Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 9 October 2020
QUESTION: Tax cuts likely to pass today Minister?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have been in the Senate too long to take anything for granted. The indications are that we should be able to legislate income tax relief for hard working families and our various tax incentives to encourage businesses to invest in their future growth and success through the Senate today. But let’s just see what happens and talk afterwards.
QUESTION: Quite a lot of criticism from your colleagues about Anthony Albanese’s proposal last night to make childcare more affordable for more Australian families. Why shouldn’t more families get access to cheaper childcare?
MATHIAS CORMANN: He is not suggesting to make it more affordable, he has suggested to make it free at a very significant cost. And not just in one year, but a very significant cost on a structural basis morning forward, without any explanation whatsoever on how he would pay for it. We have very sound funding arrangements for child care. We have very generous funding arrangements to facilitate access to child care. It is on a means tested basis. Why should people get access to child care for free, irrespective of their income? You tell me why that is fair and equitable, and why that is an appropriate prioritisation of limited resources. The Australian Government this year will allocate a record $9 billion towards facilitating subsidised access to child care. But that taxpayer funded support is targeted in particular, at low and middle income earners. It becomes less as people earn more and are in a better position to look after their own child care arrangements.
QUESTION: Can the cost be a hindrance though in people trying to get back to work? You’re trying to get a million jobs created over the next …
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are going to have to be very careful not to expose ourselves to structural burdens that are unsustainable and unaffordable over the long term. You have to remember before the coronavirus crisis hit, before we got into this COVID recession, Australia had the highest workforce participation of women ever, under our Government. After six years of a Coalition Government, we had achieved the highest workforce participation by women, we had achieved the lowest gender pay gap on record. So we were actually heading in the right direction, with the policy settings that we put in place, including the policy settings when it comes to affordable access to child care. But affordable access to child care in an appropriately prioritised targeted fashion on a means tested basis. I think that any reasonable Australian would agree with the proposition that there should not be an open-ended cheque book, irrespective of your income for you to get taxpayer funded support to organise your child care arrangements for your kids.
QUESTION: Is there anything else in his response last night that troubled you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are the Government. We delivered the Budget on Tuesday. Our Budget is our plan to help get Australia out of this COVID recession and to maximise the strength of the economic and jobs recovery. It is a plan that seeks to leverage the opportunities for a private sector led recovery, because we understand that it is private sector businesses that will create the jobs that get Australia back to work. We are focused on implementing our plan. We are not going to get distracted. Last night there were a lot of spending promises. There was not a lot of explanation on how it would be paid for. But the truth is that it is not really what matters right now. What matters is the Government’s plan, which will continue to be implemented.
QUESTION: You have been Australia’s nomination for the OECD secretary-general position for just under twenty-four hours now, so I might be getting a head of myself, but have you had any feedback from other finance ministers or other countries saying that they are prepared to back you in that role?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is early days. Clearly this process has a way to go. The nominations do not close until the end of October. There is a selection process throughout November, December. I will do what I can to be successful through that process, but there is a whole series of high quality, outstanding individuals that are putting themselves forward from all around the world. It will be a good process. I am looking forward to it.
QUESTION: Your valedictory later on today. You have been Australia’s longest serving Finance Minister for seven years now. How would you want to be remembered in this place? Have you left things the way you would have liked to?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am totally at peace with my contribution over the last thirteen and a half years in the Senate. The way that I would like to be remembered, which sounds a bit, I am not leaving the planet, and I am not dead, but the way that I would like for people to reflect on my contribution is that what he has always tried to do his best and to do right thing for the right reasons. In the end it is up to others to make those judgements.
QUESTION: Your focus is on here. But WA handed down its budget yesterday. Have you had a chance to have a look at any of what was proposed there?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have seen that the WA Government has delivered a $1.2 billion surplus, but I also know that WA will get a $1.5 billion GST top up payment courtesy of our Government’s reforms to GST sharing arrangements. It is good to see that the surplus in Western Australia is entirely based on our GST top up payment. I would like to think that the West Australian Government can find some opportunities to join us in supporting business, supporting jobs, supporting growth and the recovery moving forward.
QUESTION: Ben Wyatt has said that likely borders there will remain closed until at least April. Although he says don’t count on it. What is your opinion on that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: In our Budget there is an assumption that the WA State borders will remain closed until 1 April 2021. That is just an assumption. It is not a target. From my point of view. I would like to see State borders in Western Australia open as soon as possible towards those jurisdictions that are COVID-safe. There are a number of jurisdictions that have consistently had zero locally acquired community transmission for months on end that are in a stronger and better position than Western Australia when it comes to COVID. I cannot see any rational reason to maintain strict State border closures towards those jurisdictions. That has been my consistent view. These things no doubt will work themselves out.
QUESTION: Is it economic protectionism as suggested by some?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I refer you to my previous comments in relation to these things. I think the Premier himself framed it that way.
Anyway, good to see you.