Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 26 May 2020
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s bring in the senior Liberal from WA now. The Government Senate Leader Mathias Cormann. The Finance Minister joins us on this breaking news now. Senator Cormann. Thanks for your time. Mark McGowan confirming six crew members off that ship that came from the UAE, a live export vessel in Fremantle harbour, they have been removed to go to Perth hotels. Another forty-two on board that ship. Can I get your reaction to this developing story today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The State Government is doing the right thing. We are working together with the State Government as we have on previous occasions, most famously in relation to the Artania to make sure that the population in Perth is protected when it comes to the health threat. It is clear that appropriate measures have been taken and federal and state authorities will work together as appropriate to ensure that everything is done according to appropriate requirements.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is this a sign do you think, as economies open up, exports and imports open up again that these sorts of episodes will be inevitable?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have kept exports and imports going to the extent possible. In particular, when it comes to iron ore exports, they have been very important to keep the best possible economic strength in our economy during this period. Subject to the appropriate safeguards, we will continue to try and engage in trade. What it does show is that all around the world there is an ongoing health threat. There is a risk, in particular given the situation in other parts of the world. There is a risk always. That is what the Prime Minister said in his speech today. Domestically in Australia we are in a very good position, working to supress the virus. We are very close to domestically eliminating that threat, certainly of community transmission. But when it comes to engagement with travellers from overseas, Australian return travellers or those engaged in agricultural or resources trade, there is an ongoing risk. That needs to be appropriately managed. What the Premier and the Deputy Premier in Western Australia there were saying is that they are doing everything they can to ensure that it is appropriately managed domestically. We will continue to support that.
KIERAN GILBERT: And what’s your view when it comes to the state borders? Mr McGowan has taken a very strong position on not reopening the borders, but that’s going to be quite pivotal to have that interstate travel and trade in the recovery phase of our post-COVID experience, isn’t it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that everyone wants to see internal borders in Australia lifted as soon as possible. The medical advice certainly from our Chief Medical Officer and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer federally has been that there is no medical case to keep the state border closures in place. Ultimately, these issues will be worked through. The State government in Western Australia has announced a lifting of intra-state restrictions, which is welcome. We have just got to continue to go down this path, working to open up our economy as soon as possible in a way that is safe to do. Given the very low level of active cases around Australia, given the very low level of community transmission, six out of eight states have close to zero community transmission in recent times. The cases in Western Australia and some of the other jurisdictions predominantly have been overseas acquired. So there is scope for us to continue down that path of easing restrictions so that we can get the economy growing to its best possible potential again and see those jobs come back and more jobs being created again as soon as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister today in his speech, which you touched on, extended the olive branch to the labour movement. That olive branch certainly not accepted by the Labor party today. Richard Marles described the speech as a lost opportunity. He says there is nothing remarkable about a government of the day speaking to the ACTU. The PM seeking credit for something he hasn’t done for the last seven years, is the way Richard Marles responds to that. What’s your message?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think the Australian people want to see continuous politicking. In the end, it is a free world. The Opposition can say what they want to say. They can choose to throw verbal rocks if that is what they want to do. Our focus is on rebuilding our economy, making decisions to facilitate the strongest possible recovery on the other side, bringing people together to ensure that we are in the best possible position to see those jobs that were lost returned and see new jobs created, making sure that working families all around Australia have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. If the Labor party wants to just continue to throw verbal rocks from the sideline, that is a matter for them. We will just continue to focus on the job at hand, which is to rebuild our economy, make sure that after we have got on top of the health threat, at least domestically, that we put Australians in the best possible position to get back to work and to get back to the sort of standard of living that Australians would like to pursue.
KIERAN GILBERT: Of those five working groups, including the award issue, enterprise bargaining and so on, what’s the key issue as Finance Minister that is raised with you as being a stumbling block to getting people into work?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The key issue for all of us is to ensure that businesses have the best possible opportunity to be successful and profitable into the future, so they can invest more in their future success and hire more Australians, provide better job opportunities, better job security and higher wages over time. It comes down to making sure that doing business is as easy as it can be, that the cost of doing business is as low as it can be, so that the opportunities for businesses to hire more Australians, pay them better wages over time and continue to invest in their future growth and success is maximised. That is in the interest of all Australians. Nine out of 10 Australians work for a private sector business. Their future job opportunities, job security, career prospects and their future wages depend on the future success and profitability of those businesses that have done it very hard over the last few weeks and months.
KIERAN GILBERT: And what’s your take on the JobKeeper hole, that $60 billion calculation which obviously fell short by $60 billion. That’s a better scenario than blowing out by $60 billion, but either way, there are still hundreds of thousands of workers who otherwise might have been on JobKeeper if the Government took a broader approach. What’s your view on that and should the Government be more flexible when it comes to JobKeeper?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I completely reject the proposition that this is a hole. Towards the end of March when we were putting the JobKeeper program together, putting design features together and announcing the program, Australia was experiencing in excess of 20 per cent daily growth in infection rates. We were planning for the worst. We were expecting the worst. We were looking at very, very severe restrictions on the economy over an extended period. There was much uncertainty as to how long this would take and how deep it would go. Two months later, it seems like an eternity ago that period at the end of March. Infection rates are extremely low, below half a per cent on most days. In six out of eight jurisdictions, essentially zero domestically acquired infections on more days than not. So the situation is very different. The health situation is much better than we had feared it would be and hence, the economic impact is much better than we had feared it would be. So what has happened here is that we planned for the worst. We are in a better position now and that is reflected in the updated cost estimates. In the end, when you announce programs like this, you make an estimate based on what you expect it will cost. It was a conservative estimate. As it turns out, the worst did not happen. We are in a best case scenario now compared to what was anticipated and hence, there is a saving. That is something that we should welcome. We should not be bemoaning the fact that we need to pay less on the JobKeeper program than we thought because the health and economic situation is better than anticipated when we were planning for the worst.
KIERAN GILBERT: It’s been described as an opportunity, this crisis, for us to rethink our approach to manufacturing as a nation. Do you think there’s scope for the Government to pick critical industries, to back them and to spark some private sector investment in those industries?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of picking winners. It is a matter of making sure that we give ourselves the best opportunity to be internationally competitive. There will be some areas where there will be an assessed sovereign capability requirement in the context of some of the experiences that we have had in recent months. But in the broad, if we want to be successful, we have to ensure that we can be internationally competitive. Businesses and the economy need to ultimately judge where those opportunities are. The Government will be providing incentives, but on an economy and sector-wide basis rather than picking individual winners. In the end, it is going to be businesses across the economy that will be finding those opportunities, exploiting those opportunities and making sure that we are in the best possible position to be successful.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, thanks as always. Talk to you soon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.