Transcripts → 2020


The West Live

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Western Australia’s border closure

JENNA CLARKE: Joining me this morning is Finance Minister and WA Senator Mathias Cormann. Thank you so very much for joining us Senator. Very interesting oped in today’s West Australian. You’re calling for WA’s hard border to be removed. I guess to a lot of people why do you want to risk the engine room of the country?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not. We want to maintain the isolation and the ring fencing of areas like in Victoria and parts of New South Wales where there is community transmission and where there are outbreaks. But we also believe that in relation to all those areas that are in at least the same, if not a better position than WA when it comes to COVID, then why on earth would we prevent West Australian businesses and West Australian families engaging with people from the Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT. Many of these places have been in a better, stronger position than Western Australia for longer. They do not present a risk. There is no health reason for West Australians to be prevented from engaging in business or engaging with their families out of those areas, based on health grounds. Even WA’s chief health officer said so earlier this week.   

JENNA CLARKE: Yeah and again, just to preface that he said that during the Federal Court case where Clive Palmer is basically petitioning for WA’s hard border to come down. But interestingly though we have seen on active case pop up in Queensland which is an indication that community transmission is now happening over there. Where do we, how do we, how does WA get away from this fear that we feel for this virus and move to the next phase of living with coronavirus do you think?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have active cases here in Western Australia. In the whole of Queensland there are seven active cases. A week ago we had about twenty-five active cases here in Western Australia. So the truth is active cases in low numbers are in place all around the country. But in Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT the situation is as good, if not better than here in Western Australia. Of course we have to find a way of moving forward to live our lives as close as possible to normal in a way that is COVID-safe. That means we have to protect ourselves from risk in relation to those areas where there is community transmission and where there are localised outbreaks. The thing that I am really concerned about is that the High Court, and we did not bring this case on, this is not something that we brought on. It was brought on by individual citizen as they can do. If the High Court finds that those State border closures are unconstitutional, which is a likelihood, what is going to be plan B? What we are saying to the Premier in Western Australia is, work with the Federal Government to ensure that we can continue to protect the health of people in Western Australia, we can continue to keep people out that should not come here because they present a risk of bringing the infection here into Western Australia. Do not put all of your cards into this one basket.

JENNA CLARKE: But do you think that on the flip side to that, do you think that this hard border is a bit of a furphy? Because we have had news today that we have had a lot of people getting exemptions from over East to come over for things like funerals, which of course is completely understandable why you would want to be here for those types of occasions. But these people are coming in from New South Wales where there is spread happening rife around that state at the moment, coming into WA and they are not having to quarantine. Then they go home. Do you think that maybe this is just, the hard border is maybe just a bit of a furphy by Mark McGowan?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Mark McGowan, I have a good working relationship with him, so this is not meant to be partisan or political. Mark McGowan yesterday said he didn’t want a hodge podge when it comes to border arrangements into Western Australia. Well we do have a hodge podge. There are all sorts of people for a variety of reasons who are getting exemptions to come here into Western Australia. There does not seem to be consistency in relation to this. I spoke to a businessman the other day who has bought multi-million dollar equipment in order to be able to package his products for export into Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong. The technicians that have to set up the equipment come out of South Australia. They have the exclusive right of setting up that equipment. They have been denied entry into Western Australia. Even though South Australia has been in a better, safer position when it comes to COVID for longer than Western Australia. That seems to be a completely capricious decision not to let them in. Some people get exemptions. Others do not. There does not seem to be a consistent approach to this. There cannot be any plausible health reason to deny those people entry into Western Australia. Yet they have. Western Australian jobs are being put at risk for no good health reason at all. 

