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, 29 November 2019
MADELEINE MORRIS: Let’s go back now to that Senate defeat of the Government’s union-busting bill. It comes at the end of a very difficult parliamentary week for the Government. We’re joined now by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann from Canberra. Good morning to you Senator.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Thank you very much for joining us. First of all, when did you find out that Pauline Hanson was going to be voting against this bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We put the bill on the way we did, because we had been given very firm undertakings of support for the bill. Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts, the two One Nation Senators, voted with us all throughout the week on every contested vote in relation to time management, in relation to amendments, every single vote until the last one. We were absolutely blindsided and taken by surprise with that final vote, given all of the undertakings that we had been receiving all throughout the week and before.
MADELEINE MORRIS: It was Westpac that really sunk that bill for you, wasn’t it? She has rightly said that this week it’s appeared that there is one rule for blue collar workers and another rule for white collar workers in this country.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept that at all. The full force of the law is directed at the events at Westpac. Westpac will end up incurring very substantial fines. Westpac has already had to make decisions to deal with the implications of what happened there. The truth is, we are deeply disappointed by the result last night. We are deeply disappointed for the Australian people because the Australian people will continue to have to pay the price for the cost of constant law-breaking by militant unions, which adds up to 30 per cent to the cost of construction. Taxpayers should not have to incur increased costs as a result of militant unionism of up to 30 per cent when that money would be much better spent on more schools, more hospitals and more roads … interrupted
MADELEINE MORRIS: But hang on. When unions break the law, in some cases they can face criminal charges. When Westpac bank executives break regulations, facilitating allegedly in some cases child abuse, they face a fine.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, in relation to unions, unions are subject to court imposed fines now when they break the law. This is just the cost of doing business for them. They completely ignore them. The fines are completely ineffective in having an impact on unions … interrupted
MADELEINE MORRIS: They also appear completely ineffective on having an effect on bankers to be fair, Senator.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I completely disagree with you on that. I think you will find that the very substantial fine, very substantial fine that will be imposed on Westpac will have very significant implications for them and will have a very significant impact on their behaviour and on the behaviour of other banks moving forward. The truth is, our legislation, which is designed to ensure that registered organisations obey the law, also requires court decisions, court decisions, to impose various additional sanctions in the context of severe, persistent and consistent breaking of the law in a way that imposes a very significant cost on our economy.
MADELEINE MORRIS: You will reintroduce the legislation next year, will you, and what amendments do you expect to have to make?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will 100 per cent reintroduce this reform. This is very, very important reform for the future of our economy, for the future of jobs across Australia. We will reintroduce this bill. We will put this back to the Senate early next year. Let me just say, it is not unusual for contested reform legislation to have to go to the Senate on a number of occasions. In fact, there are arrangements in place to resolve these sorts of issues if legislation through the Senate is rejected on more than one occasion. We will be reintroducing this legislation into the Senate. Like with the reestablishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which was also initially defeated, but which we were ultimately able to pass through the Senate, we will persist with this reform. It is a reform that is important for our economy. It is a reform that is very important for Australians wanting to see additional jobs created across Australia and who want to see money go into more schools, more roads, more hospitals rather than into paying for the cost of militant unionism.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Okay Senator, I’ll just move you onto another subject because there’s a lot to get through today. It has been a big week for the Government. Talking about integrity, if Angus Taylor had any integrity, he’d stand aside from his ministerial position, wouldn’t he, while he was under the subject of a police investigation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a completely ridiculous proposition. What you are essentially suggesting is that because a political opponent, the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, wrote a letter to New South Wales Police, with New South Wales Police actually making very clear that the only reason they are assessing it is because it was sent by the Shadow Attorney-General. You are suggesting that based on a letter from a political opponent, a Minister that actually has not done anything wrong should be standing aside. If the trigger of standing a Minister aside was a letter from your political opponents, then that would give a significant incentive for Mark Dreyfus to write even more letters. He has written many such letters … interrupted
MADELEINE MORRIS: But we’re talking about potentially forged documents, Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is no evidence at all that Angus Taylor has done anything wrong at all.
MADELEINE MORRIS: But that’s what the investigation is for. Shouldn’t he stand aside while that’s undertaken?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Ministers in governments of both persuasion have continued to serve as Ministers when various investigations have taken place. Mr Dreyfus is a vexatious letter writer. He has written eight or nine letters of this sort. It has never led to anything because there was never anything to it. What you are suggesting is that a partisan, politically motivated letter from a political opponent should trigger an immediate standing aside of a Minister. That is a ridiculous proposition. That would be a ridiculous test. It is not one that would be appropriate.
MADELEINE MORRIS: By that token, you would also say, talking integrity, that there was no issue with the Prime Minister calling the New South Wales Police Commissioner to talk about it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course there was no issue. The Prime Minister was asked a question in Question Time by the Leader of the Opposition in relation to an investigation in New South Wales which was triggered by a political partisan letter by the Labor party. He advised the House of Representatives what he would do. He did it. He reported back to the House of Representatives on what he was told. That was entirely appropriate. If it is appropriate for a Labor shadow minister to encourage police to instigate an investigation, of course it is appropriate for the Prime Minister to provide information back to the House of Representatives in relation to what the nature of the investigation is.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Okay. I just want to move onto Westpac because that’s the continuing story here. Westpac’s board and CEO have said that they weren’t made aware of the number and gravity of the alleged breaches of money laundering and legislation until very recently. Are you buying that as an explanation from them given that AUSTRAC actually warned the bank back in 2013 that it was concerned about some of its practices?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that there are a lot of enquires that are yet to get to the bottom of things. But what I would say is that the leadership at Westpac is responsible. After the events at the Commonwealth Bank, it was incumbent on the board and the risk committee and the leadership of Westpac, as it is incumbent on the board and leadership of all of the other banks, to look closely at all of their operations to ensure that they are not exposed to the sort of risk that clearly they did not appropriately manage. It is not really a sufficient excuse to say we only found out recently. They should have made the appropriate enquiries and the appropriate investigations after the events at CBA. It turns out that clearly they did not or they did not to a sufficient degree. That is why they are now paying the price. That is why they will pay the price into the future.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Senator Cormann, thank you very much for joining us today at the end of a very busy week for you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.