Transcripts → 2020


Sky News - First Edition

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


Date: Friday, 17 April 2020

Coronavirus economic response

PETER STEFANOVIC: Well joining me now is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be here.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So first of all, the Prime Minister yesterday talked about pro-growth policies. What will they be?

MATHIAS CORMANN: As it is safe to do so and as the health advice indicates that we can reopen sections of the economy that are currently restricted or entirely closed, we would like to do that as soon as possible. But beyond that, the Australian economy, the fundamentals in the Australian economy were very sound going into this crisis and we want them to be sound on the other side of this crisis and to have a very strong bounce back focusing on our strengths as a globally focused, open trading economy, selling as many Australian products and services into markets around the world as possible. But also making sure that domestically we are in the strongest possible position to sell products and services to each other.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Which sectors, which sections are you talking about possibly reopening?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt these sorts of decisions that are going to be made in the future. Right now our resources sector continues to perform comparatively strongly. There will be opportunities over the next few months to progressively lift restrictions in other parts of the economy. But I am not going to pre-empt the timing or the nature of those decisions at this point.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Would you support a return to broad scale manufacturing?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Where that makes economic sense of course. We are totally in favour of increased manufacturing in Australia. Clearly, where that makes sense, where we can be competitive internationally or where there is a clear sovereign need to be self sufficient, then these are things that we need to continue to explore.

PETER STEFANOVIC: I mean, correct me if I am wrong here but manufacturing used to be thirteen per cent of GDP. Now that has come down to about six per cent. So would you like to see that get back up into double figures again?

MATHIAS CORMANN: These are not things that you can create by Government edict. Clearly this has to be in the context of what makes economic sense. In the broad, for us to be more successful in the manufacturing space, we have to ensure that we continue to lift our productivity and our international competitiveness. There will be some areas where there is an assessed sovereign need, where there might be some other considerations. But in general terms of course we want to be a stronger, more successful manufacturing country into the future, but in the end, in order to sustainably be able to do that we need to focus on making sure that we can be as competitive internationally as we possibly can be.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, what about tax reform and deregulation. Are they all big ideas at the moment that you are going to explore.

MATHIAS CORMANN: We will continue to be focused on keeping taxes as low as possible, as high as necessary to fund the necessary services, essential services of government that Australians rely on, but as low, as efficient and least distorting and fair and equitable as possible. We are certainly not focusing on increasing the tax burden on the economy at a time when we want to pursue stronger economic growth and a strong economic bounce back on the other side. When it comes to deregulation, absolutely, we need to make it easier to do business. We need to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia. That is an important part of making sure that we can be internationally as competitive as possible. That we can sell as many Australian products and services around the world as possible.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Minister, the Treasurer has been accused of telling porky pies to the IMF, which says it did take into account the $130 billion JobKeeper package when it released its projections. Should he apologise?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept that characterisation at all. The Treasurer was making comments based on what he had been advised. I understand that Treasury is taking that up with the IMF. Treasury certainly understood that the IMF had fundamentally concluded its work by about 29 March. Certainly the understanding was that the JobKeeper package had not been fully accounted for. But that is a matter that Treasury, as I understand it, is taking up with the IMF as we speak.

PETER STEFANOVIC: The IMF report says that it considered all of the relevant information right up until about 7 April, which is after that package was announced.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, as I just indicated to you, Treasury understood that the IMF had fundamentally concluded their work in terms of their economic forecasting on 29 March. That is a matter that is currently being pursued directly, as I understand it, between Treasury and the IMF.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Minster, I am sure you’re thrilled to be talking about Malcolm Turnbull at the moment. But he’s got a book coming out. He has made some claims in it that I would like to get your reaction to. He says that either you or Peter Dutton called the PM a Machiavellian plotter who couldn’t be trusted. Was that said?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am just not going to provide commentary in relation to Malcolm’s book. These are events that are a long time ago. I wish Malcolm and his family very well, sincerely. I wish them all the very best for the future. What I would say in relation to my relationship with the Prime Minister, I have a very strong, positive and productive relationship with the Prime Minister. I have for a very long time through a whole series of portfolios. We have worked together very closely and incredibly well when the Prime Minister was in the Treasury portfolio. That was there for all to see at the time. In the social services and immigration portfolios. We came into the Parliament at the same time back in 2007 and have had a close working relationship all the way through. I leave it to others to provide commentary.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. He also said that, as PM, that you wanted to cut the then Treasurer Scott Morrison out of policy decisions. Is there any truth to that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I am not going to provide commentary on his book. I am not going to get distracted by it. Our Government right now is working to protect people’s health, to protect jobs by making sure that we make the right decisions in a public health sense and to deal with this coronavirus-induced health and economic crisis. I am just not going to get distracted by this sort of stuff. Let me say again, I have a very strong, positive and productive relationship with the Prime Minister. I had a very strong, positive and productive working relationship with the Prime Minster when he was Treasurer. We delivered three Budgets together. Scott Morrison is the member of our Cabinet with whom I have worked with the closest over the longest period of time. As Treasurer and Finance Minister you spend a lot of time together putting Budgets together. I think that anyone who knows us knows that we had and continue to have a very strong, positive and productive working relationship.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Are you going to read Malcolm’s book?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I haven’t got time. I am focused on, as I say, with my colleagues, I am focused on dealing with the issues in front of us to make sure that we help guide the Australian people through this period in the best possible way so that all Australians have the best possible opportunity to be successful and bounce back strongly on the other side of this crisis.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Not even the executive summary on the inside jacket?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am focused on the job at hand.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Fair enough. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for much for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.