Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 4 September 2020
JENNA CLARKE: Joining me on the line this morning is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Senator thank you so very much for your time. A busy couple of weeks in Canberra.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
JENNA CLARKE: We keep hearing over here in WA that our economy according to the State Government is fine. But are we living in a fantasy as we move out of this post-COVID world?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not sure how the State Government can say that everything is fine with our economy in WA. We have the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Western Australia and Queensland are in the worst position when it comes to the unemployment rate. Clearly there is much work to be done to restore jobs, to create new jobs, to get people back into work and to bring down that unemployment rate.
JENNA CLARKE: Yeah, indeed. Are you concerned that we could have a two speed jobs economy in WA moving forward, because there is a lot of people employed in the mining sector which has basically been untouched by COVID. And yet we are going to see unemployment in places like retail and things like that could sky rocket.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Our mining sector and our agricultural sector both continue to perform very strongly. The price of iron ore is very high, volumes are high. Prices across our commodity exports are in pretty good shape. But that cannot be the beginning and the end of it. You have to make sure that all sectors of the economy have the best possible opportunity to recover and to start growing again. Keeping in place indiscriminate State border closures, seemingly based on arbitrary political grounds, without any objective, predictable criteria on the pathway out is doing unnecessary and disproportionate harm to our economy here in Western Australia and nationally.
JENNA CLARKE: Well we are going to see today the national cabinet will meet. And there is apparently going to be discussions around border issues. And the fact that WA’s hard border may be left out of that discussion. Do you think that it is time for Premier Mark McGowan to give WA a roadmap out of our hard borders?
MATHIAS CORMANN: WA’s State border is not going to be left out of the discussion. State border closures are appropriate when they address a clear public health risk and when they are necessary to protect the health of the population. We are all in favour of protecting the health of our populations of course. But, there have to be some predictable, objective criteria to determine how and when we can ease those border restrictions again so that our economy can grow again to its best potential. We are going to have to dedicate ourselves to bring those State borders down as fast as possible in a way that is COVID-safe.
JENNA CLARKE: Yeah.
MATHIAS CORMANN: When you are hit with an unexpected crisis you pause and you give yourself the tools to put the systems in place to minimise the risk to the greatest extent possible, the risk that you are facing, so that you can restore activity to the greatest extent possible. There are going to be a lot of people across Western Australia who are going to lose their jobs unnecessarily if this is not going to be fixed. There are going to be families at Christmas that will not be able to catch up with their kids because the State Government is pursuing a political approach, rather than an approach with objective health criteria giving people some hope about the way out of this.
JENNA CLARKE: Do you think that the State Government is definitely now playing politics considering we are now only a couple of hundred days away from a State election?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I hope not. I really hope not. What I am saying to the State Government is, explain to people what the circumstances are, explain to people clearly what the objective, predictable criteria are going to be for the pathway out of these strict State border closures, which are doing harm to our economy, which are costing jobs, which are causing massive disruption to many families around Australia. I am getting a lot of representations from constituents here in Western Australia who have family members stranded interstate, in circumstances where quite frankly, they clearly do not present a risk. We all understand about the specific risk in relation to Victoria. We understand about issues around localised outbreaks in some other jurisdictions. But there is no community transmission, and there are zero cases in Tasmania, in the ACT and in the Northern Territory. South Australia is in a better position than WA. There is no objective reason why we would keep State border closures in place on an ongoing basis in relation to those jurisdictions. The Premier needs to start explaining what the pathway out is going to be. Or alternatively he has to explain what sort of unemployment rate he is going to be prepared to accept as a result of these State border closures that he continues to impose.
JENNA CLARKE: Do you think that the need to come up with their own jobs plan as well? Because we keep hearing about mining and resources, but what about people that may be in a more low skilled type job, or high skilled jobs. Are those jobs going to be around if borders remain in place?
MATHIAS CORMANN: And what about people working for the aviation sector or the tourism industry? They will need people to be able to come to Western Australia, to those areas where it is entirely COVID-safe to do so. You tell me why a tourist from Tasmania, the Northern Territory, or South Australia cannot come to Western Australia. You tell me why businesses from those jurisdictions cannot engage with businesses here in Western Australia. You tell me why families who have kids living in those places should not be allowed to see those kids for Christmas here in Western Australia. These are the things that the Premier will have to explain if he wants to maintain these hard borders on an ongoing basis.
JENNA CLARKE: Yeah for sure. Our Police Minister Michelle Roberts over the weekend spoke about people on JobKeeper and JobSeeker having more money than usual and possibly fuelling bad, anti-social behaviour that we are seeing through Northbridge and other areas in the community. Should JobKeeper and JobSeeker be extended? Can the country afford it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: JobKeeper and JobSeeker have both been extended. Though we are progressively phasing it out …interrupted
JENNA CLARKE: Into March yes.
MATHIAS CORMANN: … from the end of September to the end of March. It was necessary crisis level support when we were hit with an unexpected crisis to ensure we cushioned the blow on the economy, that we put a safety net underneath working families around Western Australia and Australia. But we always knew, this is a difficult situation, there were always going to be some negative consequences as a result, which is why we do need to phase out of this. We have to get back to a new normal as soon as possible.
