Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Wednesday, 10 June 2020
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's take you to Canberra now where Parliament is sitting today and the Government's JobKeeper package is certain to be in the spotlight. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins us now from Parliament House. Good morning to you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be here.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Want to start with this great news on the coronavirus front. Yesterday was the first day there were no community transmissions in this country. That is quite an achievement, isn't it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are winning the fight against the virus which is fantastic, which is why we have been able to ease restrictions on the economy sooner than we had feared earlier this year. That is good news, but we have to remain vigilant. The threat of a second wave is still there and that is the last thing we would want given the threat that would cause to people's health and also to people's livelihoods.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Days like yesterday mean the easing of restrictions can happen sooner rather than later?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The National Cabinet and state and territory governments will continue to make those decisions, but in the context of no community transmission there clearly is a capacity to ease restrictions sooner than would be the case in the alternative.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Let's talk about JobKeeper. I want to first play what the Prime Minister said about that and how long JobKeeper would last last Friday.
PRIME MINISTER: The six months of provision of JobKeeper has been set out in legislation and people can count on that. Jono.
REPORTER: They can guarantee that it will be there until the end of September?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: So why didn't that guarantee extend to child care workers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: JobKeeper is in place for six months. It is in place until the end of September... interrupted
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But not for child care workers.
MATHIAS CORMANN: In relation to the child care sector, there were some specific circumstances. Out of about 200,000 employees across the child care sector, 120,000 were eligible for the JobKeeper payment, so 80,000 were not. What has happened here on the basis of representations out of the child care sector is that government support is provided in a different form. Also, at the beginning of this pandemic, demand and activity and attendance in child care centres dropped dramatically which put the viability of a lot of centres at risk, but attendance levels have increased now well in excess of 70 per cent. Out of a combination of returning to child care subsidies which had been suspended, child care fees paid by parents on a means tested basis as well as a transition payments that we are making on top of it, there is a fair or more equitable way to provide support specifically to that sector as we transition through this period.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: How is that fairer when Dan Tehan, the Education Minister, your colleague, concedes the new subsidy will be less than what was going their way under the JobKeeper payment? And I ask you again, that was a guarantee the Prime Minister made. Can you understand why child care workers are feeling a bit blindsided this week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I can answer your first question: Why is it fairer? It is fairer because it is available to all child care sector employees, not just the 120,000. Secondly, it ensures that those parents who can afford to contribute to the cost of the child care of their children do so on a means tested basis rather than providing child care for free irrespective of your means to contribute to the cost of the child care for your children. The cost is now spread closer to how it is in a usual situation, given the higher level of attendance rates across that sector now. In return of attendance rates to in excess of 70 per cent, the capacity of parents on comparatively higher incomes to contribute to the cost of the child care of their children and a return to the child care subsidy payments as well as $708 million worth of transitional payments. All of that is helping to ensure that we can transition this sector to the other side in a fairer and equitable way to everyone involved.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. And on the JobKeeper question where the Prime Minister made that guarantee there, it was a pretty blanket one, there were no references to clauses and get-out clauses by him last Friday. Can you understand? I'll ask that question again. While child care workers are feeling blindsided and while workers in other sectors might also feel a bit nervous this week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The JobKeeper program remains in place and the JobKeeper program will remain in place until the end of September. I should say that all those child care services who access the $708 million transition payment have to make a commitment to maintain employment levels. Child care workers are actually supported through this period, except that we are supporting them in a fairer, more equitable and a better targeted way enabling and ensuring that parents who can afford to do so contribute to the cost of the child care of their children the way they did in the past.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: You have also said the JobKeeper payment would be reviewed. The details of that will be announced in late July. Why not simply wait for the review process to work its way through?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Because there were legitimate representations from the child care sector that there was a fairer and better way to provide transitional support for the remaining period. This was always going to be temporary support. The representations were made by the child care sector to the Government and we have taken that on board and we have taken action. We do believe that what is in place for the child care sector now does provide support more broadly across the sector as a whole in a way that is fairer and equitable.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Will it be taking JobKeeper payments away from other sectors come late July?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I said yesterday, there is no consideration to take it away from any other sector. That is not something that is in front of us. I hasten to add, Treasury is conducting a review into the scheme which was always scheduled for the middle of this six-month program and that is going to report to us later this month, early next month and there will be decisions made in time for the economic statement on 23 July.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. I preface this final question by pointing out and acknowledging everybody out there is suffering pain as a result of coronavirus. The ABC is about to lose 250 of its workers. This is an organisation that quite literally, Mathias Cormann, saved lives during the bushfires in summer. Do you regret cutting the ABC's budget?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The ABC gets more than a billion dollars in funding every year from the taxpayer and the ABC has got significantly better financial security than any of the other media organisations across Australia. There has been structural pressures on the media sector nationally everywhere and I think comparatively speaking the ABC is in an incredibly strong financial position on the back of very strong taxpayer-funded support.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. No regrets about cutting the budget?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The ABC is receiving significant funding from the taxpayer. The growth in funding has not been as high as the ABC might have hoped, but the ABC is in a much stronger position than any other media organisation in Australia.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. In terms of we're all in this together, our boss, David Anderson, has taken a five per cent pay cut until September. Is that something you and your Cabinet colleagues would also do?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our pay rates are set by an independent tribunal. We have frozen the pay for politicians and judges and senior public servants has been frozen for this year and we leave it to the independent tribunal to make these judgements.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. We'll leave it there. Mathias Cormann, thank you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.