Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 21 July 2020
FRED MAFRICA: Let’s go to Canberra, let’s talk to a good friend of PL Perth Tonight, it is of course, Senator Mathias Cormann, the Federal Minister for Finance. Welcome to Perth Tonight Mathias and thanks for your company.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good evening Fred, good evening Karalee and good evening to your listeners.
FRED MAFRICA: How was your day Mathias? What came out of it today? I know big changes with JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Can you run us through some of the changes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has been a busy day, but the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, myself and all of our colleagues, we have been working on this for some time. We have always been mindful that after we put in place six months of historically unprecedented crisis level fiscal support into the economy, for businesses, for working Australians and for those Australians who lost their job, that it was important that we got the decisions right to transition Australia out of the transition so to speak back into the new normal. Today, the announcements that we would continue to provide JobKeeper and the enhanced JobSeeker, the payments at the same level until the end of September, that we would extend it, subject to certain conditions at a lower rate beyond that period has been an important announcement in that context.
FRED MAFRICA: Tell me something about the JobSeeker specifically, sorry not JobSeeker, JobKeeper. There were a lot of people that were working part time hours, maybe two days a week, earning say $200 a fortnight and all of sudden they ended up with $1,500 a fortnight. Have we stropped that from happening from September 27?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes we have. But just to take a step back. Back in March it was very important that we were able to get support into the economy very quickly, that we were able to do it efficiently and swiftly. We had a number of objectives at that time. Yes we wanted to help businesses survive. We wanted to keep jobs in place. We wanted to keep employees connected to their employers. But we also wanted to provide income support into the economy and provide general macroeconomic support. A number of Australians have multiple part time jobs and you can only receive JobKeeper from one employer, so while you might be getting more than you would ordinarily earn from that one employer, overall it was not necessarily as big a problem as people might think. Nevertheless, there was an issue there, a trade-off that we accepted because we needed to get the support in place very quickly. What we have done now moving forward from the end of September, we will be having two payments, full time payments, which will be adjusted to $1,200 a fortnight by way of subsidy and for those who are working less than 20 hours a week it goes down to $750 a fortnight.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: Yeah and Senator Cormann, more than five million Australians are receiving the payments from the JobKeeper and the JobSeeker, as we said the JobKeeper wage subsidy is being paid to around 960,000 employers who then pass the full payment onto around three and half million workers. But I believe businesses are going to have to prove they are still in financial distress each quarter, down at least 30 per cent on the pre-pandemic levels to remain eligible for the program after September, is that right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes that is right. What we did earlier this year, at the end of March when we put this program in place, once you were able to demonstrate that you had a 30 or 50 per cent drop in expected turnover, you qualified for the scheme and once you were in, you were in for the full six months. What we will be doing in the context of the extension from the end of September, businesses will have to be able to prove on the basis of actual turnover that they remain eligible, based on GST turnover in the June quarter and in the September quarter. So there will be a reassessment at the beginning of October and again at the beginning of January. The reason for this is we are in a comparatively better position economically than we feared we would be when this whole crisis started back in March. A number of businesses have recovered quite significantly. There are still a number a lot of businesses who are feeling the pain, who are on the front line of the economic impact of this coronavirus crisis and those businesses will continue to receive this support over the next six month period. But there will be a reassessment to ensure that the level of support actually does go to those businesses who continue to need it.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: And Senator Cormann I am just interested, has the Government had a lot feedback from industry groups and businesses, such as we pointed out the Beauticians Association of Australia, they are ones that have said that some people that were only working eight hours, have done it, there needed to be a look at this thing. Have you and the Government received a lot of feedback from different areas of the Australian community to try and strike this balance, in now doing this next tier level of the payments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes we have. As a Government when you make decisions of this nature you always get a lot of feedback. You always get a lot of suggestions on how you might want to consider doing things better. We always try and take that on board and feed that into the judgements that we make for the future. We would like to think that we continue to make sensible and responsible decisions to continue to manage this transition as sensibly and as carefully as possible
FRED MAFRICA: Mathias with JobSeeker, I noticed that the Government has put it up by $250 after the September 27. Are we looking at increasing it permanently, has it been a move at all, discussions of maybe putting it up, they said about $75 a week or something, but is that just TSA, has there been any real discussion?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When the coronavirus crisis hit, we effectively doubled the JobSeeker payments through the $550 a fortnight coronavirus supplement. We will be adjusting that supplement from the end of September onwards, down to $250 a fortnight. But at the same time, that is a very important feature of this, we are also increasing what is called the income free area from $106 to $300. What that means is that we are saying to people, you can earn up to $300 a fortnight before you lose any of your JobSeeker payments. That is really encouraging people to take on some work, to earn some money and we will allow people to earn more money before they would lose any of their income support. We are extending the JobSeeker payments at a somewhat reduced rate, but still a higher rate than before until the end of December. The ongoing arrangements beyond that will be a matter that we will deal with in the context of the Budget in October.