JENNA CLARKE: Indeed, I guess the Budget will be handed down in October. How are things looking? Do we need border uniformity and borders coming down to ensure that our economy can rebuild as one nation, as opposed to those parochial little pockets that we are seeing emerge?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We need to do both. We need to do everything we can to protect people’s health. But we also have to ensure that we protect people’s livelihoods. We certainly have to ensure that we maximise the strength of the economic recovery and the jobs recovery here in WA and all around the country in a way that is COVID-safe. That can be done. We can give ourselves the tools to minimise as much as possible, the risk of future outbreaks so that we can start opening up the economy to its fullest extend again. So that we can ensure that people can connect with each other in the way that they would have in the past.
JENNA CLARKE: Yeah, for sure. You touched on just earlier that the local agricultural industry is booming but they have had a bit of a roadblock once again this week with China now refusing to take on CBH grain out of WA. What are your concerns around the fractious China West Australian relationship and are you encouraging the Prime Minister to lean in to what Mark McGowan is saying, the fact we have to repair it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, a couple of issues here. CBH is a highly regarded grain business here out of Western Australia, which delivered valued products into markets all around the world. If there is less capacity to export barley or other grain products into China, well that is an opportunity for customers in other parts of the world to benefit from our grain. There is a world price for grain. I am sure that CBH will be able to divert their product into other markets. We respect the fact that China like any other country has quarantine inspection arrangements in place. We are working with CBH to work through the practical issues that have been raised in a good faith manner. As far as our relationship with China is concerned, the Australian Government is committed to the best possible relationship with China. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. We sell products, which China needs which delivers a benefit on both sides. In any relationship from time to time you are going to have issues that arise. Our view would be that any such issues need to be worked through in a mutually respectful, positive and constructive fashion. That is what we are always committed to do. We do approach issues from a national interest perspective. That is what any self-respecting sovereign nation would do.
JENNA CLARKE: Indeed, but I guess we saw this week Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained and has been detained. Any update on that? I guess it is probably out of your remit, but just in case you have heard anything from your colleague Marise Payne.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are providing all of the appropriate consular support. I am not aware of the specific allegations or the specific circumstances of what has happened there. I do know that through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade all of the appropriate consular support is being provided. I hope that there is going to be a sensible and appropriate resolution.
JENNA CLARKE: For sure. Your time as a public official is coming to an end as you step down at the end of the year and I guess the race to fill to your spot in the Senate is really heating up. What traits do you think that the next West Australian Senator needs to possess to fill your shoes?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You know what, in my twenty-five years of membership of the Liberal party in Western Australia I have always respected one thing and that is that pre-selection matters and decisions on who fills which position as a candidate to represent the Liberal party are entirely matters for the Liberal party organisation. We have a great number of volunteers across the Liberal party of Western Australia who dedicate themselves to making the best possible decisions. I have every confidence that they will select the best possible candidate to replace me in the Senate.
JENNA CLARKE: You are very modest Senator. But seriously over twenty years things have definitely changed in the political sphere. Is there anything specific that you would be highlighting that is probably necessary as we move into 2021 and beyond?
MATHIAS CORMANN: When it comes to candidates, I would say that the WA Liberal party has done a very good job to select outstanding candidates. The proof is in the pudding. We have five Cabinet members from WA in the Federal Cabinet. The number of Federal Cabinet Ministers out of WA over the last seven years is historically unprecedented. That is because of the high calibre and the quality that our volunteers in the WA Liberal party have selected into those roles. I am confident that they will continue to make the right decisions in that regard.
JENNA CLARKE: Indeed. Look Fathers’ Day is coming up on Sunday and I guess you will probably be looking forward to next year spending more time with your two beautiful daughters. What have you got planned for Sunday?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are going to have a small family lunch. I am very much looking forward to it. Because I have just come back from Canberra, I have certain restrictions imposed on myself, so we will do it very much privately and at home.
JENNA CLARKE: So good. I guess that one thing that really fascinates me Senator is the fact that you are a father first and a politician second. Can you just give us a little bit of what one of your most memorable fatherhoods memories have been and your experiences? Surely, that has got to be some of the highlights of your life?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely. I experience amazing memorable moments all the time. From birth to now, they are four and seven. Every part of their development is very exciting and heart-warming to watch. My seven year old is very passionate about her gymnastics now, doing eight hours a week of training, showing me her new skills every weekend I come back. It is just amazing to watch. It is great to see them develop passions and do everything they can to be the best they can be.
JENNA CLARKE: Yeah, indeed. What do you think being a good dad means in 2020 and beyond?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As parents, good dad, good mum you want to help guide your kids to be the best they can be as they grow up. You provide all of the love and care and support to help them develop. Everybody does the best they can in that regard.
JENNA CLARKE: Indeed, you and your lovely wife Hayley definitely are fantastic parents. You guys have a wonderful Sunday even though there are some restrictions in place. Senator Mathias Cormann thank you so very much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you Jenna. Great to talk to you.