Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Wednesday, 2 September 2020
QUESTION: Minister, a lot of comparisons with other countries as to how Australia is going economically. But do Australians really care how other countries are going given the circumstances they’re in with millions of job losses across the country?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think they do. I think Australians all appreciate that this is a tough period, but it is much tougher in many other parts of the world. Everybody knows what is causing the challenge. Economies around the world have been hit very hard by this global coronavirus pandemic. In all of the circumstances, Australia is performing comparatively better than most others. That does not mean that it is not hard. Of course it is. Inevitably it is hard. We are going to have to continue to do everything we can to get ourselves back into the best possible position.
QUESTION: You are a numbers man. Millions of dollars have been spent on the COVIDsafe app, developing it, advertising it for fourteen close contacts. Is that a waste of taxpayers’ money?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The COVIDsafe app is an important mechanism to facilitate the contact tracing. I am sure that people who are expert in these things will continue to assess how these things can be further improved. As part of a suite of measures it is one important component.
QUESTION: Is it time to ditch it though and look at the Apple or Google version?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the AFL move, three hundred, more than four hundred people, family, staff, employees, into Queensland yesterday, got exemptions to get in for the AFL finals, yet a pregnant mother who needed surgery on an unborn child couldn’t get into a hospital in Queensland. Where is the fairness in that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a very good question. It is a question that the Premier of Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk should be answering. In the end, our call on State Premiers has been for some time, to have, to develop, to put in place common sense, practical solutions to cross border issues, to ensure that yes, we continue to manage the health risk to the greatest extent possible, but also to ensure that we can open up the economy in a way that is COVID-safe to the greatest extent possible. And to show compassion and empathy to the very serious challenges facing, in particular by border communities on our State borders.
QUESTION: Is it fair though that hundreds of people for a sporting code, millionaires wanting to buy homes getting into a state, relocating, but people that need medical treatment can’t?
MATHIAS CORMANN: People who need medical treatment should get medical treatment. There is no question. Australia was not built to have internal borders. Yes, we do understand and we support the need to stop, to suppress and to stop the spread of the virus wherever that is necessary and to take the measures to minimise to the greatest extent possible the risk of further outbreaks, but it has to be done in a practical, common sense, sensible fashion. There is opportunity for State and Territory governments to do much better when it comes to State borders.
QUESTION: China has suspended exports from one of our largest barley exporters. Do you accept their claim that quarantine pests were found in their shipments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I know CBH very well. It is a highly regarded company in my home state of Western Australia, which has a great track record when it comes to exporting high quality grain products. We respect the fact that China, like any other country would, like we do, has quarantine inspection arrangements. We will be working with the company once we are aware of all of the facts to make the appropriate representations.
QUESTION: But there have now been multiple instances where China has begun investigations into whether it be wine or barley, which the Australian Government has then subsequently denied. How many investigations will it take before you concede that perhaps that their motivations are political?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate. We are going to take things at face value. The truth is Australia’s grain products, Australia’s barley products, are highly regarded all around the world. There is a global price for that product. If there is less opportunity to export high quality Australian grain into China, there will be more opportunity to export that grain into other markets around the world. That will be a great advantage to people all around the world that can benefit from our grain.
QUESTION: Tony Abbott has said that governments have approached the pandemic like trauma doctors instead of thinking like health economists. Is the cost justified in saving lives from coronavirus, when governments previously haven’t been willing to spend the same amount to protect people from other types of disease?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We were hit by an unexpected crisis, which came out of nowhere. Clearly the first priority was to protect people’s health, to save people’s lives by supressing the spread of the virus. That was absolutely necessary. As part of that we did have to impose significant restrictions on the economy in order to supress the spread of the virus. That was appropriate. What is true is that once you have stabilised the situation, we need to do everything we can to get the pathway out of this into the new normal. To ensure that we can maximise economic activity and the strength of the recovery in a way that is COVID-safe. On that front, we were on a good path in June, July, earlier than expected initially. There was a big set back with what was happening in Victoria. We have to get back to that path to the new normal, to the strongest possible economic recovery on the other side. That is what the Prime Minister and the Australian Government is working on.
QUESTION: Is the billions of dollars that have been spent worth the number of lives that have been saved given all the other impacts for the economy in other areas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We stand by the decision that we have made to protect people’s health, to save lives by supressing the spread of the virus. We are also committed to protect people’s livelihoods. We are also committed to ensure we maximise the strength of the recovery on the other side. That is why we need to ensure that we have the systems in place to minimise to the greatest extent possible the risk of further outbreaks, through testing, tracing, rapid response to outbreaks and through COVID-safe work practices all around Australia. That is what we need to do so that we can maximise the level of economic activity in a way that is COVID-safe.
QUESTION: Some of your Victorian colleagues is calling on the Victorian Premier to release a plan, a roadmap out of this crisis. What is the Federal Government’s road out of this first recession in thirty years?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are working very hard to provide confidence, encouragement and incentive for businesses to invest into their recovery. To invest in their future growth and success so that viable, profitable businesses will start hiring again. If you look at what was happening in June and July, in June 280,000 jobs were restored in the economy, instead of a ten per cent unemployment rate, official unemployment rate at the end of June, we had a 7.4 per cent unemployment rate. The effective unemployment rate had fallen quite dramatically from its peak in April. But after that we had a set back in Victoria. So at all levels of Government, we need to work together to get on top of the outbreak where we are not. To remain on top of the coronavirus where we are. To open up the economy to the greatest extent possible in a way that is COVID-safe. We know what is causing the contraction in the economy. It is the economic impact of a health pandemic. We have to get on top of the health pandemic to keep people safe but also for economic reasons. That is what we are totally focused on. In the Budget we will have the next instalment in terms of our plan to encourage businesses to invest in their future growth and success.
QUESTION: A huge part of that though is State Governments reopening borders. You can’t budget without knowing with some certainty what they are planning on doing with their borders.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is opportunity for State and Territory governments now to provide common sense, practical solutions to obvious practical issues that are faced by people in relation to State border closures. But there ought to be, there has to be, there must be, a pathway to opening those State borders in a way that is COVID-safe. That can be done. It must be done for the economic opportunity of people all around Australia.
QUESTION: Is it fair that politicians receive more than 15 per cent super, given the current rate is 9.5 per cent?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a trade off in the context of an overall remuneration package. In the end, everyone can put more into their super and receive less in take home pay. That in the end is a trade off. What has happened at a Federal level is that Members of Parliament used to get a pension. We no longer get a pension. Most people in the Parliament now get super on the same basis as most other people across Australia. These are the arrangements that are in place.
QUESTION: You get significantly higher wages than those on the average wage. A trade off?
MATHIAS CORMANN: These things are not set by politicians. These arrangements are put in place by a Remuneration Tribunal independently, at arms length from politicians, which is as it should be.
QUESTION: Should Australians receive 15 per cent super?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not something that we are proposing.