Did you watch the program yourself?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, because I was on a plane from Perth to Canberra. That is my life on a Sunday afternoon. I get picked up at home at about 2:30pm and I land in Canberra at about 10:30pm. So I was not in a position to do that. But I have read the reports.

QUESTION: Do you have any opinion about the chief executive of Westpac and the chairman, what they should do? Should they resign?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I think much has been said about that. The events at Westpac are pretty outrageous, in particular given the previous events that had occurred in the context of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. You would have thought that all banks would have appropriately reviewed their operations in relation to these matters. I am confident that as this plays out that judgements will be made.

QUESTION: Given Mr Zhao died in March and the investigation is going on, when can we expect to hear some kind of result. I mean this has happened quite a while ago now.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not personally conducting these investigations. These investigations are taking place by the appropriate authorities. I am confident they will be conducted as quickly as possible and take as long as necessary.

QUESTION: What is the proper process?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, in relation to the allegations that were aired yesterday, the Director General of ASIO has issued a public statement to indicate that they were aware of the allegations that were aired and were conducting investigations. I am sure that all other relevant agencies with an interest will review the allegations very carefully to assess whether any further steps need to be taken.

QUESTION: Senator, given one of the allegations was the CCP trying to get some sort of influence through a Member of Parliament in the Australian Parliament, does that concern you and if so, how much?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, these are very serious allegations. As a Government we have taken action to protect Australia and Australia’s institutions from foreign interference. We have established the first ever counter foreign interference coordinator. We have established in the lead up to the last election the electoral integrity assurance taskforce, which was led by the Electoral Commission. Incidentally that taskforce did not find any evidence of foreign interference in the lead up to the last election. We do need to be vigilant. We do need to ensure that we protect Australians and our institutions from inappropriate foreign interference. It is, I just repeat what I said at the outset, in relation to the allegations that were aired last night, they were allegations. They are serious allegations. I do think that it is important to let the appropriate authorities work their way through these issues and for us not to jump to the ultimate judgements.

QUESTION: Is this common practice though for the Chinese Communist Party?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are making assumptions that I do not accept. I am not going to comment on the basis of that sort of question.

QUESTION: Because we have got such a strong trading relationship with China, does that impede our judgement about China being a friend? Because they do not seem to be behaving like a friend.

MATHIAS CORMANN: You are doing what I said we should not be doing. You are jumping to a conclusion based on allegations… interrupted

QUESTION: Cyber attacks seem to happen quite a lot.

MATHIAS CORMANN: You seem to know certain things. From where we sit we are committed to a positive and constructive relationship with China. If and when issues arise and if inappropriate conduct occurs we will take that up, we will call that out as a sovereign country. We will deal with these issues as appropriate. But we are not going to provide an immediate and running commentary in relation to ongoing processes around allegations.

QUESTION: I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about are we being impaired in our judgement because we trading so much with China. It is important to the economy, 40 per cent of our economy is locked into China, and we seem to be completely looking behind anything when it might be negative to Australia’s interests.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely disagree with you on that. I believe that as a country we deal with the issues based on our national interest. It is in our national interest to have a constructive and positive relationship with China. But it is also in our national interest to make judgements to protect Australians from foreign interference, protect our relevant institutions. We do that. We take action as appropriate wherever that is warranted. I think our Government has got a track record in relation to standing up for our national interest in relation to a whole range of matters. 

QUESTION: Why not formally blame China for the intelligence attacks on the Parliament that the security agencies pretty much say was almost certainly them?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I do not accept the premise of the question. We do not comment on intelligence and security matters. You can speculate. I will not speculate.

Thank you.