Transcripts → 2020


ABC Radio - AM

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


Date: Monday, 23 March 2020

Coronavirus economic measures

SABRA LANE: Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and he joins us now. Good morning and welcome to the program.


SABRA LANE: Some Australians still don’t believe the risks, they think shutdowns, this is all media hype. Will today’s shut down send them a signal that this is really dangerous.

MATHIAS CORMANN: This is not media hype. This is very, very serious. The mission is to slow down the spread of this virus to save lives. We want to ensure that our health system can appropriately prioritise our most vulnerable who might be impacted by this virus over the next few weeks and months. We will not be able to stop the spread of this virus. But we can slow it down. We need every Australian to help in that effort.

SABRA LANE: Do we need to be explicit? Does the Government need to be explicit to say stay home, stop socialising you’ll save lives, if you go out you could possibly be killing someone.

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are being extremely explicit. As the situation has evolved the measures have continued to strengthen. We would like to think that Australians have received the message and that common sense will prevail. If common sense does not prevail, if the evidence is that these messages are still not getting through, then the National Cabinet and the Government, based on medical advice, will continue to make ever tougher decisions.

SABRA LANE: Are you prepared to shut everything down?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt or speculate on these things. We will continue to listen to the medical advice. But the clear message is that this is very serious. We need all Australians to help slow down the spread of this virus to save Australian lives.

SABRA LANE: Are the different messaging from the States on schools confusing people?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working through the National Cabinet to take a coordinated approach. The advice and the consensus position is that schools should remain open. That is they should be available as an option for parents. We respect the right of parents to make decisions in relation to their children. But parents should also have the option of sending their kids to school, which is the safest place for them to be.

SABRA LANE: States are behaving differently and sending different messages. That is confusing.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Victoria has brought forward the end of the term. There was a holiday period due in any event. We will continue to act on the medical advice. Our very clear message is that nothing has changed in relation to schools. Schools remain open today. They should remain open and based on the advice in front of us as we speak, it is the best place for kids to be and it is the best place from a public health point of view for our kids to be.

SABRA LANE: The economic challenge that this has been causing, is it the greatest since the Great Depression?

MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a one in a hundred years event. The last pandemic of this sort of magnitude was 1918-1920. The economic implications are clearly massive. It is quite devastating. We believe it is going to get worse before it gets better. But the important point here is that it will get better. Our mission in an economic sense is to keep as many businesses in business, as many Australians in jobs as possible, to provide the appropriate levels of support to those Australians who lose their job, boosting the jobseeker payment, the Newstart allowance, effectively doubling it. We want to ensure that businesses and Australian workers are there for the strong recovery on the other side.

SABRA LANE: Is it fair to say that these are survival payments rather than stimulus payments? Will the Government adopt a whatever it takes attitude to keep people going?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We will do what needs to be done. We will do what it takes to provide the appropriate levels of support. You ae quite right, the phase that we are now in is to provide a massively enhanced safety net to cushion the economy, to cushion Australians to the best of our ability. This is well beyond stimulus now. This is about providing a safety net for Australians.

SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister said yesterday you are working on a third package. How long before that comes in? Or are you now going to sit back and see how things progress?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We continue to review information and data as it comes through. As we develop new proposals and new measures to provide appropriate levels of support we will make decisions. We will continue to make decisions. Today Parliament will be legislating a very significant coronavirus economic response package with a whole range of measures supporting business, supporting households, which we expect will be supported by the Parliament in a very unified fashion. We continue to work … interrupted

SABRA LANE: Labor has suggested some amendments. Will you listen and will you act on those amendments?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have not seen any amendments from Labor. We had a very good meeting with Anthony Albanese and the Labor shadow leadership yesterday. If suggestions are made, we always consider them. But when it is all said and done we are very confident that all parties in the Parliament will come together to support this very important economic response package. We do not believe this will be an issue in the end.

SABRA LANE: You talked about a strengthened safety net. $1100 over a fortnight still may not be enough for some families. We’ve just heard from a father of five who is going to find it difficult making his mortgage repayments. What are you going to do to help with mortgage repayments and with rent?

MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to mortgage repayments I believe that the banks are considering what further actions they might take. They have been magnificent in relation to small business. I know that Anna Bligh, the CEO of the ABA has already indicated that they will review what might be possible there. We would like to think that there is going to be the capacity there to provide relief to families with their mortgage repayments. In terms of our support, the income support payments, the boosted jobseeker payment is only part of the equation. Once you are in that payment, you can get access to other payments like rental assistance, family tax benefit payments and the like. So it does go broader.

SABRA LANE: Alright, the panic buying has not stopped. People aren’t adhering to social distancing in supermarkets. What are you going to do about that? Is rationing a possibility? Should supermarkets limit access to people. We’ve got Professor John O’Dwyer saying they should do that. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: We hope that that is not going to be required ultimately. We will continue to send very strong and very clear messages into the community. We are all in this together. We want all Australians to be on the other side taking advantage of the strong recovery on the other side. We have to work through this challenging period together.

SABRA LANE: Okay. Mathias Cormann thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.