Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Wednesday, 4 March 2020
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s get some reaction now from the Government, the leader of the Government in the Senate the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. What’s your reaction to the criticism there from Anthony Albanese over the message given by the Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The first point is that we hold the CDF in very high regard and of course we note what he says, but let me also say there was absolutely no attempt to politicise our defence forces. This was a period of national crisis and there was a need to provide information and, indeed, reassurance. The outstanding involvement of the Defence Force in responding to the bushfire crisis of course was providing significant reassurance to affected communities, particularly around the east coast of Australia. There have been examples on both sides of politics where there have been defence pictures posted. I don’t think that there is ever an attempted by anyone to politicise the ADF. I think it is a bit disappointing that for Anthony Albanese that this is the biggest issue that he is leading the charge on at a time when Australia is facing some very significant challenges in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus around the globe and the impact and implication that is going to have for Australia moving forward.
KIERAN GILBERT: And on that front, because obviously a lot on the economic side of things today to address. How soon will we see the stimulus?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, myself, together with other colleagues as appropriate, we are working our way through that now. We had the response yesterday from the RBA. We are developing a well-targeted, responsible and scalable package to provide appropriate stimulus. We want to ensure that business can continue to do business and we want to ensure that people remain employed. We are working through how we can best ensure that happens. The economy clearly throughout 2019 was strengthening from the 12-month period to the end of September at 1.8 per cent to 2.2 per cent towards the 12 months to the end of December. It was heading in the right direction, but there is no doubt that the coronavirus will have a material impact on economic growth at least over the next two quarters.
KIERAN GILBERT: And in terms of the response though, we’re talking billions in this stimulus, not millions?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to put a number on it here for you today, except to say that we will do what needs to be done to ensure that the Australian economy is in the strongest, most resilient position possible to deal with the challenges in front of us. And let me just say, the reason we are in such a good position to be able to do so is because of the hard yards that we have put in over the last six and a half years to repair the budget mess that we inherited from our Labor predecessors. If we had gone into this challenge on the basis of fiscal settings as we inherited back in 2013, we would be in a much weaker position to deal with what is in front of us.
KIERAN GILBERT: And any investment allowance or incentive for business, that will come well before the budget? That would form part of the stimulus?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into specific measures. We are working our way through a well-targeted, responsible and scalable package. This will be announced and released and implemented in the next little while and as soon as all of the decisions have been made, we will of course make relevant announcements. Let me just say the Australian economy, and the National Accounts data today showed this, has proven to remain incredibly resilient. Employment growth still at 1.9 per cent, about three times as high as when we came into government, twice the rate of employment growth across the OECD. Growth in disposable income… interrupted
KIERAN GILBERT: Does that give you encouragement that you can avoid a recession?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The point here is this, we are facing a significant challenge, a significant public health challenge and a significant economic challenge as a result of an event that we didn’t cause but that we obviously have to deal with. On the other side of having to deal with that challenge, given the fundamentals in the Australian economy, given the structure and the resilience of the Australian economy, there will be a strong recovery from whatever downside we will experience over the next period. It is important for us to continue to make the right decisions to maximise our chance to have the strongest possible recovery on the other side of dealing with this challenge.
KIERAN GILBERT: You, well obviously you’ve seen what Labor has been saying about the back in black message, that the Government jumped the gun on that. What do you say in response to that, given obviously, as you’ve said, that scope you argue has helped prevent a greater downturn right now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When we came into government in 2013, we inherited a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a rapidly deteriorating budget position. There is no question that as a result of our significant budget repair effort, we brought the budget into balance in 2018-19 and we were on track to get back to surplus in 2019-20, but when there are events outside of your control that jump out at you, you have to make responsible judgements in the national interest and that is what we will be doing.
KIERAN GILBERT: What’s your message to people about the panic buying that we’re seeing right now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister and Anthony Albanese just now as well are absolutely right in saying that people should just go on with their normal routines of life. There are some precautions and some health advice people should follow, like regular washing of hands and the like. We don’t advise people to go into these sorts of buying sprees that we have seen.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, I appreciate your time, thank you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to see you.