Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Friday, 30 October 2020
LAURA JAYES: Australia’s longest serving Finance Minister retires from Parliament today. He joined the Senate in 2007 after landing in Western Australia a decade before that. A European migrant with English his fourth language. Since then he’s had a hand in seven Budgets, negotiated with some pretty interesting characters in the Senate, shown some Prime Ministers the door and had some very morning interviews here on Sky News. Mathias Cormann joins me for one last official interview as Minister. Thanks so much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good Morning.
LAURA JAYES: Why did you enter Australian politics and have you done what you came to do Mathias Cormann?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I always from a young age have been fascinated by the opportunity to make a difference through the political process. I have had a very strong view from an early age about what is required to help make communities strong and resilient and make sure that people have the best possible opportunity to get ahead. I never planned as a young person that one day I would be in Australia and end up getting into politics in Australia. When life did take me to Australia, it turned out that the most immediately transferrable skill and passion that I had in life was my involvement in politics. So I started my professional career in earnest in Australia as a staffer to a Senator back in 1996, the then Senator Chris Ellison. I guess the rest as they say is history. I got more and more involved and more and more connected with what could be done to help make our great country and even better country.
LAURA JAYES: Turns out gardening wasn’t your calling after all. As you leave politics, how do you see the state of it, is it becoming more partisan?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The state of politics is a reflection of the state of where the community is at, at any one point in time. Our democracy is appropriately, necessarily and inevitably robust. If there are issues that are being fought out peacefully through our Parliamentary processes, it is a reflection of a level of unresolved issues and tensions and polarisations on issues across the community. Our political process, our democratic process, our Parliamentary processes offer an opportunity to resolve those issues and reach consensus on the way forward in a peaceful manner. I think it is very important. We should never wish for a Parliament that is at all times entirely peaceful, quiet and non-robust. The partisan nature of politics from time to time and there is a lot of bipartisan work incidentally, but the partisan nature of politics emerges in relation to issues on which there is a strong diversity of opinions across the community and helps to facilitate the best way forward in a way that has got democratic support. I think it is a very important feature of our system, it has served Australia very well and may it serve us very, very well for many, many years and decades to come.
LAURA JAYES: It hasn’t always been peaceful within your party either Mathias Cormann. Your power is subtle, but very powerful. Your support has meant the survival or otherwise of at least two Prime Ministers. Have you felt the weight of that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have always taken the view that if you put your hand up for this sort of job, your job fundamentally is to make decisions based on what you think is right in the circumstances. To make judgments. At times that is awfully difficult. But this job does involve a lot of sacrifice in terms of time away from home, from your family, from your loved ones. Why do all of that if when you are here and decisions need to be made about the best way forward, your shirk it. I have never shirked making a decision that I felt was necessary. Of course you do it with your eyes wide open. My very simple view is at all times try to do the right thing for the right reasons in the right way and everything else will take care of itself. In politics there are always a lot of commentators, there are always a lot of people who have a view, who might throw rocks at your from time to time, but in the end you have to be able to live with your own judgements. I certainly leave at peace in the knowledge that I have always sought to do the right things for the right reasons in the right way.
LAURA JAYES: Well it’s about this time we ask you do you have any regrets?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. I can honestly say that from the moment that I walked into the Senate Chamber for the first time back in 2007 all the way up until today, including going through two more weeks of estimates at the end, I have given it my everything. I have not left anything on the field. I have loved this job. But I am looking forward now. It has been a great opportunity to serve. It is has been a real privilege to make this sort of contribution to our country. I leave absolutely at peace with the knowledge that I have given it everything I have and that I have always tried to do the best I can.
LAURA JAYES: I did ask some of your former colleagues what I should ask you today and Joe Hockey suggested that I ask you do you regret smoking cigars with him?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I don’t. I know that it became a big thing, but I have a lot of friends in the Labor party, including a very popular former Prime Minister who is sadly no longer with us, who I know very much enjoyed their cigars. In fact, believe it or not, I was with our then Governor General Sir Peter and our former Prime Minister Bob Hawke at the Boao Forum in 2015, which was not that long after, when a few cigars might have come out of Sir Peter’s top pocket. Let me tell you, Bob Hawke as a great Labor man enjoyed his cigars, Kim Beazley as a great Labor man enjoys his cigars. There are many. I thought there was a lot of politically charged hypocrisy in the sort of characterisation of what it meant. Joe Hockey is a great friend. We have done great work together. It was unfortunate that we ultimately gave the opportunity for the 2014-15 Budget to be branded that way because of that. But in substance, there is surely nothing wrong after a hard day’s work to catch up with a mate and have a cigar.
LAURA JAYES: Well Christopher Pyne also suggested I should ask who you will miss. And I think he was angling probably wanted you to say that you miss him. But I will leave it there. Behind every man is a great women. And you have three of them in fact. Hayley your wife, and your daughters Isabelle and Charlotte. Has your commitment meant their sacrifice at times?
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is no question. Hayley has carried the burden at home for me to be able to do this job. Hayley is an accomplished professional woman in her own right. She is pursuing an outstanding career in the legal profession. She was the president of the law society in WA during my time in this job. All the while, taking lead responsibility for looking after our two beautiful children, while I am away. In this job, other than this year during the coronavirus pandemic which has sort of changed the routine somewhat, but in an ordinary year as the Finance Minister over the first six years from middle of January to the middle of December I would be interstate, over East, every week. There would not be a week that I would be spending entirely in Perth. That has meant a lot of pressure. I could not have done this job without Hayley putting in all of that support behind me in relation to all of these things.
LAURA JAYES: I am sure you will have plenty more time on your hands now. Mathias Cormann appreciate your time. It is your last interview with us as Minister. But as you look towards the OECD, I reckon Sky News back in the day taught you how to set up yourself in a studio, so perhaps not the last interview full stop.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am looking forward to what lies ahead. I am certainly going to give it my best on behalf of Australia to secure this position. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for having put their faith in me. I will certainly do everything I can to repay that faith.
LAURA JAYES: Mathias Cormann thank you.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.