Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 29 May 2020
PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining me now live is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.
PETER STEFANOVIC: So, just to the issues of the national cabinet today, is it your expectation the July deadline for the States to implement that three stage opening of economies will be brought forward?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have always said that we would like to see restrictions eased as soon as possible and the economy to operate as close as possible to normal in a way that is COVID-safe as soon as possible. The national cabinet is considering next steps and opportunities today. I am not going to pre-empt the outcomes of the meeting. We want to see the economy opened up as far as it can be as soon as possible in a way that is COVID-safe.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. The RBA Governor said this yesterday, that it would be a mistake to end JobKeeper too early. Do you agree with him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He was asked a hypothetical question. In terms of where we are here today, the economic outlook today is better than what it was two months ago when we were experiencing infection growth rates of twenty per cent on a daily basis. We are working to ensure that the economic outlook is even better in two months from now. We are seven weeks into a six month program. We said we would review the JobKeeper program in June, half way through. That is what we will be doing. We will continue to assess and to monitor the way the economy picks up again and what the economic outlook is moving forward. We will make judgements accordingly. Let me just make this point though, the best way to ensure that businesses can get back into business where they have been affected, and get people back into work is to continue to ease those restrictions in the economy as soon as possible in a way that is COVID-safe. That should be the priority. The priority should be to get the economy going again to its fullest potential so that we can ensure that as many jobs as possible return and we can start growing jobs again.
PETER STEFANOVIC: When you say as soon as possible, what timeframe is that? Two weeks? Should the next round be brought forward?
MATHIAS CORMANN: A few weeks ago we said that we would like the economy to be back to as close as normal as possible by late June, early July. We are in a better position now even than we thought we would be a few weeks ago. That is the job of the national cabinet this morning, based on the advice from our chief health and chief medical officers from around Australia to make those judgements on what can be done. But the intention ought to be to open up the economy as fast as possible in a way that is COVID-safe, so that jobs can come back, new jobs can be created and business can have the confidence to invest again in their future success and profitability and hire more Australians.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Peter Dutton said this morning that the Government should be flexible on JobKeeper extension. Is that a word you would use?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been flexible all the way through. The important point is that we should not be pre-empting decisions in relation to matters where we do not have the necessary information in front of us. We can all speculate about what the situation will be at the end of September. But what I would put to you, if you look at the way things have changed for the better since the end of March. At the end of March when the JobKeeper program was costed initially we were in a very different economic and public health context. We had infection rates of more than twenty per cent a day. We were planning for the worst. We were uncertain as to how long and how deep this crisis would go. Two months on there are very low numbers of new infections, most of them overseas acquired and properly managed through quarantine, very low numbers of active cases. So the context now is very different. The economic outlook is much better. We are working to ensure that the economic outlook continues to improve. We will make judgements at the appropriate time. We are not going to pre-empt them. We are going to continue to go through an orderly process. We are going to continue to do what we said we would do, which is to review the program half way through.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Let’s say you do extend it beyond September. Realistically how much more time could you give it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am just not going to speculate. I know you are inviting me to speculate on hypotheticals. But we have made judgements so far about what is necessary to support the economy, to support business, to support jobs and to support those Australians who have lost their job. We will make judgements moving forward, at the right time, when we have the necessary information in front of us.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, obviously it would be industry dependent and I am sure tourism would be front of mind and taking a priority. But how do you decide? What is the line for how you decide who gets to keep JobKeeper and who doesn’t?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is why we will have a review, which will assess where the economy is at, where individual sectors in the economy are at, what is happening in terms of jobs returning, new jobs being created. When we have the appropriate information in front of us, we will be in a position to make judgements, as we have in the past.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Would you taper it off?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are asking me to speculate in relation to a review of a scheme that has not yet happened. We will make the appropriate decisions … interrupted
PETER STEFANOVIC: But surely you must have an idea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do have an idea. We will make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate time after a proper assessment has taken place and after we have a better sense of what the economic outlook is going to be from September onwards.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. What happens if people can’t pay their bank loans come September?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, you are assuming that the situation in September is going to be worse not better. What I am saying to you as I speak to you here today, the economic outlook is significantly better today than what it was two months ago. We are working to ensure that the economic outlook is better again two months from now. Clearly, we do need to move off this temporary support. JobKeeper and the enhanced JobSeeker program were temporary support measures. They are very expensive. We do want to move off these temporary support measures back into the economy as normal and back with businesses selling their products and services, making profits, hiring Australians and paying those Australians their wages. That is where we need to get back to. We will assess the situation as we move forward. We will assess the economic outlook, including on a sector by sector basis. Adjustments will be made if and as appropriate. We will make relevant decisions at the right time.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Minister, just a couple of quick ones. I know it’s not your portfolio, but the Foreign Minister as you probably just heard joined the UK, the US and Canada in voicing its concern for China approving its security laws in Hong Kong overnight. What’s your thoughts on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As a Government, we are very concerned about what is happening. Clearly, this is eroding the freedoms of people in Hong Kong. It is eroding the autonomy of Hong Kong. It is undermining the one country, two systems approach which was very much enshrined in a legally binding joint declaration between the United Kingdom and China some years ago, registered through the United Nations. We are concerned and we would like to see China reconsider.
PETER STEFANOVIC: And a last one here. The Prime Minister had always said he didn’t support a decision made by Victoria on its involvement with the Belt and Road initiative. But there is a report today in The Australian as a matter of fact that suggests it was approved by some senior members of DFAT at the time. Is that correct?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, that is not correct. Even if you look at the detail of the story that is published there today, it relies on Victorian Government notes to justify Victorian Government actions. I would treat that with a grain of salt. In any event, DFAT has made clear they were not consulted about the agreement that was signed. They were essentially informed on the day the agreement was signed about what was signed. There is a broad consensus at a national level that the national government is responsible for foreign affairs. There is a broad consensus at a national level, in a non-partisan fashion, that what Victoria is doing is not in the national interest. No amount of attempts to come up with excuses is going to hide the fact that the Andrews Government is acting against the national interest here.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.