Transcripts → 2019


ABC Radio - AM

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, 2 December 2019

Ensuring integrity bill, medivac repeal, counter foreign interference taskforce

SABRA LANE: Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate he joined me earlier.

Mathias Cormann, welcome to AM.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.

SABRA LANE: You lead the Government in the Senate and you’re not known for bringing on bills if you know they are not going to pass. How was it that you were blindsided by One Nation last week?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I think we talked about this extensively last week. You are right. The reason we brought this bill on the way we did was because we were confident that the necessary support was there. In the end it was not. We move on. We will bring the Ensuring Integrity bill back. It is very important reform to strengthen our economy, to ensure that more jobs can be created and also to ensure that taxpayers do not have to continue to pay for the cost of militant unionism.

SABRA LANE: To the substantive point of that question, how was it that you were blindsided?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, in this business, you have to be able to rely on what people tell you. On this occasion the information we relied on was not accurate.

SABRA LANE: Your Ministerial colleague Matt Canavan says that Pauline here, referring to Pauline Hanson, is trying to take the Australian people as mugs, the thinking has gone a bit to her head and she can’t be trusted. What do you think about that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We always work in good faith with all Senate crossbenchers. Indeed we work in good faith with Senators from right across the political spectrum. On occasions we will not agree. We respect each individual Senator’s right to vote consistent with their views. It is always preferable for us to understand how people are likely to vote based on their judgements. On this occasion that was clearly not the case.

SABRA LANE: Is Mr Canavan’s assessments of Senator Hanson helpful to you at this stage?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to provide a running commentary on other comments. I have had a track record of working positively and constructively with Senator Hanson through the Senate. On this occasion obviously we were disappointed that that was not successful. But we now look forward to the next challenges.

SABRA LANE: One of those next challenges is the medivac repeal bill. That’s something the Government hopes will be passed this week. The Prime Minister is due to meet Jacqui Lambie today. How much is the Government prepared to compromise to get that bill through?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We will not be horse trading on national security. This is a very straightforward bill …interrupted

SABRA LANE: No compromise?

MATHIAS CORMANN: There will be no horse trading on the medivac repeal bill. The medivac bill is a bad law. It was backed by Labor earlier this year. It has weakened our national security. It has demonstrably facilitated … interrupted

SABRA LANE: How has it weakened our national security?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I was about to say that. It has demonstrably facilitated people coming to Australia that should not have been allowed to come to Australia. Not for health reasons. What people need to understand is that medical transfers were available before the medivac legislation was put in place. They will be in place after Labor’s medivac laws are repealed. Clearly what is happening is that Labor’s laws are undermining our third party resettlement arrangements with the United States. They are facilitating people coming to Australia … interrupted

SABRA LANE: It’s not just Labor’s laws. It’s the Parliament’s laws because the crossbench helped pass them.

MATHIAS CORMANN: These were laws very much backed by Labor which have undermined our border protection and our national security…interrupted

SABRA LANE: That got Parliamentary support.

MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be putting to the Parliament that these bad laws which have effectively outsourced our border protection arrangements to advocates who also happen to be doctors. Really the question for the Senate this week will be, do you want to stand on the side of stronger national security or do you want to stand on the side of weaker national security. That is the only question in front of the Parliament this week.

SABRA LANE: The Government’s announced today another raft of changes on countering foreign influence with a taskforce. Some of those recommendations were made at the start of the year. Why have you waited until now to put them in place?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have already, a little while ago now, put in place the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator. This is now the next step. This has been under development for a period. This taskforce will be led by a senior ASIO official. It will also have on it various representatives of intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It is the next step in strengthening our response to the threat of foreign interference.

SABRA LANE: It sounds like, given the extra money and the skills the Government wants the AFP, in particular, to have here, that perhaps it’s not so well placed right now to investigate foreign interference.

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are very conscious of the rising threat level, which is why the response is also evolving. You are right, we are investing just under $90 million into further strengthening our capability and also our governance structures to ensure that what is clearly around the world an increasing threat, to ensure that Australia is in the best possible position to respond to that threat.

SABRA LANE: You are the Finance Minister, responsible for making sure how money is spent and what is cut to help government spend more. The Government has made extra spending commitments regarding aged care and drought. What’s the philosophy in your thinking in finding how to make the extra money available to fund those things?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Governments always make judgements on how to allocate... interrupted

SABRA LANE: Sure, but it’s a tough decision deciding what to cut, unless it’s going to come from the surplus.

MATHIAS CORMANN: As I was about to say, governments always have to make decisions on how to prioritise the allocation of limited resources. We have a number of objectives. One is to ensure that we meet all of the spending requirements to ensure that the services Australians rely on can be guaranteed. We also want to ensure that the Government lives within its means, because if we do not, we would be weakening our economy and weakening the opportunity for Australians into the future. There are always judgements to be made. All of these judgements will be reflected in the half-yearly budget update in MYEFO in the middle of December.

SABRA LANE: Is it tough deciding what to cut?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is always tough to make judgements on how best to prioritise the allocation of limited resources.

SABRA LANE: Minister, thanks for joining AM this morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.