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
KIERAN GILBERT: Earlier this morning I caught up with the Leader of the Government in the Senate Mathias Cormann and spoke to him about these extraordinary claims of attempted Chinese interference that emerged yesterday.
Minister Cormann thanks so much for your time. Some explosive claims last night on the 60 Minutes program. This is quite extraordinary isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: They are very serious allegations. The Director General of ASIO released a statement last night. ASIO was aware of the allegations and is investigating.
KIERAN GILBERT: This takes the suggestion of foreign interference attempts to a whole new level though, doesn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think it is important that we do not get ahead of ourselves. They are very serious allegations. We are taking them seriously and investigations are continuing. But by the same token I think we need to let those processes take their course before we jump to ultimate judgements.
KIERAN GILBERT: But for a foreign government to make this sort of attempt if it is proven, would be hard to imagine I think for most Australians watching this story unfold.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As a Government we have been very aware of the threat of foreign interference and we have taken strong action. We have put in place the first counter foreign interference coordinator. We also in the lead up to the election established the electoral integrity assurance taskforce led by the Electoral Commission to ensure that there was no foreign interference in our electoral process. So we are very mindful of the need to protect Australians and our institutions from foreign interference. It is a real and present danger. We have been saying that for some time. But by the same token in relation to what are very serious allegations aired yesterday, we do need to let the proper investigations take their course.
KIERAN GILBERT: Parallel to this we have someone claiming, Wang Li Qiang claiming to be a former Chinese spy seeking asylum. So this is a multi-faceted story right now that the agencies are having to manage. Do you think that this individual should be granted protection?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a judgement for me to make. That is a judgement that will be made after the claims that are being made have been properly assessed and verified and proper judgements are made consistent with our laws. I am not involved in those processes. Ultimately that is a judgement for those to make that have been given that job under our laws.
KIERAN GILBERT: The agencies are taking the claims seriously?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The agencies are assessing the claims that are being made. They are working their way through all that is in front of them.
KIERAN GILBERT: It is an interesting challenge for you as the Finance Minister and others like the Trade Minister given you are trying to engage with the Chinese and build on that economic relationship. Yet we are seeing these various issues having to be managed. One would think that the authorities in Beijing wouldn’t be pleased if this individual were to be granted asylum.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do want a positive and constructive relationship with China. We want the best possible relationship with China that we can have. By the same token, where there are instances of bad behaviour or issues to be dealt with we will call them out and we will deal with them. That is what is done between sovereign nations and that is certainly what from our point of view we will continue to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: They are still central to our Budget aren’t they and the strength of our economy. We know the mid-year budget update is coming up in December. Our relationship with China remains pivotal in that sense.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have an important economic relationship with China. We have an important overall relationship with China. Of course. We are interested and committed to having a constructive relationship, the best possible relationship, but by the same token it has to be a relationship between sovereign nations. We will continue to call out any issues and deal with any issues if and as they arise.
KIERAN GILBERT: On the other local legislation, the Medevac repeal. It looks like Jacqui Lambie is going to back the Government on this. Is that your sense of things?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speak on behalf of any crossbench Senator. I never do that. I let them speak for themselves. The Government believes that this legislation needs to be repealed. It was a very bad decision by Labor earlier this year to push that through the Parliament. It has weakened our border protection arrangements. It has, effectively, outsourced our migration program to advocates who also happen to be doctors. There was capacity for medical transfers before that legislation. There will be capacity for medical transfers where that is appropriate after the Medevac bill has been repealed. At the moment, it presents an absolutely unacceptable risk to our national security.
KIERAN GILBERT: Anthony Albanese says that it hasn’t led to the crisis that the Government warned about. That there hasn’t been an influx of boats. He’s right about that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is wrong to the extent that we have been forced to accept people that otherwise we would not have accepted into the Australian community. There is absolutely no reason why we should expose the Australian community to the level of risk, an ongoing risk, that Labor’s Medevac legislation has exposed the Australian community to.
KIERAN GILBERT: On the Ensuring Integrity bill, finally again Pauline Hanson indicating that, well you’ve given her the amendments that she sought, so she should back it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I let crossbench Senators talk for themselves. From our point of view it is very important that we deal with the continued lawlessness by organisations which are imposing a cost on the economy, which is putting jobs at risk. Clearly court imposed fines have not had an impact on some of these organisations there needs to be a better sanction to ensure compliance with our laws.
KIERAN GILBERT: Can you understand why people would be cynical about this when the Government’s targeting the unions and yet we see corporate malfeasance all over the place at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Ensuring Integrity bill does not target unions. It is focused on registered organisations. Most of them actually are employer organisations. A minority of the organisations targeted are employee organisations. The only unions that are concerned about this are those that are guilty of continued lawlessness and who are happily paying all of the fines for their breaches of the law, who can see that the Ensuring Integrity bill will be more effective in dealing with their ongoing lawlessness … interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Unions are not going to be deregistered for a paper mishap?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. No, that is just a complete furphy that is being pursued by some. This is about dealing with serious persistent lawlessness. The CFMEU has had about 16 million plus in fines imposed on them and they just pay them and it does not seem to bother them. This imposes a significant cost on the economy, a significant cost on taxpayers. It puts jobs at risk. So that is why as a Government we are committed to the rule of law. We want to ensure that these organisations work within the framework of the law.
KIERAN GILBERT: And finally, it has been a big year for the Coalition. The electoral win. It would be a nice way to finish with a couple of parliamentary wins.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every sitting week we continue to progress our agenda. We continue to implement our legislative reforms. We just continue to do the same this fortnight.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.