JENNA CLARKE: It is really interesting because I feel that there is going to be the haves and have nots when we come out of this. But in a new poll that went to air on Seven news last night, 96 per cent of all West Australians that were spoken to basically said that they want to hard border to stay up basically for the duration until there is a vaccine and things like that. Do you feel that, they obviously don’t want any relaxation of borders. Do you think that what you are saying today is out of step with public sentiment?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that the alternative proposition has not been properly explained and fleshed out. What I want and what we want is a hard border to remain in relation to those areas where there is risk, in relation to those areas where there are outbreaks of community transmission. But where manifestly there is no community transmission, where the number of cases is as low, if not lower than in Western Australia, then why on earth would we prevent ourselves from doing business with those areas? Why would we prevent families in Western Australia from engaging with their families out of the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia when they are in the same or better positon than we are here in Western Australia. 

JENNA CLARKE: Interesting that this case has been taken up by Clive Palmer who is probably going to take part in Queensland election at the end of the year, and probably wants to put some constituents on ground here in WA for our election come March. Do you think that this is a bit of a test case just to see, is Palmer he may help you with a deal when it comes to voting preferences and stuff like that. Can you quell any theories that people may say that this is Palmer just joining up with the LNP? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: He is not joining up with us. I do not believe he will run in Western Australia. I hope he does not. In Western Australia the contest will be between Mark McGowan and Liza Harvey representing the Liberal party. We want people in Western Australia to be safe from a health point of view. We think that that can be achieved. But we also want them to be able to have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. To go and do their job. For businesses to sell their products and services freely into those areas where it is safe to do so. To engage with people and businesses from all around Australia where that is manifestly safe to do so. Even the chief health officer here in Western Australia says there is no increase in risk from engaging with people in those jurisdictions where the case numbers are very low and community transmission is virtually non-existent.

JENNA CLARKE: Interestingly last week Mark McGowan came out with all guns blazing saying that he would basically like to see all of the workers that are employed by the resources industry in WA be from WA. What is your take on that? Is that a dangerous position to take?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We are one Commonwealth. Yes, we should be able to put restrictions in place and hard borders in relation to those areas where there is risk. In relation to all other areas and where this no health risk, or virtually no health risk, we should be one Commonwealth. That is what has made us strong. That is what made Western Australia strong. We are the ultimate trading economy in a trading nation. To close our borders indiscriminately for no proper public health upside is a very dangerous thing to do for the future of our economy and for the future of jobs here in our State. A lot of people will get unnecessarily hurt if this goes on for too long.

JENNA CLARKE: So if there Federal Court decision finds in Mr Palmer’s favour and the hard border in WA has to come down and then we do see a second wave here. Are you willing to cop the responsibility that this could be caused by a Federally backed opening? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: No. The Constitution is the Constitution. Every government, the same as every citizen, has to act consistent with the Constitution. We did not bring this action in the High Court about. We did not initiate it. But as the High Court would expect us to do and always expects us to do is provide advice on Constitutional law matters as we see them. That is why I am saying to the Premier in Western Australia work with us to ensure that we can put in place effective protection measures, that we can put measures in place to ensure that people out of infected areas cannot come into Western Australia. But let us do it in a way that is consistent with the Constitution and that is lawful. No Premier is above the law. No Premier is above the Constitution. The High Court will ultimately make a judgement in relation to these things. The key is going to be to develop and put in place effective measures to protect the health of people in Western Australia in a way that is lawful and Constitutional.

JENNA CLARKE: It is going to be a very interesting couple of weeks that’s for sure. But lastly before we let you go Senator, very sad news specifically for us here in WA because we have loved your rise to the top of the pollie game. You will be leaving Parliament at the end of the year. Are you looking forward to life outside the bubble?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am certainly looking forward to the next chapter. I have done this job for a very long time in various ways. I have given my everything. I thought this was a good time to manage an orderly transition.

JENNA CLARKE: Who are you, any one that you would like to see fill your shoes as a WA Senator?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That will be entirely a matter for the WA Liberal party.

JENNA CLARKE: Well Senator Mathias Cormann, thank you very much for all you have done for WA and Australia. I will let you get back to working on that Budget that you are handing down in October. Thank you so very much for joining us on The West Live.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you Jenna.