Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Sunday, 23 August 2020
MATHIAS CORMANN: Federal Parliament will resume this week in a COVID-safe way. This will be the first time in our history that Members and Senators will be able to participate in the proceedings of the Federal Parliament remotely by video. That is part of the arrangements in place this sitting fortnight to ensure the operations in the Federal Parliament can operate in a COVID-safe way.
Our priority this fortnight is to pass the legislation to extend the JobKeeper and enhanced JobSeeker arrangements. That is important to give businesses and working Australians who rely on these payments certainty that the arrangements remain in place for the appropriate period moving forward.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Should JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments be reduced as scheduled though from September?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Yes, these are the settings that we are proposing to the Parliament. We need to transition out of this historically unprecedented crisis level support in an appropriate period. The appropriate period that we are proposing is for JobKeeper to the end of March. That is another six months beyond the original timetable. At some point we need to get back into a situation where viable, profitable businesses pay for the wages of their employees out of their income rather than on the basis of taxpayer’s support.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, so you are looking at introducing and passing the JobKeeper and JobSeeker legislation all this week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This fortnight. This sitting fortnight, yes.
QUESTION: Is there a day sorry, are you introducing tomorrow?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be introducing it this week. We will be seeking to pass the legislation this sitting fortnight.
QUESTION: Just on the sitting of Parliament etc, is it becoming problematic for staffers of Federal MPs in terms of travel. They are not exempt. Is that right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Every State appears to have different arrangements. You are right, staff of Federal Members and Senators here in Western Australia as of Friday night are no longer exempt. We comply with the arrangements that apply in relevant jurisdictions.
QUESTION: And I guess how big of a compromise is it to have some Members unable to vote and others joining debate via video conference?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There are longstanding conventions in the Federal Parliament when it comes to pairing arrangements. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit we have made extended use of those pairing arrangements all through this year. This is just going to be another manifestation of that this fortnight. What the Australian people can be reassured of is that the votes that take place in their Parliament, whether it is in the House of Representatives or in the Senate will reflect their will as expressed at the last election.
QUESTION: Is there other legislation that we are looking at introducing and passing this week or dealing with?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is always an extensive program. But the priority this sitting fortnight is the passage of legislation to extend the JobKeeper and enhanced JobSeeker arrangements.
QUESTION: Labor lost some ground in the Northern Territory election. Is there any lesson there for Premiers and Chief Ministers around the hard border, do you think out of this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is still a lot counting to be done as I understand it. I think it is too early to draw any lessons. Congratulations to the CLP on a great performance against the odds. It’s very difficult in this period for any opposition to get a lot of oxygen. They have done a very good job.
QUESTION: You don’t think that it has got any bearing on the Northern Territory stance on hard borders?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that it is still too early to draw any lessons from an election in which they are still counting.
QUESTION: Just in regards to the Victorian situation. Why wasn’t our federally controlled aged care sector better prepared to deal with a COVID outbreak?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The aged care sector is one of the most vulnerable sectors when it comes the impact of this sort of pandemic. If you have a jurisdiction like Victoria, where there is a massive outbreak, then in that jurisdiction given what is happening in that jurisdiction, the aged care sector inevitably is particularly exposed. We have put more than $1 billion in specific support measures in place to support the aged care sector. But in the end, in the face of this sort of pandemic, there is a practical limit to how effective that sadly can be in the context of a virus like this.
QUESTION: Do you think Richard Colbeck is up to the job of being aged care Minister? Should he resign?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Richard Colbeck does a very good job. He is very effective in working with this sector, facing significant challenges. It is not as if this is a straight forward proposition dealing with the impact of this sort of pandemic, with a highly infectious virus like this, in the context of a very vulnerable sector in our community.
QUESTION: If you were the Minister wouldn’t that have been front of mind, how many people died?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am sure that he regrets not having that number at his fingertips. But I do not think that you can judge his overall performance in the portfolio on that basis. I see Richard Colbeck and how he performs in the context of for example, our Expenditure Review Committee, obtaining and securing additional resources for the aged care sector through our internal processes. He is very effective. I believe that the aged care sector knows him to be very effective.
