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
QUESTION: Senator, last sitting week of the year. How confident is the Government that you are going to be getting legislation through such as medivac?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The medivac repeal bill is the first item of business in the Senate today for the Government We would like to see Labor’s bad medivac legislation repealed. Labor’s medivac legislation has exposed Australians to unacceptable risk. It has facilitated people coming to Australia that demonstrably should not have been able to come to Australia. It has brought many, many people to Australia who self evidently did not have the sorts of health issues that would justify the transfers that occurred and who present a demonstrable level of risk. The medivac legislation that Labor pushed through the Parliament earlier this year has also undermined our third party resettlement arrangements with the United States, with further revelations today that quite a number of refugees who had been accepted for transfer to the US were ultimately transferred to Australia. So we call on all Senators to support our medivac repeal legislation. It will be put to a vote this week, in case you were wondering. There has been some inaccurate speculation that somehow we would only put this legislation forward under certain circumstances. We will most certainly put the medivac repeal legislation to a vote this week. Every individual Senator has to make a decision whether they stand on the side of stronger national security or weaker national security. That is the very simple question. Do you want to see stronger or weaker national security. That is the basis on which every individual Senator will have to make a decision.
QUESTION: How does it undermine those third party resettlement deals? Surely they come here, they get treated or they get checked and then they go off to the US after a period of months.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is clearly not what is happening. Quite a number of people have come to Australia now, with questionable claims in relation to health issues. What people need to remember is that medical transfers in appropriate circumstances were available before Labor’s medivac bills weakened our national security arrangements. Medical transfers will be available after Labor’s weak medivac laws will be repealed. In appropriate circumstances medical transfers were available before and will be available in the future. But what has happened here is that our border protection and national security arrangements through Labor’s weak medivac laws have effectively been outsourced to refugee advocates who also happen to be doctors. The decision making process as a result of Labor’s weak medivac laws has been completely compromised.
QUESTION: So just clarifying, the Government will put the repeal of the medivac laws to a vote even if you don’t have Jacqui Lambie’s support?
MATHIAS CORMANN: One, yes we will put the medivac repeal legislation to a vote in the Senate. Two, of course we want to see that medivac repeal legislation successfully pass the Senate. What we are saying to all Senators, if you care about our national security, if you want to see stronger rather than weaker national security arrangements in place, then please support our efforts to repeal Labor’s weak medivac laws.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. Will you also reintroduce the ensuring integrity bill to the House and will that go to the Senate for a second vote this week? And why won’t the Government, or the Coalition accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle the last remaining people on Manus and Nauru?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly in relation to your first question, we will be reintroducing the ensuring integrity legislation as soon as possible. The precise timing will be a matter for Christian Porter as the responsible Minister to advise. It is very important reform. Militant unionism across Australia is imposing massive costs on Australians in terms of the cost of construction. The cost of construction is up to thirty per cent higher than it should be without the level of militant and persistent law breaking that we see from some unions across Australia. No law abiding union has anything to fear from our ensuring integrity legislation. Every law abiding union will continue to be able to advocate on behalf of their members and do their job. But yes, it is important reform. Yes we are committed to it. We will be progressing it as swiftly as possible into the future.
QUESTION: On New Zealand?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a matter that we have discussed on many occasions now. We are very mindful of making sure that we maintain strong border protection arrangements and that we do not provide an incentive for the people smugglers to get the boats going again. That has consistently been our position. We will not be making any changes to our strong border protection arrangements. We will not be making any changes to the way we have been dealing with Labor’s legacy case load. When Labor lost government they left behind complete chaos at our borders. They left a massive legacy case load behind in terms of the number of people that had arrived here illegally by boat. We will continue to work our way through this. We have actually been able to reduce that legacy case load to a very significant extent. There is more work to be done. We will continue to do it with our proven methodology.
QUESTION: How does that third country settlement weaken that sort of regime given we resettle people in the United States for example?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are entitled to hold a different view. That is our judgement. The Australian people, again, at the last election trusted our judgement in relation to these matters.
QUESTION: Just on Pauline Hanson’s vote in the Senate and you thought you had it in the bag. Why would reintroducing it actually change her opinion or change her vote.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, the Government is committed to this as a very important economic reform. It is a reform designed to ensure that our economy can continue to grow more strongly, that more jobs can be created, that Australian taxpayers don’t have to continue to pay the price for militant unionism which is adding up to thirty per cent to the cost of construction. We will continue to make the case. It is not unusual actually for contested reform legislation to have to be put to the Senate on a number of occasions. When it came to the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, we had to put that to the Senate on a number of occasions before it finally passed with crossbench support. We will continue to engage constructively and in good faith with all Senators who are prepared to engage with us. Our hope is that over time we will be able to convince a majority of Senators of the merits of our reform. After all, it was a draw, which was somewhat closer than when that legislation was put to the Senate before. We will keep working at it.
QUESTION: We had Sally McManus and Michelle O’Neill down here last week and they were off prosecuting their case for Senators to reject the bill. It seems like they actually succeeded where you …
MATHIAS CORMANN: They went backwards. It is just that we did not persuade enough compared to when this was put forward the first time around. Our vote in the Senate strengthened. We needed one more vote. We will continue to work to persuade one more Senator of the merits of what is very important economic reform legislation.
QUESTION: Minister you are responsible for Australia’s finances. Do you think that it is reasonable that Australian taxpayers should know how their money is being spent when George Christensen has spent three hundred days in the Philippines. Staying in areas where the Australian Federal Police said might open him to bribery risks.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware. Every individual Member of Parliament is responsible for the way they use Parliamentary entitlements. I am not sure whether you are suggesting that there was any misuse of Parliamentary entitlements here. In terms of his private affairs these are really matters for him. Unless you are alleging somehow illegal behaviour, I am not sure how I can assist you with this.
QUESTION: Are there other things beyond illegal behaviour Minister, where you are staying is opening him up to bribery risk. $550 a day has been paid by the Australian taxpayer?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, every Member of Parliament is accountable to their electorate. In order to get elected to the House of Representatives a Member of Parliament has to persuade a majority of people, of voting age, in their electorate that they are best equipped to represent their interests here in Canberra. I note that George Christensen substantially increased his margin at the most recent election. So clearly the people in his electorate put their full confidence in him despite the sorts of stories that were spread about him in the lead up to the last election.
QUESTION: The submarine bill has been now pitched at about $20-25 billion. As the Finance Minister are you happy with the fact it is just going to keep blowing out and we are going to get submarines for the next thirty years that might be redundant?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are always very focused on making sure we get the best possible value for money. Do not believe everything you read in the newspapers.