Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Wednesday, 8 April 2020
QUESTION: Minister can we get you to talk us through some of the changes that workers might expect to face in the months ahead when it comes to their employment to get this payment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The legislation that will go through the Parliament today will provide $1500 a fortnight in ongoing fortnightly pay for about six million working Australians. In order to ensure that those businesses in financial distress who employ them are able to pass those payments through efficiently and consistent with our industrial relations laws, we will be making some temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act, which will enable their employers to reduce hours, vary hours, vary the location of work within reason and also vary the type of work that workers might be asked to perform. This is really all about making sure that the $1500 payment can be made efficiently and legally without putting employers in breach of our Fair Work Act.
QUESTION: And the agreement that has been reached in relation to being forced to take leave.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, leave arrangements are matters for employers and employees to manage by agreement. If an employee believes that what they are asked to do is unreasonable, these sorts of determinations that an employer might seek to make would be reviewable by the Fair Work Commission.
QUESTION: Labor says that its concerned could end up being a rort that these companies boost their balance sheets while they run down people’s leave, which is already owed to them. Do you agree with that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, we do not agree with that. Christian Porter has engaged very constructively with the ACTU, in particular in order to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in this temporary arrangement. I stress again, this is a temporary arrangement to ensure that employers from businesses in financial distress who are keen to hold on to their employees by accessing this $1500 payment can do so without putting themselves in breach of the Fair Work Act. It stands to reason, if there is no work to be done, but the business continues to pay employees $1500 a fortnight to remain connected to the business, then clearly there have to be some adjustments possible in order to cater for that situation. The appropriate safeguards have been put in place. The legislation was stress tested in close consultation with the ACTU. We believe that when it’s all said and done Labor will support this legislation. So I do not believe that this is a genuine argument.
QUESTION: You said on RN just a second ago that this is one of the most intense times of your political career. Obviously you are making huge financial decisions. How are you dealing with that on a personal level?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is no question, this is one of the most intense periods for all of us in politics. I do not believe that anyone working in the Parliament right now has ever gone through a period like this, whether you are a politician or whether you are journalist, whether you are a public servant or a Ministerial staffer. This is in many ways historically unprecedented, in terms of the level of intensity. All of us, whatever our occupation, whatever our role through this, we all have to take care of ourselves, take care of our health and take care of our wellbeing because we are in for a marathon. This is going to last for some time to come. Australians need to settle in for potentially a period of up to six months. It is very important that we pace ourselves and that we are still there on the other side to do what needs to be done.
QUESTION: Is it keeping you up at night, the amount of debt that you are saddling the Australian public with?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. No, that side is not. The point that I have made many times, as a result of the hard work that we did in Australia over the last six and a half years to repair our Budget, to put ourselves back on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation and trajectory for the future, means that we went into this in a stronger position than we otherwise would have. We can afford to do what we are doing. In fact we cannot afford not to do it. We have to do this in order to protect livelihoods and to protect our economy and our fiscal position consequently for the medium to long term future. If we did not do what we are doing, we would be in a much worse position six to nine months from now.
QUESTION: How long do you think it will take to repair the Budget?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This will be a long term project. The best way to repair the Budget after this period is to secure a strong economic recovery on the other side. That is what we want to see happen. That is what we are working towards. On the back of a strong economic recovery we will be able to boost those revenues again and put ourselves back in a stronger fiscal position for the future. An important point here is that all of the measures that we are taking here are temporary measures. They are not imposing structural increases in expenditure on the Budget beyond dealing with this period. We are not baking in commitments that will burden the Budget bottom line over the medium to long term. Yes, we will have to pay back what we are investing in now. But we are not going to structurally be putting ourselves in a weaker position.
QUESTION: Minister, how many businesses have now registered for JobKeeper? And what would you say to employees who are wondering whether or not they are getting these payments
MATHIAS CORMANN: About 700,000 businesses. I have to say these are businesses who have registered an interest to receive information. They are not yet businesses who have formally registered to manage the JobKeeper payments. We will have to see once the legislation passes and comes into effect how many of those who have registered an interest may actually follow through. But it is very significant interest and we always expected that there would be significant interest. We are expecting that about six million working Australians will take advantage of this. That is a good thing. That is what it is designed to do.
QUESTION: This is the third stimulus package that your Government has introduced. Are you expecting more stimulus packages even after this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There will not be anything of this size and magnitude. Yes, the first package was a stimulus package. The second package was an enhanced safety net package. The third package was really building that bridge for Australian business and Australian workers severely impacted by the coronavirus to the other side. Trying to keep as many businesses and as many working Australians working for those businesses in jobs as long as possible through this period. We will continue to make decisions on how we can support Australians appropriately through this period. Yes of course. But I would not expect and I do not believe that there will be any more announcements of this magnitude. This is now the framework that will be in place to help Australia through this next six months period.