Transcripts → 2020


ABC TV - News Breakfast

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Coronavirus economic package

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Federal Government is considering further economic measures to help with the spread of the coronavirus, following last week's $17 billion stimulus package.

LISA MILLAR: For more, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning, Minister.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

LISA MILLAR: Well, look, let's start with that. In the US, 13 per cent down on the share market and warnings of a possible recession. What does it mean for Australia?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The situation is rapidly evolving in Australia, as it is around the world. Markets have been finding it very difficult for some time to price the risk, because clearly it is very hard to assess how long and how deep this will impact. In Australia, we continue to make decisions to protect Australians' health, to slow down the spread of the virus. We won't be able to stop the spread of the virus, but we are working to slow it down, to ensure that we can have a more consistent flow of patients into hospitals and also that we can appropriately prioritise our most vulnerable patients. But in terms of the economy, the impact is clearly getting more severe. We expect that businesses will close and people will lose their jobs. We are currently working to provide the necessary support through what will be a difficult transition. That is the grim reality of it. But also to maximise the strength of the recovery, of the bounce back on the other side.

LISA MILLAR: Well, who's going get the attention today, when you all meet ahead of this second meeting of the national cabinet later this evening?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister has been chairing a round of meetings with cabinet ministers from right across the board yesterday. We have all been talking to our respective business and community stakeholders. There are clearly some sectors of the economy and of the community more broadly that are particularly severely impacted. We are currently assessing how best to provide support for them, for business and for... interrupted

LISA MILLAR: Who are they? Who's in the focus today?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly when it comes to sectors in the economy, the tourism and hospitality sectors are very much on the front line. There are others. The not-for-profit sector also is facing significant challenges. There are a whole series of Australians at the lower income end that are facing particular challenges. Those Australians who are likely to lose their job over the coming weeks and perhaps months will need appropriate levels of support so that we can come back stronger and better on the other side. These are the things that we are currently working through.

LISA MILLAR: Minister, in the US, Mitt Romney has suggested that every single American adult get a $1,000 payment. Now, you came forward with the $750 payment. That was for the more vulnerable, pensioners. What can working families get from the Government right now? Because they are really worried.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Different parts of the economy are impacted in different ways. A company like Qantas, with a significant downturn in the level of travel has got a different impact to Coles and Woolworths, which are dealing with record levels of demand in their stores. What we are carefully considering is to what extent we might be able to channel those workers who have less work for a company like Qantas, but might be able to do more work for companies like Coles and Woolworths as we are working through the transition. That is just one example. We are going to try to keep as many Australians in jobs as possible, working in the best possible way, including with businesses around Australia. But we will also be providing appropriate levels of support for those Australians who, over the next few weeks and months, will not be able to remain in employment because of the downturn caused by the coronavirus.

LISA MILLAR: Did you underdo the stimulus the first time around?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No. This is a rapidly evolving situation. The initial package that we announced, the Prime Minister announced last Thursday, was based on the situation and the information in front of us at that point in time. We always said that the package would be proportionate and scalable. We are now proposing to scale it up. The Parliament is not meeting until next week, when any stimulus package would have to be legislated. We will be making these adjustments as appropriate and as required in good time before the Parliament coming back next week.

LISA MILLAR: Now, the WHO has this morning warned that no country is doing enough. Should Australians this morning feel that the Government has got a handle on this?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have a plan to slow down the spread of the virus, from a health point of view, in order to save lives. This is so that we can have a more constant flow of patients, so that our health system is better positioned in particular to deal with prioritising the needs of more vulnerable patients. We have taken very drastic measures at our borders right from the word go. We will continue to...interrupted

LISA MILLAR: Do we need more drastic measures, though? The US are reducing the number of people who can gather together down to 10?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In the US and Europe the spread of the virus is somewhat more advanced than it is in Australia. The benefit we have is to be able to observe what is happening in some of these other jurisdictions and what works and what doesn't work. We will continue to rely on the medical advice. We will make decisive judgements, as appropriate and as required, in the context of the medical advice being put forward.

LISA MILLAR: We've got to leave it there, Minister. Thank you for your time.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.