Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 10 April 2020
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live now to the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. It has been a big week Minister so thank you for your time. We do end the week with the Government having hit the Budget by $130 billion in one go. It was necessary and the arguments have been well worn and accepted by the Australian public. It is hard to imagine, it feels like this thing has been going for months, but it is really only been going for a number of weeks. Was there a moment in the last three weeks where everything changed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Initially it started with return travellers from China bringing a relatively small number of infections back to Australia. Initially we thought we would be able to contain it with these border restriction measures that we put in place very, very early. But it became obvious very quickly that there was a very serious risk. That there was a very serious health threat and that we needed to take more drastic action. In terms of the economic impact, within weeks it became very clear how significant the economic impact would be from the measures that we had to take in order to save lives, in order to slow down the spread of the virus. That is why our response has evolved. Initially providing stimulus. Then putting in place our substantially enhanced safety net with the JobSeeker program. Then ultimately our effort to help ensure that as many businesses as possible could stay in business and keep Australians employed in those businesses through this period with our JobKeeper program. What we have done this week should not just be seen in Budget terms. It should be seen as a necessary investment to keep as many Australians employed by as many businesses as possible so that we can be in the best possible position for a strong economic recovery on the other side.
LAURA JAYES: You were one of the architects and the work is ongoing I know that. But looking at this one JobKeeper package, was the focus on getting this money out as quickly to as many people as possible but also making sure it is not permanent. A permanent impost?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is certainly true across the whole three packages, our focus very much was on making sure that the support that was provided in order to help Australians through this crisis was temporary. That it was not structural. That it was not imposing structural burdens on the Budget over the medium to long term. It is a temporary crisis. It warrants a temporary response. We certainly do not want to bake in ongoing liabilities into the Budget bottom line. In terms of what the focus was, the focus in terms of the JobKeeper program was on giving businesses the confidence to hold onto their employees. Businesses were telling us they wanted to hold onto their employees through this period. They wanted to do the right thing. But in the end, businesses who have had a massive fall in their turnover were clearly not in a position to survive while maintaining one hundred per cent of their costs. Unless we did something like this, something would have had to give. That is why we put this very substantial but necessary program in place.
LAURA JAYES: It is designed to save six million jobs. There has been calls for this to be expanded. You have heard these calls and they have essentially been rejected in the Parliament. That is to extend it to casual workers, some other pensioners fall through the cracks here, aren’t eligible, overseas visa holders. Is it the case that you just have to draw the line somewhere even knowing that some people will not benefit and will come out the other side of this worse off?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do not accept that people are falling through the cracks. Between the JobKeeper program and the JobSeeker program more than half of the Australian workforce as it was will be receiving payments from the Government. In relation to some of those that you mentioned, with casuals, long term casuals, any casuals who worked with the same employer for more than twelve months will be eligible for the JobKeeper program. Any others who have been with the same employer for less time, if they are out of work and if they are eligible, would be able to apply for the JobSeeker program. In terms of temporary visa holders, these are temporary visitors to Australia. The expectation always is that they are able to look after themselves while in Australia either through work, through savings or we have facilitated easy access to their superannuation for those who have work rights while in Australia. It has always been thus. Welfare payments and that sort of support is always based around residency requirements. In terms of pensioners and the like, we are providing additional supports to welfare recipients that are not job seekers by making two $750 payments, one that has gone out in the first two weeks of April and the second one that will go out in July. We are trying to provide the appropriate level of support, but in this context, this is a business and jobs crisis in many ways. This is about helping, in particular, those who through no fault of their own find themselves out of work and trying to keep as many of them in work as possible. That is why that is where we have targeted our response.
LAURA JAYES: The NRL today is talking about restarting the game on 28 May. Can you see that happening?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is very hard for me to speculate. In terms of the easing of restrictions moving forward, we will 100 per cent rely on the medical advice from our Chief Medical Officer at the federal level and the committee of chief medical and chief health officers from around Australia. We will not be making these decisions on a politically discretionary basis. We will be making those decisions based on the health advice and based on whether they tell us that it is safe to make certain decisions along those lines.
LAURA JAYES: If the social distancing and isolation rules remain in place as they are at the moment until the end of May, technically this plan would be in breach of that, wouldn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am sure that the NRL would not want to breach legal requirements. I am very confident of that. I suspect that they are making assumptions on where Australia would be at that point in time. That is fair enough for them. Of course they have to plan. But ultimately, I am sure that if restrictions were to remain in place at that time, no doubt they would be adjusting their plans accordingly.
LAURA JAYES: I realise that I am talking to you from Perth this morning, where the NRL doesn’t have a big presence, but can you envisage a situation…
MATHIAS CORMANN: NR what?
LAURA JAYES: Exactly. The AFL is probably looking for the same kind of exemptions. Can you envisage a situation in the next couple of weeks where you’re looking at the social factors and fact that people are getting cabin fever. They’re at home for most of the day, where you could look at working with these football codes to perhaps put in special rules and special exemptions so people can be watching football from their homes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Just making the generic point. Yes, our view is that this period that we are going through, as the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions now, is likely to last for about six months. But nobody would be more excited than us if restrictions could start to be lifted sooner. But let me say again, the only way that would happen is if the medical advice indicates to us that it is safe to do so, that we would not be starting to accelerate the spread of this deadly and terrible disease again. We are not in the business of gratuitously shutting down parts of the economy, gratuitously shutting down parts of our everyday life just for the fun of it. We are doing this to save lives, to slow the spread of the virus, to ensure that the inflow of patients from this virus is manageable for our health system. If that is no longer required based on expert medical advice, then of course we would be making relevant adjustments at this time. The sooner the better, again, of course. But we are not going to do this unless the advice is that it is safe to do so.
LAURA JAYES: My advice is NRL team, if you are going to adopt one, probably go with the Cronulla Sharks, Mathias Cormann.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Sounds like a job-enhancing choice. That’s right.
LAURA JAYES: Okay Mathias Cormann, thank you. Thanks for joining us this Good Friday. It’s going to be a tough Easter for many Australians. I am sure that you concur with the Prime Minister’s message overnight, too.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes and Happy Easter to you and your family and your loved ones.
LAURA JAYES: Thank you Minister.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Stay at home.
LAURA JAYES: Yes. That is the resounding message. Appreciate your time from Perth this morning.