Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 7 February 2020
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go to Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister joins us live from Perth this morning. Mathias Cormann, good to see you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
LAURA JAYES: First of all this has been a Nationals problem ‘til now, but today has it become a Government problem?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have a very strong and united Coalition team which is very focused on dealing with the challenges facing Australia from the bushfires, to the drought, dealing with the impact of the coronavirus, continuing to make the decisions to build a stronger, more resilient economy where all Australians have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. Barnaby Joyce is a very significant member of our team. He has worked very hard as a constructive contributor to our team for a very, very long time. I am convinced that we will continue to focus on the issues that matter to the Australian people and stop the internal focus moving forward.
LAURA JAYES: Is it constructive to threaten to block your own Government’s legislation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe that that is what will happen. In the Coalition, on matters of strong personal conviction, on specific issues, it is always open to individual members to take a particular position. But if you look at Barnaby’s track record, I just heard the reference to him crossing the floor, that was a very, very, very long time ago. That has not happened for a very, very long time.
LAURA JAYES: Do you think he’s changed since the Howard days and you just see this as an idle threat?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I would not describe it like that. I am convinced that Barnaby will continue, as he has for a long time, to play a constructive, an important role, as part of a strong and united Liberal National Coalition team.
LAURA JAYES: Shouldn’t he be on the front bench? Should he be in Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are not judgements for me to make. Ultimately, the line-up of National party Ministers is a matter for the leader of the National party. Michael McCormack was re-endorsed by his party room as the leader of Nationals earlier in the week. We completely respect that that is a matter for them, in the same way as the leadership and the line-up of the Liberal party is a matter for our party room.
LAURA JAYES: I guess a few people might be looking at this decision this week though and be scratching their heads. You sit in Cabinet, is this really the strongest front bench team, or is it personality and politics that always has a factor in these things?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do sit in the Cabinet. Let me tell you, David Littleproud who has become their deputy leader is doing an outstanding job. He has done an outstanding job over the summer in his areas of responsibility in relation to emergency management in particular. He has previously been the Minister for Agriculture. He returns to that portfolio. Darren Chester has been a Minister for a long time. He has been in Cabinet before as the Minister for Infrastructure. He now returns to Cabinet as the Minister for Veterans Affairs. The first time since 1993 that the veterans affairs portfolio is represented around the Cabinet table. Keith Pitt, also an experienced Member of Parliament, previously on the front bench, experienced as an engineer and a businessman in Queensland. He will bring significant experiences to the conversations around the Cabinet table. I am certain he will make an outstanding contribution.
LAURA JAYES: Do you think Bridget McKenzie can make a comeback to Cabinet?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course. Look at the history. Look at the political history of Australia. Bridget McKenzie made an error in not disclosing a conflict of interest, which put her in breach of Ministerial standards. That is the reason why she resigned. She paid a high price. It depends on circumstances down the track. Bridget McKenzie is a very talented Member of Parliament. She has made a great contribution in the past. I would not be surprised if she had the opportunity to make a contribution again, within the Ministry in the future.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. This core group of Nationals, it was really uncovered this week, want more support for coal, and a coal fired power station. Does a new coal fired power station stack up financially?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have not committed to that. In the lead up to the election we made a commitment to a feasibility study. These are the processes that need to be gone through in a normal way. But let me just say, coal under any government over the foreseeable future will continue to be an important energy source in Australia, as it will be around the world. By the same token, we have already increased the level of renewable energy into the national electricity market to 25 per cent. That is projected to reach 50 per cent by 2030. If you look at the level of investment in renewable energy in Australia, we are leading the world. We are investing more than three times as much in renewable than Germany on a per capita basis … interrupted
LAURA JAYES: Has it surpassed the need for something like Collinsville?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not an ad hoc judgement for me to make like this on your television program. These are things that need to be properly assessed. That is of course why it is important to go through these proper processes and feasibility studies.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, let’s look at the economy a little bit more broadly now Mathias Cormann. Strong retail figures, a pretty upbeat RBA Governor despite the bushfires and the coronavirus over the last couple of months. Do you expect that people just aren’t living this great economic reality that you and others in Government often talk about?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What we are talking about is the fact that we have worked very hard in the last six years to make the Australian economy more resilient. There is no question that we have faced a series of very significant headwinds, a slowdown in the global economy which had flow on consequences for us and floods, droughts, bushfires, coronavirus. The reason we were able to make significant additional investments to deal with the drought and support drought affected communities, the reason we were able to make $2 billion in funding available on the spot for the bushfire recovery, the reason we have been able to do all these things without imposing additional higher taxes like the Gillard government had to do in the context of the flood in 2011 when they imposed a flood levy, is because we have worked very hard to strengthen the economy and to strengthen our budget position. That is what it is all about. We are now in our 29th year of continuous growth. More than one and a half million jobs created in the last six years. Our workforce participation is at the highest level on record, in particular among women and older Australians. Our wages continue to grow faster than inflation. Given all of the challenges that we have been facing internationally and domestically, the Australian economy continues to perform well. As the Governor of the Reserve Bank has pointed out, our outlook is quietly optimistic.
LAURA JAYES: And the Governor does not seem to care whether you actually reach this surplus, whether it’s a small surplus back in balance. It just wants you to spend more. The RBA just wants you to spend more. Will you or can you do both?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will continue to ensure that government lives within its means. In the end, the Government does not have any money of its own. For us to spend more, we have to take more money out of the pockets of Australians or out of the pockets of Australian businesses. That means less money available for Australians to spend in the economy. It means less money for business to invest into our future growth. It is always a matter of balancing these things. We want to ensure that our economy has the best possible potential to grow into the future. This has been the core of the argument in the lead up to the last election. There was on one side the high taxing, socialist, anti-business agenda of the Labor party, which was rejected. And on the other side, the lower taxes, pro-growth, pro-opportunity, pro-aspiration agenda of the Liberal National parties. We will continue to implement the agenda and the values, the policy and political values, that we took to the last election.
LAURA JAYES: Mathias Cormann, thanks for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.