FRED MAFRICA: I think you are moving to a position where you are getting it right, which is fantastic I think. The other question for you is pensioners and other welfare recipients, is there another $750 bonus coming after September? We have had two, is there another one discussed?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The decision so far is for two specific $750 payments. We made one in the last financial year and we have made one just recently. To this point, these are the two payments that we have made. Bearing in mind, compared to the JobSeeker payments, pension payments were at a higher level already.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: Yeah and look Senator Cormann, I was going to say that every industry thinks that their industry is the most important. I think it is important to remind all Australians that at the end of the day it is the Australian taxpayers that are funding all of this. I read today that the unions are calling for free childcare permanently, but there is no money tree in the backyard of Australia and I think it is important for everyone to remember that all of these measures that the Government has taken, you are never going to please everybody, I think you have struck the balance right, so does Fred. But it is important that whenever these claims are made, whether it is unions or whether it is particular industry, people have really got to stop and think that at the end of the day, it is the Australian taxpayers that are actually funding, underpinning JobKeeper and JobSeeker.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is absolutely right. In relation to child care, I would have thought that in Australia we have very fair and equitable childcare funding arrangements. To suggest that we should make childcare available, indiscriminately for free, is just fiscally completely irresponsible. It would mean that high income earners who could afford to contribute to the cost of childcare for their children would not be required to contribute. Why on earth would taxpayers help fund the childcare arrangements for those parents who through their incomes are able to look after the childcare arrangements for their children themselves? What we have in Australia are publicly funded subsidies that are means tested, that target the level of taxpayer funded support to those Australians who most need it. But for those Australians who are able to make that contribution to the cost of their own children’s childcare, of course they should be expected to do that.
FRED MAFRICA: Look I agree with you Mathias. I think you have hit the nail right on the head. What comes next after this? Does it need to go through Parliament this change and is Labor and Crossbench supporting you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Labor has made supportive noises today. Fair enough, they say they want to see the detail and that is entirely fair enough. I have to say, in the context of this crisis, Australians from across the board really have pulled together to do everything we can to pull our country through this and to get ourselves to the other side in the strongest possible position. So far, all of the major pieces of legislation providing temporary fiscal support have been passed through the Parliament in a bipartisan fashion. I am quietly confident that we will be able to deal with what is in front of us now. Yes, there will be a need to pass some legislation in relation to this and I am quietly confident that this will be done in a constructive spirit with a lot of goodwill in the same way as it has been done in recent months?
FRED MAFRICA: Thank you Mathias. Are you going to miss all of this very soon when you decide to call it a day?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Fred, as you know, because you would remember all the way back in my early years in Opposition when I was on The Couch with you, I have done this for a very, very long time. I have done this job as the Finance Minister for longer than anybody else in the history of our country. From Western Australia it does come with additional burdens. I am not complaining. I love my job, I really love this job. But it has been a long time and I think that this is an appropriate time to manage an orderly transition. I have given six months’ notice. I think that that helps facilitate the appropriate arrangements and there are lots of other people that have a lot of talent and capacity to contribute.
FRED MAFRICA: Do we know yet, I know that Karalee is going to ask a couple of questions just quickly, but do we know yet what you are going to be doing? Or you haven’t really thought that far yet? Are you going to have a break first?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am one hundred per cent focused on the job at hand. We have an economic statement on Thursday. We have the Budget in October. We have a half yearly Budget update towards the end of the year. At an appropriate time, I will turn my mind to it. I would like to think that there is something that I can sensibly do to add value in the future. At the appropriate time, I am sure that that will sort itself out.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: Well Senator Cormann you have added a lot of value for Western Australians, to Australia. But I do, just ending on a lighter note, because we have got to let you go and get some sleep, because it is late in the Eastern States. I couldn’t help but notice today that it is actual Belgian national day.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes that is true.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: And I am hoping, I am hoping that somebody in Canberra provided some chocolates, some waffles and fries and maybe a glass of beer for you. I am not going to attempt to speak Flemish to you, because you are a master of four languages. But on behalf of Perth Tonight I would like to say thank you very much for all you’ve done, your time tonight. And I do hope that if you don’t get a chance to have some chocolate and waffles tonight that you have a nice Belgian breakfast tomorrow.
FRED MAFRICA: And you know Mathias you’re a likeable person. I met you many years ago on the couch, always willing to communicate with the people. That is one thing that I have to say you are very good at. People like you no matter what. You have always been open with everybody. Whatever you do, where you go into State politics as maybe our next Premier, or whether you go into…interrupted
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: We will be on the rumour file tomorrow morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Do not get that rumour going please.
FRED MAFRICA: Can you give me that, I know that Karl from the Today Show got a scoop from you today. You gave him that famous line. Can you give it to us as well, because he asked if you would be back and what did you say?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, no, no, actually he wished me well before I “go to the chopper” because he did not think he would see me again. I said look I’ll be back one more time.
FRED MAFRICA: Thank you very much. Well I hope you will be back here at 6PR, your home state, your home radio station. We do thank you for your time.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: We do.
FRED MAFRICA: We know it’s late over there and you have been up all day. And thank you for the insight and thanks for being so open and honest with us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: All good. Good to talk to you.
FRED MAFRICA: Thank you.
KARALEE KATSAMBANIS: Lovely thank you.