Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 7 April 2020
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live to Canberra now. Joining me now is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Mathias Cormann, thank you for your time. Boris Johnson in intensive care really highlights how indiscriminate this virus can be, doesn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes it does. We trust that he is getting the best of care and we wish him a full and speedy recovery. All of our best wishes to our good friend, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
LAURA JAYES: The national cabinet back home here will look at the modelling today and will release it publicly. Are you confident, is the Government confident that Australia is perhaps passed the worst of it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been working very hard to slow the spread of the virus. Clearly the curve is flattening and is heading in the right direction. We can’t take the foot off the brakes though so to speak when it comes to slowing down the spread, because we do know that slowing the spread of the virus will save lives. We just have to keep at it. The trend is our friend at present and we want to keep it that way.
LAURA JAYES: As I understand it, the JobKeeper payment, the legislation is being finalised this morning and last night it seemed Christian Porter and Sally McManus came to some kind of agreement on the IR changes. Do you know what the compromise is?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There was very constructive engagement between the Government, through Christian Porter, and the ACTU, through Sally McManus. The agreement was broadly around drafting principles. The drafting of the IR-related changes will be finalised this morning. This is really all about making sure that employers of businesses in distress who want to access this $1,500 payment so they can keep paying their employees, can do so while complying with our industrial relations laws. There is a need to build in some temporary flexibility as we go through this period to ensure that the money can actually reach the people that we want to support to the other side. In the end, we want as many businesses as possible and working Australians to get safely to the other side and the JobKeeper package is a key part of this and these IR changes are necessary to make it effective.
LAURA JAYES: The speed in which they are necessary is one of the key components, so will you be able to maintain that and as I understand it, there will be a provision for the Fair Work Commission to have the power to review, is that about right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will let Christian brief the media, the Labor Party and the crossbenchers on all of the specific details, but the principle is that we do want to ensure that we have the right balance. This is about getting the money into people’s pockets, into the workers’ pockets in a way that doesn’t put business in breach of industrial relations laws. We do want to ensure that the right safeguards are in there, that there is not going to be the opportunity to abuse the system and we also have to remember that this a temporary set of arrangements. All of the specifics, I will let Christian talk you through all of that.
LAURA JAYES: Any flexibility on casuals?
MATHIAS CORMANN: On casuals, the situation is very clear. The JobKeeper payment is about keeping longer-term employees connected with their employing business and long-term casuals are included. These are casuals that have had an association with the business that employs them for more than 12 months. That is consistent with the current definition in the Fair Work Act. In terms of casuals that have been attached to a business for less than 12 months, if out of work, they qualify for the JobSeeker payment. Something that is important to remember is that the JobKeeper payment is taxable. The JobSeeker payment is not. When you are on JobSeeker, most people would immediately qualify for a whole range of other payments on top of it. We have already doubled the payment compared to what it was to $1,100. Those Australians on JobSeeker qualify invariably for rental assistance as well as family tax benefits payments and the like. This is a matter that is pretty well catered for.
LAURA JAYES: An interesting alliance with Sally McManus and Christian Porter being able to just get things done in recent days. Is it the case that the Government and perhaps Christian Porter, more particularly, has preferred to actually negotiate with the ACTU than Labor?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is a moment where the nation has to come together. We are all in this together. We are facing a very serious challenge, a very serious health threat with very serious economic implications. The economic mission is to save and protect as many businesses as possible and to save and protect as many jobs as possible. In those circumstances, it is great to see that the nation is coming together, that Government and the ACTU are able to work constructively. I believe that the Labor Party, as they did when we last met, will end up supporting what is clearly an important piece of legislation in the national interest.
LAURA JAYES: Can we talk about tenants and landlords for a moment? This has been a bit of a sticking point, not because leaders can’t agree but the industry doesn’t seem to be able to agree. Why is it so difficult do you think to get industry agreement here in a code of conduct?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have to remember that there are a whole range of competing interests. Depending on whether you are a landlord or the tenant your interests are not necessarily aligned. We would say they should be in this context and that there should be scope for landlords and tenants to work through these issues with each other constructively given the circumstances. That sometimes is easier said than done. The national cabinet today will be hopefully in a position to make final judgements in relation to a national code of conduct, which would be legislated through all of the States and Territories and there will be scope in there for landlords who do the right thing in the context of JobKeeper recipients who are their tenants for there to be land tax relief and land tax deferral options. We are trying to do our bit, providing the right incentives along the way, but we do also expect that landlords will do the right thing here in relation to those tenants who are in financial distress.
LAURA JAYES: We do hope so. Mathias Cormann, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.