Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 12 June 2020
PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining me now live from Canberra is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Before we get to the [inaudible], I just want to get your view of the protests that are planned this weekend, not just in Sydney but in your home state. There is the refugee protest that is planned in Sydney for tomorrow. There is the Black Lives Matter protest that is planned for tonight. You were very strong on this last weekend, but it’s gone largely ignored from the protestors point of view anyway. What’s your view of protestors who are planning to protest this weekend?
MATHIAS CORMANN: My view has not changed. People should not attend mass protests in the middle of a pandemic. Going to these sorts of events puts lives and livelihoods at risk. We are here fighting to avoid a second wave of infections, which would literally kill people, which would literally kill jobs. The OECD put a report out earlier this week which showed that if we had a second wave of infections, it would cost our economy $80 billion over the next two years. We are in the middle of a health emergency. This is not over. People who choose to attend those rallies are putting the lives and the jobs of their fellow Australians at risk.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Should protestors be charged?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The rules should be applied equally to everyone. Unequivocally, the rules should be applied equally to everyone. If it is good enough for people to be prevented from going to funerals, to church, to sporting events, to all sorts of things, restaurants, then the rules should apply to everyone else. It makes absolutely no sense to have tens of thousands of people gather with potentially infected people among them, spreading the risk of the virus, putting the community at an unacceptable, unnecessary and an entirely avoidable risk.
PETER STEFANOVIC: So that’s a yes, they should be charged?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Of course. They should be charged if that is what the rules provide in any particular circumstance.
PETER STEFANOVIC: What if it’s found that some of these protestors are on JobSeeker? Should they lose that entitlement?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The rules should be applied equally to everyone. My message to people that are considering attending these mass protests, don’t do it. Reflect on your responsibilities to your fellow Australians. You choosing to go to a mass protest puts the lives and the jobs of your fellow Australians at risk. It puts the lives and livelihoods of your fellow Australians at risk.
PETER STEFANOVIC: But what if it’s found that some of these protestors who are ignoring these rules are on JobSeeker? Should they lose that entitlement?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a conversation that would be worthwhile having, but right now, it is up to the states to impose the rules that they inflict on everybody else, for good reasons, that Australians comply with in order to help us suppress the spread of this virus and in order to minimise the risk of a second wave.
PETER STEFANOVIC: But what’s your personal view on that? Should they lose that entitlement?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t have personal views on these matters. We have a Government position. People should comply with the rules and the rules should be applied to all equally and to the extent that people breach the rules, then the penalties that are available should be applied.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Just onto the border wars at the moment. The Queensland Premier has kind of softened her stance in the last couple of days. She says that the Queensland border may be open by the 10th of July, which comes after the school holidays. Is that good enough?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The state borders should be opened as soon as possible. I am sure that tourism operators in North Queensland would like to be able to draw on tourists out of New South Wales, for example. I think that the Premier of Queensland would be harming the businesses in her state if she didn’t move on this more swiftly.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay…
MATHIAS CORMANN: How can she let 30,000 people protest in Brisbane and then say to tourism operators in North Queensland no, you can’t have tourists from New South Wales come into this state?
PETER STEFANOVIC: Are the premiers arrogant?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The premiers have worked very hard. Governments at all levels here in Australia have worked very hard to get on top of this. Moving into the next phase comes with its risks and comes with its issues and I think we are working through all of these issues as a country. I am not going to start attacking people personally. I think that everybody is trying to do their best, but these are legitimate conversations for us to have.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Some people have accused the Government of a contradiction in terms here. While the Government is against these protests taking place this weekend, they are pushing for interstate travel, which could spread the disease as well. Do you see a contradiction there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, that is not inconsistent at all. 30,000 people in one location is a very different proposition from allowing people subject to proper social distancing and proper hygiene practices and in compliance with all of the rules move in smaller groups across the state border. I think there is a world of difference between having 30,000 people potentially exposed even to just a small number of infected people which can then spread the virus rapidly, to having small numbers of people in compliance with the rules attend tourism or hospitality venues across the state border.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Would you be for Australians to start picking up their hotels when they are in quarantine?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is something that is being discussed this morning. I think it is a legitimate conversation. We do need to now move into a more ongoing set of arrangements. We dealt with the crisis, we put in place temporary transitional arrangements and now it is going to be a matter of moving into an ongoing arrangement that is sustainable over a longer period. In that context, no doubt national cabinet will make relevant decisions today.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, just a couple a quick ones before I let you go. Will JobKeeper remain in every other sector until the end of September?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been very clear. JobKeeper will remain until the end of September. There is a review underway by Treasury, which may or may not make recommendations about desirable adjustments. We can’t pre-empt what Treasury’s review may or may not suggest. Once we receive that review, we will consider its findings and recommendations and we will make relevant decisions at that time. As all of us have said consistently all the way through, JobKeeper will remain until the end of September.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Is there a chance though that some other sectors might lose some entitlements before the review?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not something that is in front of us. Treasury is currently conducting a review and once we have received its findings and recommendations, we will make judgements on the way forward. But JobKeeper will be in place until the end of September.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Would you consider keeping JobSeeker above $40 a day as an incentive for taking up cashless cards?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have seen that suggestion made by a valued friend and colleague, Rowan Ramsey. We are now having conversations on how we can most appropriately transition out of the elevated levels of temporary support, including through the enhanced JobSeeker program. The COVID supplement, which effectively doubles the JobSeeker payment, is there for a six-month period and it is due to come to an end towards the end of September. We are currently discussing how best to transition into the longer term arrangements.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Minister, just finally. As a European-Australian, I just want to get your thoughts on this trend at the moment removing statues, pulling statues down of various historic figures not just in the UK, also in the US, now a push to take some of them down here in Australia.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t think that we should be retrospectively censoring our history. There is good and bad in everybody’s history. There is good and bad in our history. We should celebrate the good. We should reflect and learn from the bad and we should strive to be the best we can be moving forward. I don’t think it is desirable to try and retrospectively censor your history.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, always appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.