Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 2 October 2020
PETER STEFANOVIC: Well let’s go live to Canberra now and joining me is the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister thanks for joining us this morning, good to see you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
PETER STEFANOVIC: How much could this potentially save each business if this fringe benefits tax is wound back?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It depends on the individual tax circumstances of individual businesses. What we are doing is we are lifting the threshold for small businesses, for tax purposes, from $10 million to $50 million. That will benefit as you have just said about 20,000 additional businesses, which used to employ about 1.7 million Australians. What we are clearly seeking to do here is to help reduce their costs, leave them with more of their own money, so that they can invest in their future growth and success and hire more Australians again.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Is that a concession that the FBT is too restrictive?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, what it is, is a measure to support small business. We have lifted the threshold of small businesses from any business with a turnover of up to $10 million to any business with a turnover of up to $50 million. What we have done here as part of a suite measures, and there will be more in the Budget next week, as part of a suite of measures, is to support businesses invest in their future growth and success. This is a very significant one.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Some businesses have called for that tax to be scrapped entirely. Would you ever consider that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not something that is on the table. What we have done today is make significant additional concessions to 20,000 additional businesses and I am sure that that will be welcomed today by those businesses.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Will you be extending the home loan deposit scheme?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Budget will be delivered on Tuesday and I commend it to you.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Can you give us a preview Minister? You know the numbers, you know what is in it. Give us a sense of what it is going to be. The Prime Minister has already said that it is going to be the most important Budget since World War II. How would you describe it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is an incredibly important Budget to lay the foundations for the best possible economic and jobs recovery into the future. We have been hit with an unexpected pandemic earlier this year. We worked hard to cushion the blow. We have worked hard since then to recover as many jobs as possible, but moving forward, we have to ensure that we get ourselves back on to the strongest possible trajectory, in terms of the additional number of jobs and the additional number of opportunities for Australians as possible
PETER STEFANOVIC: Just onto aged care, we had the report that came out yesterday that suggests that it was deplorable when it comes to infection controls, this is the aged care sector I am talking about here. It has been a traumatised workforce. I understand that you are not the Minister responsible for this, but did the Government fail in its duty to protect those in aged care?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Clearly we could have done better. There is no question. That is why the Prime Minister initiated the Royal Commission into the aged care sector in the first place, because there were deficiencies that were needing to be addressed and six recommendations have been made. We have put substantial additional resources into the aged care system, more than $1.6 billion since the beginning of the pandemic. But the recommendations in this report will help to further lift the performance across that very important sector and that is as it should be.
PETER STEFANOVIC: So is aged care a priority spend for you next week?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Aged care has been a priority spend for us for some Budgets and Budget updates now. It will be again next week. If you look at what we have invested and what we have committed in additional resources into aged care over the last number of years, it has been very substantial.
PETER STEFANOVIC: But this report that came out yesterday, does that change any numbers for you at all?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We were aware of where this was headed. Indeed, out of the six recommendations, we have already made substantial progress in implementing four of them. But we will continue to work very hard to get ourselves into the best possible position.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Just onto borders, the West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has accused other States of greed when it comes to borders. What is your reaction to that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Mark McGowan yesterday was running an economic protectionist argument in favour of continued State border closures. Economic State protectionism is explicitly prohibited in the Australian Constitution. As Australians we enjoy certain freedoms and that includes the freedom to travel freely across Australia, to do business freely across Australia, to spend our money freely where we choose to spend our money. In the context of a pandemic, in the context of public health reasons, to protect the public health of the population there is an argument in favour of the sorts of restrictions that have been put in place in recent months. But when it comes to the Northern Territory and South Australia in particular, the Northern Territory and South Australia have been in a better, stronger position when it comes to COVID-19 than Western Australia consistently for some time. They have had zero locally acquired community transmission for months on end. For most of that period they have had zero active cases and any active case in South Australia was detected in quarantine, appropriately detected in quarantine. Clearly, the people of Western Australia deserve to know that if zero active cases and zero locally acquired community transmission in South Australia and the Northern Territory is not good enough to restore the freedoms that we are entitled as Australians to enjoy, then the Premier needs to explain to people what is enough. What are the objective predictable criteria to let West Australians enjoy their freedoms as Australians that are guaranteed under our constitution?
PETER STEFANOVIC: Well he still says and he still maintains, as Annastacia Palaszczuk does as well that nothing is going to change until there are 28 days of no community transmission.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The thing that just really concerned me yesterday is that he was not even trying to run a public health argument, because quite frankly there is no public health argument in favour of preventing West Australians travelling freely to South Australia or South Australians travelling freely to Western Australia. There is no public health argument. South Australia and the Northern Territory are both demonstrably in a better position than Western Australia, so he has been running instead a State protectionist argument. There might be a question and a discussion in relation to the validity of State border closures based on health grounds and I accept that and the Government accepts that, but there is certainly no reason to keep State borders closed based on State economic protectionist grounds.
PETER STEFANOVIC: But what he is doing is popular, he has got the majority of support when it comes to polls out of the west, just the same as Annastacia Palaszczuk does in Queensland, so he has got all the power. Do you feel, do you feel like despite protestations of the contrary that the Federal Government has got its hands tied behind its back on this one?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let us just see how this continues to develop. More and more people in Western Australia are being inconvenienced. More and more people in Western Australia are negatively impacted either because they cannot visit their loved ones or cannot have their kids visit from interstate into Western Australia. Or businesses that cannot freely engage with businesses in other jurisdictions that are COVID safe, supply chain distributions, there is a negative impact on the economy in Western Australia. The Premier yesterday was talking about West Australians spending more money interstate, well let me tell you, the tourism operators in Western Australia consistently tell me that interstate visitors spend way more at tourism facilities in Western Australia than West Australians visiting tourism facilities in Western Australia. Western Australia is getting harmed economically, we are losing jobs because of those ongoing restrictions. Families are being inconvenienced and unless there is a good public health reason for that then I think the Premier will find it increasingly difficult to justify what he is doing and overtime, I am confident that public opinion will reflect that.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Meanwhile and just finally Minister as our reporter Brendan Smith said when it comes to Queensland anyway, a short time ago, that it is likely that the border will reopen to more of New South Wales just before the election.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Queensland has also already reopened its borders to the ACT. Apparently Western Australia still considers the ACT to be very dangerous even though there are zero active cases and there is zero locally acquired community transmission in the ACT. I think that Western Australia is uniquely restrictive in terms of the individual freedoms of individual Australians living in Western Australia.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann busy couple of days for you, thank you for your time this morning, we will see you in Canberra next week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Will do.