Transcripts → 2020


Sky News – First Edition

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


Date: Friday, 21 August 2020

Border closures, Qantas

PETER STEFANOVIC: Well joining us live now is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So there are more calls for the Federal Government to intervene over this ongoing border crisis at the moment. There are medical emergencies. There are problems with agriculture, supply chains, aviation and all the rest of it. What would you like to see happen?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not a matter of the Federal Government intervening. It is a matter of Federal and State governments working cooperatively together to address practical issues that have arisen as a result of some of those State border closures. We are all committed to protecting people’s health. We are all committed to suppressing the spread of the virus, to remain on top of the virus where we are and to get on top of the virus as swiftly as we can where we are not. But we have to focus both on protecting lives and livelihoods. There are practical issues that need to be addressed. Where that can be done in a way that is COVID-safe, it must be done. That is going to be the challenge for National Cabinet today, to come up with some practical, common sense solutions to some of these issues that in particular border communities are facing, but also some important sectors in our economy are grappling with.

PETER STEFANOVIC: You mentioned cooperation there. But the State and Territories are quite rightly looking after themselves at the moment. They are not really bothered about anybody else. So cooperation it is a funny word. Are you seeing that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: When the crisis first hit, crisis responses were required. We are now six, seven months into this. The outlook is for this to keep going for some time. As we have said all the way through, we have to get ourselves back to as close as normal a situation as possible as soon as possible. It is going to be important for States and Territories to work together with the Commonwealth to develop nationally consistent, common sense, practical approaches to deal with some of these issues. In the end, the virus is going to be with us for some time. Globally, there clearly are still very high infection rates every single day. So we need to ensure that we can bring life back as close as possible to normal in a way that is COVID-safe by putting in place relevant measures that help ensure that.  

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, well you have got about 240 cases yesterday in Victoria, so that is heading in the right way. But throughout the rest of the country, correct me if I am wrong but there was only about six or seven cases. So that is in the single figures. Do you believe now is the time to reduce the restrictions around borders?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have made this point before. There are many jurisdictions, in fact all jurisdictions except for Victoria and New South Wales, which have not had any locally acquired community transmission for some time. The number of active cases detected in quarantine are generally return travellers from overseas, Australians coming back from overseas, are in single digits in every jurisdiction. In the Northern Territory and the ACT they are down to zero. I think in Tasmania it is one. That is something that I would like to think that State Premiers and Chief Ministers working together with the Federal Government through the National Cabinet can consider when making judgements on what is a proportionate and responsible, common sense approach to these issues.  

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, well let’s single out the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. She wants to use the borders as a political weapon, heading into her election this year. What do you think of that position?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not think that achieving common sense, practical solutions is going to be helped with me starting to run a politically charged commentary. Everybody is trying to do their best here. I completely acknowledge this. This is a very difficult situation we are all dealing with. But the situation has been evolving. In all jurisdictions other than Victoria and New South Wales, we are in a very, very good position. I understand why every State Premier wants to maintain that position. But when you have zero locally acquired community transmission in all of these jurisdictions, there clearly is the opportunity to do more to help protect people’s livelihoods because the risk to people’s health is severely diminished.

PETER STEFANOVIC: What do you think of this category system, that is kind of like the bushfire warning system. Is that something that you would support? You know level one, two, three, four, five according to the most dangerous level.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Whatever way we do it, between jurisdictions where there is no locally acquired community transmission, there ought to be the opportunity and the capacity to come up with common sense solutions, which help to facilitate a return of economic activity, as close as possible to normal, in a way that is COVID safe.

PETER STEFANOVIC: You must be very frustrated. Are you getting frustrated at the moment? You are the one, the Federal Government is the one picking up the bill for these State border closures at the moment.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t know that frustration would be a productive sentiment. We are focused on dealing with issues every single day. We are focused on finding solutions to problems. This is a very complex situation. Everybody is doing their best. We just need goodwill and common sense to prevail.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Alan Joyce needs plane in the sky. Stephen Byron said something similar just a short time ago, you might have heard. Is that something that you would support as well?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Sure. We all want economic activity across all sectors to return as soon as possible in a way that is COVID-safe, that is when consistent with the health advice that is able to be done or when consistent with the health advice measures are able to be put in place that appropriately protect people’s health.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Are you worried about the future of Qantas?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am in regular contact with the chairman and the CEO of Qantas, as are a number of my Ministerial colleagues. They are making the decisions that they need to make in order to ensure that Qantas has a strong and viable future. This is clearly a very difficult circumstance and context for them. The aviation industry was the first hit and the hardest hit in many ways. They remain on the frontline of the economic impact of this coronavirus pandemic. It is going to be hard for a while, but I am confident that Qantas is making all of the necessary decisions in order to ensure they have a viable and profitable future.

PETER STEFANOVIC: I mean $2 billion in profit loss. It is eye watering for the national carrier. I mean, can you guarantee its survival long time if planes aren’t up in the sky as we are used to seeing them?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not running Qantas. Qantas is a private business. The results yesterday …interrupted

PETER STEFANOVIC: But it is the brand, it is the icon, is what I am referring to there.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Sure. But the results yesterday were not surprising. We knew that the aviation sector had been first hit and hardest hit and that they were on the front line of the economic impact of this crisis. We fully expected that this was what was going to happen. Qantas has been planning on how best to deal with this through this period. In the end, it is going to be important for us to get the economy back to normal as soon as possible in a way that is COVID safe, when that can be done.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, always good to talk. Thanks for joining us this morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.