Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 21 August 2020
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins us now from Perth. Minister, good morning.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What does the Federal Government hope to achieve on borders from today's National Cabinet meeting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to ensure that the Federal Government, State Governments work together cooperatively to resolve some of these practical issues that you have just mentioned. We all understand the need to take effective action to protect people's health and the decisions that various State Governments have made to impose state border closures are part of their measures to help protect people's health in their states. But, we do need to ensure that we are practical about these things and that where practical solutions can be put in place in a way that is COVID safe then that should be done. Whether that is in relation to cross-border communities being able to deal with things, like need to access medical services, agricultural trade, you name it. We just need to be practical and we are hopeful that in the meeting today, in the usual cooperative spirit of the National Cabinet, that some solution and some way forward will be able to be found.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: You have business leaders like Qantas boss Alan Joyce pressuring Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Queensland Premier to ease those border controls. The Premier in return says no, she is listening directly to the advice of her Chief Health Officer. Mathias Cormann, we know how deadly and infectious this disease is. In this circumstance you would back the health officer over Alan Joyce any day of the week, wouldn't you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We all act on the medical advice and we must act on the medical advice. By the same token, clearly where it is safe from a health point of view to ease restrictions, where it is safe from a health point of view or where there are ways that things can be managed in the economy in a way that is COVID safe, then surely it is also incumbent on us to explore those opportunities so that we can allow the economy to grow and to recover where that is possible.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: I hear what you are saying there, but again, Annastacia Palaszczuk is saying based on health advice it is not safe to ease Queensland border controls any time soon. So health trumps the economy on this front doesn't it, at least temporarily?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Nothing that I have said disagrees with that at all. We work cooperatively with the states in order to protect the health of our population. The health mission absolutely comes first based on the health advice, but where it is possible to ease restrictions, where it is possible to allow sectors of the economy to re-engage in their usual activities in a way that is COVID safe, then it is important to do so.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Premier of your state, Mark McGowan, is talking about people deemed to be high risk of flight risks in hotel quarantine, being forced to wear electronic ankle bracelets. What do you think about that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on state matters. That is clearly a state law enforcement issue. I will leave it to the state to deal with these sorts of matters. We have enough on our plate at a federal level.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Going back to Qantas, Alan Joyce in that disappointing profit announcement yesterday, announcing that big loss, also reiterated that he doesn't see Qantas international flights resuming until July next year at the earliest. Lots of other airlines have said the same thing. But the Government's latest Budget update has international borders opening from January next year, so will you have to change those forecasts?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We said in July that the forecasts that we made at the time were based on the available information at that point in time, that clearly this is an evolving situation and as more and more up to date information becomes available that will be factored into revised forecasts moving forward. The next opportunity for us to update our forecasting assumptions and our estimates and projections is the Budget on 6 October and that will be done in the usual way.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: We are also hearing no shortage of stories from Australians caught up overseas wanting to come home but they can't because of a combination of factors, the airlines are charging them exorbitant prices to get business class seats, also this 4,000 per week cap on the number of Australians allowed to return back to the country. Will the Government consider raising that cap?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are taking a very cautious approach to the Australian border arrangements. We did urge Australians early on, quite strongly, to return if they wanted to return, and a lot of Australians did return at that time. Right now we are in a situation where globally there is about 260,000 new cases of coronavirus every day and there is a practical, logistical limit to how many people can be managed through hotel quarantine arrangements on the Australian mainland through our capital cities. So all of these things have been factored into maximising the possible in-flow of returning citizens and residents at this time. But these things are always under review. We will always try and do as much as we possibly practically can to facilitate the return of those Australians who want to come back.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Finally, pensioners got some bad news this week Minister, they learnt that they wouldn’t receive their scheduled indexation increase in September because, as we all know, inflation has gone backwards in Australia. The Prime Minister this week appeared to leave the door open to offer those pensioners some help. So can they expect an increase of sorts in the Budget in October?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well the cost of living has gone backwards but the pension will not go backwards. So to the extent, that is an important first point. We have also provided special COVID-related support to pensioners during this period with two $750 payments so far. What other measures we might take in the context of negative inflation, meaning that there is not going to be an increase in the pension through the formal indexation arrangements, that is going to be a matter to be determined in the context of the Budget.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: There may be, separate to indexation, a Budget-related pension increase?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate. The indexation arrangements are there to take account of the rising costs of living. Self-evidently, if the cost of living goes backwards, yet the pension remains the same, then that is an improvement in the relative position.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: We will leave it there. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann thanks for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.