Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2020
PAUL MURRAY: The cost of these lockdowns is $4 billion every single week. More than a million people are unemployed. Up to six million people are holding on by a thread when it comes to JobKeeper. Friday has to be go day. The Finance Minister is Mathias Cormann. We spoke from Canberra a bit earlier.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The short answer is, we all want to see economic restrictions eased as soon as possible. As soon as possible means as soon as it is safe from a health point of view to do so. We have put measures in place to help our economy operate in a way that is COVID-safe. That is why we have been boosting our testing capacity. That is why we are boosting our capacity to respond to outbreaks more rapidly. That is also why it is so important for as many Australians as possible to join in on the COVIDsafe app so that we can both keep Australians safe, minimise the risk of a second wave, and re-open the economy in a way that is safe, as well as delivering all of the benefits in terms of jobs and return to economic growth as soon as possible.
PAUL MURRAY: Now the Prime Minister has been very clear to say that it is business that is at the heart of this, not Government. But interestingly an opinion poll, yes a lefty poll from The Australia Institute but still, it showed that there was a significant number of people who think Government should be at the heart of things. We saw today an Essential poll, again another left leaning one, in part funded by the union movement, saying they want a permanent increase to Newstart. How hard is it going to be to tell people that the Government is not always going to be, that not every solution is a cheque here, because we all know how hard it is to take something away from people even if you told them it was going to be temporary.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are dealing with a very specific crisis, caused by an external event beyond our control. These are the moments when governments must step up. Our Government has stepped up, providing additional support in terms of a significantly enhanced safety net and also providing support to business, the economy and support to maintain jobs. But in a business as usual situation, it is very important that Government does not get in the way of individual enterprise, private sector businesses delivering the level of innovation, progress and prosperity that only private sector businesses can reliably and sustainably deliver.
PAUL MURRAY: For your entire Parliamentary career it has been very clear what you have been all about, which is about trying to balance the books. You have made some incredibly tough choices over a very long period of time. It must feel a little bit like back to square one or even worse than that at the moment, when we are staring down the barrel of debt and all the rest of it. But we all know why we are there. The truth is if JobKeeper didn’t exist there would be four million people on the unemployment queue. It would not be possible for many people over the age of forty to be able to return to the workforce with any speed, so the logic of why we are where we are is very clear. But we know what we have to do. We know about the laws that have to be repealed, the regulation that has to be attacked to get the economy growing again. But you are going to have to get that through a Senate where if Labor says no and the Greens say no, you are down to the same five people who could go in any direction. Have you been having many discussions with One Nation, Centre Alliance or Lambie, trying to set out the enormity of the task in front of us before we start to have concrete ideas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are conversations that will be ongoing over the next few weeks and months as we, in particular in the context of the Budget in October, debate our economic plan for the future. But let me just say, reflecting on the last six and a half years in this job, I feel a great sense of satisfaction and relief that we have been able to repair the Budget over the first six years in government to the extent we have, because it meant we went into this crisis in a much stronger economic and fiscal position than we otherwise would have. As we said during that six year period, the reason we needed to repair our Budget and get us in a position to get the Budget back into surplus this financial year before all of this hit us, was to put us in the strongest, most resilient position to deal with headwinds and external events. Nobody predicted an event of this magnitude, but it did mean that we were in a stronger position. At a moment like this, of course government needs to step up and we are able to afford to do what we are doing. But in the end, after all of this is behind us and we have the economy back growing again, we do need to dedicate ourselves to repairing our balance sheet, to repairing our Budget, to make sure that we are in the best, strongest possible position again when any future event, hopefully not of this magnitude, hits us from the outside.
PAUL MURRAY: Good man. Glad he is there. Mathias Cormann the Finance Minister of Australia.