QUESTION: How confident are you that the COVID measures in place in Parliament will protect any spread by everyone gathering there this week. And with regard to Queensland, should there be any more imposition on Queensland MPs and Senators, like there are for New South Wales MPs given what is happening there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We do not make these decisions politically. We make decisions based on medical advice. There is no rule book on how best to deal with this. All of us, at every level, we are trying to do our best. But the important feature of our decision making when it comes to restrictions is that we rely on the medical advice, advice from the experts. That is what we are doing in terms of the arrangements for the Federal Parliamentary sitting fortnight this fortnight.
QUESTION: Do you feel safer? We are here in WA we’ve got a luxury of no community spread. Do you feel confident of …
MATHIAS CORMANN: The ACT has actually been in a better position for longer than Western Australia. I know that we always pride ourselves to be the best at anything, but the ACT has had zero active cases and zero community transmission for longer than Western Australia.
QUESTION: Just on the Queensland situation, there’s clusters and there’s issues about spreading in Brisbane, concerns that they have gone backwards to limiting gathering sizes now. Is it too early for the AFL to make a decision next week on Grand Final?
MATHIAS CORMANN: For all sorts of very good reasons, I am very strongly of the view that the AFL Grand Final should take place in the great State of Western Australia. Our oval, our Optus oval here in Perth, is clearly the next best stadium after the MCG. We would put on a very good show. I would urge the AFL, I do not think that they should delay a decision, I hink that they should make a decision to hold the AFL Grand Final in Perth.
QUESTION: And is that because of the possible risk now about Queensland?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I would just say, that Perth for a whole range of reasons, Perth is the best location for the Grand Final and for the final series. I would urge the AFL to decide that very swiftly.
QUESTION: At the moment I think the amount of overseas travellers allowed into Western Australia is capped around four to five hundred. Do you think that that should be increased?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In the end, these are decisions for the State Government here based on what is logistically and practically able to be managed through our hotel quarantine arrangements. In the early months of this pandemic we gave very strong advice to Australians and permanent residents out of Australia who were overseas to return to Australia as soon as possible if that is what they intended to do. Now there are practical and logistical limits to how many people can be managed through these hotel quarantine arrangements at any particular point in time. I am sure that that is constantly under review. If there is capacity to lift that cap, then it will be lifted. There is still a pretty significant number of people that are able to come back every week, but it has just to be managed in an orderly fashion. We accept that.
QUESTION: Is there any truth in the SMH report that the Morrison Government is pushing State and Territory governments to lift that cap on international arrivals?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not aware of that story. What we are saying is we absolutely understand that there is a practical and logistical limit to how many people can be managed through these hotel quarantine arrangements at any one point in time. All of us and I am sure State and Territory governments will be of the same view, we would want to be able to facilitate the return home of as many Australians as possible. But there is inevitably a limit to how many people can be managed through those quarantine arrangements at any one point in time.
QUESTION: So is now the time, just back to the AFL, is now the time for the McGowan Government to start talking money with the AFL and start to actually actively pursue this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to give the McGowan Government public advice in relation to these matters. Very plainly in relation to the AFL Grand Final, Western Australia is a proud AFL State. Our stadium is clearly the best option after the MCG. I think that it is self-evident that the Grand Final will not be able to take place at the MCG as it normally would. So I would just urge the AFL to make the right decision sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: The barrier to a Perth Grand Final is not so much the money, is the border issue. Should the AFL officials like Gill McLachlan be prepared to go into quarantine for two weeks to make this happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are logistical conversations to be had between the State Government and the AFL. I will leave that to them. I am sure that among people of goodwill, common sense, practical solutions can be found to these sorts of issues.
QUESTION: Clive Palmer has hinted that as early as tomorrow he could make a decision on whether to follow through with his High Court challenge of the border, because we are going to have a couple of decisions of the Federal Court. Would you make a personal plea to him, or a call to him to drop that challenge?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is old news. Gary Adshead reported my plea for him to drop…interrupted
QUESTION: Will you call Mr Palmer and make this happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have publicly called on Mr Palmer to withdraw his challenge to the State border arrangements in Western Australia. That is a matter of public record. I stand by what I have previously said. I would continue to urge Mr Palmer to not proceed with this challenge. The facts have changed. The situation is different now to what it was back in May. Back in May we were in a context where there was an easing of restrictions all around Australia. Clearly now, the circumstances are different. To the extent that he would listen and be interested in what I have to say, my view is that he should not proceed with that challenge.