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, 1 May 2020

Easing restrictions, Australia’s relationship with China

PETER STEFANOVIC: For more on this we are joined now live by the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister good morning to you. Thanks for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Just on that, I know it is going to be talked about in national cabinet later on today. But does June sound about right for you when it comes to community sport at least?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt the discussions today. But what I would say is that all of us, we want to see those restrictions lifted as soon as possible. As soon as possible means as soon as it is safe to do so. When it comes to sport, we would like kids in particular to be able to engage in sports on the weekend. We would like to see all Australians be able to, in a sensible fashion, engage in sporting activities as soon as possible. But we really are relying on the health advice including in relation to how best to minimise risk in easing those restrictions.

PETER STEFANOVIC: And is that the same view for professional sport? How do you feel about that road map to return, say the NRL by 28 May? Do you have any concerns about that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to start publicly speculating. The chief medical and health officers from around Australia are providing advice to the national cabinet. They will be considering all of these matters. At the appropriate time, an announcement will be made on the timetable.  

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Well States are easing restrictions. Is it too soon to unlock Australia?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so. Different jurisdictions are in different situations as we speak, as they have been all the way through. In the Northern Territory there has not been a new infection for weeks. The ACT has not got a single active case as we speak. In Western Australia, where I am, the numbers of active cases are now very low and the number of new infections is extremely low. In fact, we have many days now without any new infections at all. We do not want to keep these restrictions going unnecessarily and gratuitously. They are there for a reason. If the reason starts to recede, then cautiously and carefully we would want to return back to normal as soon as we can. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: Is it your view that when businesses can reopen that they will stay reopened. So in the event of a second wave or even a third wave, will you decide to close businesses again? Or will it be your view to keep them open and just live with whatever happens from COVID-19 after a second wave.

MATHIAS CORMANN: No. Our view is to do everything we can to avoid and prevent a second wave. That is why we are boosting our testing capacity. That is why we are boosting our rapid response to outbreaks capacity. That is why it is so important for Australians to sign onto the COVIDsafe app. So that we are able to protect people’s health while returning to a more normal situation in terms of our economy and community life in general.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay there are a couple of heavy hitters over your way Minister, who want us to reduce, or step back tensions with China. The WA Premier among them. You’ve also got Andrew Forrest, you’ve got Kerry Stokes calling for a China back down. How does that rub with the Government position at the moment?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is consistent with the Government’s position. We have an important relationship with China. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China. It is a relationship which benefits both of us. We always seek to engage constructively and positively with China. From time to time, there will be issues on which we disagree. We have to work through those issues sensibly. We are guided in our approach by our national interest. That will continue to be our position.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Is there a danger though if we do push ahead with this independent inquiry, are you concerned that they still stop buying our stuff?

MATHIAS CORMANN: There is nothing remarkable in our position that there should be, at the right time, an independent review into what happened. We have a massive global crisis with very significant health, economic and social implications for people all around the world, including in China. I would have thought it was in the interest of all people all around the world for us to get to the bottom of what happened, how we all responded, in order to be able to avoid something like this happening again and in order to ensure that we have the best possible response to it next time round. I do not think that anyone wants to see what happened repeated any time soon - certainly not us. I am very confident the people of China would not want to see this repeated either.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So you don’t have any concerns when it comes to China buying our produce after the end of this as a form of blow back?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course we want to continue to have a strong relationship with China, including a strong trading relationship. That does not mean that we are not going to argue for what we think is right. It is an entirely unremarkable position that we believe there should be, at the right time, an independent review into what happened and how we all responded to it so that we can ensure it does not happen again so that our response in the future if it does happen again is better than what it was this time round. Look at how many people died around the world, how many people have lost their jobs around the world, how many people’s lives have been disrupted around the world. I think that all people in all countries around the world would want to see a proper review and a proper assessment on how this can be avoided and responded to better in the future.

PETER STEFANOVIC: When it comes to Andrew Forrest, he brought that guest with him to that press conference with the Health Minister the other day and created some quite awkward moments. Is the door still open for him in Canberra?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Andrew Forrest has been very helpful and been guided and motivated by doing the right thing by Australia. We are very grateful for what he has done. I am not going to go into commentary on some of these other matters.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, well just one other matter before we go. These comments by Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer compared Captain Cook’s arrival to the COVID-19 pandemic. Should she resign?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Her comments are completely inappropriate. Captain Cook is a very significant historic figure who has had a significant impact on Australia as we know it today. Her comments are entirely inappropriate. I will leave it to the Victorian authorities to deal with these matters.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, but you don’t have a thought on whether she should stay in that job or not?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Her comments are entirely inappropriate. But I will leave it to the Victorian State government to consider what they should do.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.