Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Monday, 8 June 2020
KARL STEFANOVIC: Mathias Cormann has slammed Australian Black Lives Matter protests, labelling demonstrators selfish and self-indulgent for ignoring health rules.
ALLISON LANGDON: The Finance Minister said the weekend's protests, which saw more than 60,000 people protest nationally, were reckless and imposed unnecessary and unacceptable risk to the community. He joins us now from Perth. Mathias, thank you for your time this morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
ALLISON LANGDON: Was your language too strong?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not believe so. Across Australia for a number of months now, many Australians have made significant sacrifices to help keep the community safe from the coronavirus spread. Many people have lost their jobs in order to help suppress the spread of this virus to save lives because we had to impose these massive economic restrictions. As a nation right now, a very important challenge for us is to avoid a second wave. These sorts of mass gatherings, at a time when there are still severe restrictions all around Australia on people generally, do expose our community to an unacceptable and unnecessary risk. It is completely and utterly inconsistent with what is expected of everybody else right around Australia. I think there has to be a reality check here. The issue at hand is a very important and legitimate issue, of course. That is not the question. But right now, in the middle of a pandemic, to pursue these sorts of mass gatherings is completely reckless and irresponsible.
KARL STEFANOVIC: I guess it is your tone on it that people don't like more than anything else.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Everybody is entitled to their opinions and if that is your view, that’s fine. I am essentially expressing a view that I believe is quite widely shared.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Yeah, it is not my opinion on your matter, but Senator Malarndirri McCarthy was on our show a little bit earlier and had this to say about your comments.
MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: This issue of First Nation's people dying in custody is what is reckless in this country and irresponsible. What I would say to Mathias Cormann and the Prime Minister, pull together a National Cabinet to reduce the high rates of incarceration and Aboriginal deaths in custody.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay, Mathias, your thoughts on that? Response?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every death in custody is a tragedy. I think you will find that governments of both persuasions at a state and federal level have made genuine efforts to better address what is an incredibly important issue. We need to continue to look at what else we can do to respond to this difficult challenge better moving forward. But that is not connected to the issue of whether or not it is appropriate to have mass protests at this point in time in the middle of a pandemic. These people are putting themselves at risk. They are putting the communities that they return into at risk. I was at an event yesterday with the Treasurer here in Western Australia, Ben Wyatt, and he made the point that Indigenous Australians are comparatively more exposed to the health risk. Many Indigenous Australians have respiratory health challenges already in any event. This is not a safe place for people to be in the middle of a pandemic all around Australia.
ALLISON LANGDON: We did see there people were wearing masks and hand sanitiser was being handed out, but no one was social distancing. That is the real fear. Going back to what Senator McCarthy was saying, will you pull together a National Cabinet on the issue?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Prime Minister convenes the National Cabinet. As I have said, this is an issue that governments of both persuasions at the state and federal level have made genuine efforts to better respond to. We need to continue to do that in whatever way we can. There is a real effort at a national level and all around Australia to close the gap and to better respond to the legitimate and real issues that are faced by Indigenous Australians in Australia. That is not the question here.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Are you preparing for another outbreak as a result of those protests?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a real threat. What we would say to all Australians is if you have not yet downloaded the COVIDSafe app, please do because it is going to be incredibly important to help us avoid that second wave. The worst thing that could happen to Australians is if we have this second wave and we would have to impose these increased restrictions on the economy again, imposing risks on people to lose their job again, impacting severely and negatively on people's livelihoods again. This is what we need to avoid as a nation and that is why it is so important that everyone complies with the health rules that apply to everybody else.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you support the fines being issued to many of those protestors?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The law should be applied equally to everyone. Australians all around Australia are doing the right thing. They are acting consistent with the rules. As I have said yesterday, people were not able to attend funerals of their loved ones in order to help protect people's health, in order to ensure that we could suppress the spread of this virus. But here we have tens of thousands of people meeting in a mass gathering. It is completely and utterly inappropriate. It is a complete double standard. People ought to comply with the rules that apply to everybody else.
ALLISON LANGDON: So yes, you support fines being issued?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I support the rules being applied equally to everyone. To the extent that that is the rule, then that should be applied to everyone.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Really quickly, obviously there is a lot of stimulus to be paid back. You have ruled out, it says in the papers today, increasing the GST. Is that definitive?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes. What I also said is that we are focused on lower taxes, not higher taxes. We are focused on stronger economic growth on the other side, the strongest possible economic recovery and higher taxes is not the right way to maximise the strength of the recovery. We want to generate increased revenue on the back of stronger economic growth, not on the back of higher taxes.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. Mathias, thank you for your time today. Really appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.