Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 16 October 2020
PETER STEFANOVIC: Let’s stay on that topic. Is that something that you would support? And when would you like to see that happen, for those returned travelers?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As it has always been, we would like to see restrictions eased as quickly as possible, as quickly as that can be done in a way that is COVID-safe. It is great to see the travel bubble come into force today between New Zealand and New South Wales and the Northern Territory. That frees up another 325 places a week in quarantine in New South Wales, which will help get more Australians back in from overseas that want to come back.
PETER STEFANOVIC: The Prime Minister pointed out yesterday you’ve got lot of hotels, empty hotels in Cairns. Do you believe that the cap should be lifted?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been working with State Governments, we have been pushing State Governments where that was necessary, to lift the cap. We certainly think that we should do as much as we can to get as many Australians back from overseas as we can do in a way that is COVID-safe. To the extent that there is capacity in places like Cairns, of course. While there might be limits in terms of commercial aviation, there is no limit to charter operations coming in to various points around Australia as has been done at various times in the past.
PETER STEFANOVIC: How much could they be lifted? Have you got an idea?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate. I am not going to volunteer numbers now when these are things that have to be practically worked out. But I think we should always approach this from the perspective of maximising that number. Any Australian that wants to come back, should be able to come back. As long as the arrangements that are put in place are practically feasible in a way that is COVID-safe.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Why do you think Michael Gunner would be dragging the chain on this one? Especially when it comes to Howard Springs.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have been working with the Northern Territory Government. We are confident we can get to a positive resolution. I think in recent weeks, across the board, the situation has improved, in terms of some of the easing of restrictions and also some of the increases that we have been able to secure when it comes to accommodating more Australians returning into quarantine arrangements in various capital cities.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. I want to get to Victoria. So the breaking news just in, you can see it there in the bottom of your screen. Two cases, no deaths. That is over the last twenty-four hour period. It is fantastic news.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Great.
PETER STEFANOVIC: That is less than New South Wales as you would know Minister, and has done now for a couple of days on and off. Is that evidence enough for the Premier to push for a full re-opening?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I would have thought so. I really hope on behalf of our Victorian friends that restrictions are now going to be eased to something that is more reasonable and more proportionate to the circumstances. I think Victorians have done it very tough. I think to keep restrictions in place at this level now would be entirely unreasonable.
PETER STEFANOVIC: What would be reasonable? What would be proportionate?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I’m not going to volunteer specific numbers in an interview, but I think there should be an effort now to ease restrictions into something that is proportionate to the level of threat. In regional Victoria, I believe on a rolling seven day basis we are down to 0.6 cases a day. Even in Melbourne on a seven day basis it is in single digits. I think that the opportunity is there now to have something much more sensible in place moving forward.
PETER STEFANOVIC: I know you are not in Melbourne at the moment, but from a national economic point of view, are you losing patience in that, in what is going on in Victoria?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not so much of losing patience from a national point of view. I am just very sympathetic. I feel for our fellow Australians in Victoria, who have had to live with these sort of severe restrictions for a very long time. That clearly has had devastating consequences on the Victorian economy. It has had very negative flow on consequences on the Australian economy. In the last month, our job numbers would have continued to grow but for Victoria. Victoria is clearly continuing to drag the national economy down. We would want to see steps taken to reopen and remove restrictions on the Victorian economy as soon as possible.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Would you concede that the measures that have been in place have successfully squashed the virus?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You will never know the counter factual. We will never know whether the full extent of what has been imposed was truly necessary. But we are where we are. As you say, the number is down to two new cases over the last 24 hours, which is fantastic. Great to see zero deaths in a 24 hour period. Let’s hope that continues. But let’s also ensure that whatever measures are put in place from here on in are proportionate to the level of threat.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Just onto Queensland, those jobless figures that came out yesterday, must have been a surprise for you that nationally it has gone the other way again when many people through it would rise. But onto Queensland, the jobless rate is at 7.7 per cent. That is actually worse than Victoria that has been in lockdown. Is that a marker that things need to change in Queensland as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Queensland has shut itself off for some time now from business out of in particular New South Wales and other jurisdictions. That is clearly a direct consequence of that. I would say that Queensland has imposed restrictions on its own economy that were way too severe and disproportionate. That is clearly the consequence of this. We are where we are. If you look nationally, the jobless numbers were not really that surprising. They went up slightly from 6.8 to 6.9 per cent. Our expectation in the Budget released last week was for a jobless rate of about 8 per cent by the end of the year. If it was not for our support measures, we would be sitting at about 12 per cent right now. Clearly our measures are working. If it was not for Victoria, our employment numbers would have continued to grow nationally, as they have in recent months. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been restored across Australia in recent months. In fact about 60 per cent of the jobs lost as a result of this crisis have already been restored. We would want to see that continue. A proportionate and appropriate easing of restrictions in Victoria and some better decisions in places like Queensland would clearly help boost economic growth and our jobs recovery.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. How much more time have you got left in the job?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am about to go into two weeks of Senate Estimates, making myself available for two weeks of intense scrutiny of the Budget that we delivered last week. At the end of that, on 30 October, that is when I will step down so that I can formally put my nomination in to contest the position of Secretary-General of the OECD.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Going out with a bang then. Well, I am off to the US to cover the election this weekend Mathias. I have quite enjoyed our chats on Friday mornings. Thanks for always being available.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It has been great.
PETER STEFANOVIC: We will talk to you again, someday sometime soon.
MATHIAS CORMANN: All good, thank you.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Mathias Cormann there live from Perth.