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, 7 April 2020

Coronavirus economic response

LISA MILLAR: Mathias Cormann, I understand, is waiting for us in Canberra, the Finance Minister. Good morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

LISA MILLAR: Thank you for your patience, Mr Cormann. Now, can I start with the wages subsidy program? What did you do to get the unions on side because there was a bit of hesitation from Sally McManus on Sunday about the people who were missing out?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are all in this together and we all want to ensure that as many businesses as possible and as many workers as possible can remain in their job through this difficult transition that we are going through. We want all Australians to be able to get safely to the other side. There were some legitimate issues that the ACTU wanted to be reassured about. Our objective here is to ensure that employers from businesses in financial distress, who are committed to holding on to their employees through this period and who want to access this $1,500 a fortnight JobKeeper payment, can make that payment in a way that is legal, that is not putting them in conflict with our industrial relations laws. We believe that in order to be able to do this efficiently, we need to have a temporary adjustment to our fair work laws. We understand that this needs to be done with the appropriate safeguards in place and that is the area that the conversation between the Government and the ACTU has centred around. We accept that there ought to be appropriate safeguards to ensure that there is not going to be any abuse of the temporary relief from all of the requirements in the Fair Work Act.

LISA MILLAR: That's the deal, if you like, that's been done with Sally McManus to make her feel more comfortable?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Christian Porter and Sally McManus have been working this through constructively for a few days now and they reached agreement last night on drafting principles and the drafting will be finalised today. We are quite confident that we will get into a position where this can be broadly supported.

LISA MILLAR: The 1.1 million casual workers though that are going to fall through the gaps with JobKeeper, Christian Porter says you've got to draw the line. No changes there?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No changes to what we have announced. Long-term casuals, these are casuals that have been with the same employer for 12 months or more, will be covered by the JobKeeper payment. That is the definition... interrupted

LISA MILLAR: Yeah, but I'm talking about the 1.1 million who aren't.

MATHIAS CORMANN: If you have been working for less than 12 months and you are out of work, then you have the opportunity to apply for JobSeeker payments and anyone on JobSeeker payments invariably qualifies for other payments like rental assistance and family tax benefit payments. The JobSeeker payment is not taxed either, whereas the JobKeeper payment is a taxed payment.

LISA MILLAR: What are we going to learn from the modelling being released today?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The important thing to remember about modelling is that modelling does not predict the future. It presents you with certain potential scenarios, depending on the assumptions that you input into the model. That is the first point. The second point is when it comes to the health side of this crisis, our mission has been very clear. We want to save lives by slowing the spread of the virus and that is why, as a country, all across the country we have been focused on bringing down that growth curve. The data in recent times is encouraging. We are trending in the right direction. The trend is our friend. We have to keep that going. The modelling will provide some context around potential scenarios but, again, modelling is not a predictor of what will happen.

LISA MILLAR: But we talk so much about transparency and trust in this really uncertain time. Why didn't the Government hand it out earlier?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a matter of making sure that this is released in the right context too. The way that some commentators and others have been pursuing this is as if the modelling shows some secret fact. It doesn't. Modelling is literally a construct where people input certain assumptions and find certain outcomes that may or may not happen. It is very important to release that sort of information in the right context, in particular in the middle of a crisis.

LISA MILLAR: Minister, we have been talking about transparency. We heard from Anthony Albanese before, saying that Parliament just needs to keep sitting, it can't wait again until August. It certainly is, the legislatures in the US, in the UK, in Spain, they are all pushing on. Why aren't we?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The logistics of bringing the Parliament in a continent of our size together are... interrupted

LISA MILLAR: But you don't have to physically be together. Businesses have adapted to running multibillion-dollar businesses.

MATHIAS CORMANN: There are some constitutional some legal and procedural issues there in doing that. We have said that we would be prepared to explore the manner and the form in which the Parliament might be able to come together, but that is not entirely straightforward. It is not as if we are not able to bring the Parliament back together if that is required to deal with urgent matters. As we are doing now. We reached agreement with the Opposition when we last sat on the circumstances and the processes to use if the Parliament had to be recalled. That is precisely what we did and here we are. We have states around Australia which have imposed border closures. We do have an exemption in order to be able to get here, but we should not really be stretching that beyond what is necessary. In the end, we are asking everybody to stay at home and to stop moving around the countryside. We should really as members of Parliament try to stick to that as best we can and keep our own movements to a minimum as well.

LISA MILLAR: There seems to have been some confusion over funding for universities. The tweet from the Treasurer giving them some hope that they could access the JobKeeper program, and then no, it was ruled out even though they are considered charities. At the end of the day, I realise there is not an empty, endless bucket of money but the universities are in real strife, aren't they? Is the Government looking at what they're going to do?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The universities have approached us and we are considering this. I am not in a position to make an announcement. That is something that we are currently working our way through.

LISA MILLAR: Because they're saying they could be, the whole sector could lose $4.5 billion.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think that universities would be seen as charities in the way that everyday Australians would understand the word charities, what the word charity would describe. We do understand that universities, along with many other organisations around Australia, are facing particular pressures right now. It is a matter of making appropriately balanced judgements.

LISA MILLAR: Just finally, Minister, I know that the Government made a lot of allowing people to access their superannuation. Does it worry you at all that 360,000 people have spoken to the ATO about getting early access? What does that mean down the track?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, it doesn't worry us. We have about $3 trillion in superannuation savings in Australia, about $300 billion of that is held in cash. It is absolutely easily feasible for superannuation funds to release some of that cash to their owners in order to help Australia through this period. APRA, the prudential regulator, has made very clear that this can easily be done without any systemic impact on our superannuation system. It should be done. This is obviously an unprecedented situation that we are finding ourselves in and we have to try and use every possible way to support Australians through this period.

LISA MILLAR: Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.