Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. This situation continues. Does it reinforce the argument for an audit when you have got one of your colleagues Josh Frydenberg having to deal with this even though his mother was stateless on arrival.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It actually demonstrates the precise opposite. The story that was published in The Australian in relation to Josh Frydenberg is quite outrageous. It is wrong. He does not have dual citizenship. He satisfied himself of that some months ago. Yet there seems to be now this presumption of guilt unless you can prove your innocence. It is very important in a civilised society and in a democracy like Australia, that we follow the rules and procedures set out under our Constitution. The only authority in Australia that has the power to adjudicate over the eligiblity or otherwise, over compliance questions with the Constitution or otherwise in relation to Members of Parliament is the High Court. No ad hoc audit would be able to lead to a settlement of these sorts of questions. We cannot allow ourselves to get into a situation where everybody is assumed to be in breach unless they can prove that they are not. We have a whole series of very important principles underpinning our Parliamentary democracy. Constitutional principles like the separation of powers between the Executive, the Parliament and the Judiciary. We also have a whole series of other very important principles that we must preserve. Not just for us, for everyone. Procuedral fairness, natural justice, the presumption of innocence. To put ourselves into a situation here where there is this clammering for anyone to prove their innocence without any evidence whatsoever of any breach that is not the sort of society that we want.
KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to Mister Frydenberg obviously it does seem absurd I agree with him and you that he could voluntarily acquire citizenship from a mother that was stateless.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is absurd. It is absolutely absurd.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now that does seem absurd. I say that because the Hungarian law as reported by The Australian changed subsequently to give citizenship to those individuals who had fled the country between 1941 and 1945. Does that not complicate the matters at all.
MATHIAS CORMANN: No it does not. Firstly, Josh’s mum was born in the Budapest ghetto at a time when the Hungarian state explicitly deprived Jews of citizenship rights. She was stateless. She came to Australia stateless. But even if that was not the case for Josh to have become a Hungarian citizen he would have had to go through a formal process of application, interview and so on. He would not just have been conferred citizenship automatically. There is no basis to this story whatsoever. Yet the impression is created as if there is some sort of urgent need to clarify things. Josh Frydenberg satisfied himself of his status months ago when this issue first arose. There is no basis to it. We cannot allow ourselves to get into a circumstance where every Member of Parliament has got to start from a presumption of being in breach unless they can prove their innocence. That is just not the way in any part of our society we want to manage our affairs.
KIERAN GILBERT: They are valid points that you make Minister. But the problem is, the sense of uncertainty hasn’t been created by journalists going in the wrong angle or other people outside the Parliament creating this. It has been your own colleagues including the Senate President who knew he had questions to answer, told one of your Cabinet colleauges and it was kept from the Prime Minister even up until recently. It is a joke.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The former Senate President certainly should have take action sooner if he was aware that he was not in compliance or may not be in compliance with Section 44 of the Constitution. There is no doubt in my mind, he should have taken steps sooner. Nevetheless, unless you are in a situation of a confession, at whatever level of legal process, the presumption of innocence means that those who allege breach have the burden of proof. If there is proof, then there are processes available to challenge a Member of Parliament’s eligibility before the High Court. These processes have played out since Federation, where people have had their eligibility challenge through the High Court at various times, under various scenarios, certainly over decades now, we are aware of examples where that has happened. That is the process that should be followed. Only the High Court has got the power and the authority to adjudicate over the eligibility or otherwise of Members of Parliament. That is a very important feature of our separation of powers.
KIERAN GILBERT: Sure, is there an argument as Phillip Coorey reports today in the Financial Review that you put pressure on others to be upfront as a number of MPs have been. Not so much in the case of Stephen Parry, that happened after the High Court. But to ensure that people are upfront about that status, that debts might not be waived for those who are subsequently found to be dual citizens of other countries.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is no automaticity in relation to that now. These are judgements that ultimately are made by the Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan. There is a whole lengthy process before you get to that point. The High Court has got to make relevant decisions. There has got to be an assessment by the relevant officials in the Parliament in relation to the level of debt, if there is a debt. Right at the end if there is an application for any debt to be waived, a judgment is made by the Special Minister of State. There is no basis to make decisions other than on a case by case basis as I understand it.
KIERAN GILBERT: To the broader implications of the uncertainty of this matter. Kevin Andrews this morning said that, he was asked about Malcolm Turnbull and he said he is the leader at the moment, was the quote. He is brazen in his undermining of the Prime Minister isn’t he?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is providing strong leadership. He has the overwhelming support of our party room. Let me say, all of the difficult policy issues that have been intractable for a long time that we have navigated as a Coalition party room in recent months, whether that is the question of the definition of marriage, whether that is the question of reform in the energy space, they have all been pursued with great skill by the Prime Minister. We have reached very united positions in our Coalition Party room in relation to a whole range of difficult public policy issues that had been unresolved for a long time. If you look at the record of achievement, in particular since the last election in terms of the economic reform agenda that we have been able to implement through the Parliament, I think once we get to the next election and are able to present our record of achievement as well as our plan for the future and contrast it with the disastrous consequences that a Bill Shorten led Government would impose on the economy, on jobs and on wages, I believe that we will be competitive at the next election and we will be able to win.
KIERAN GILBERT: And the murmuring about leadership that has ended up on the front of The Oz today, do you find it interesting that it has ended in the front page of the national broadsheet when there is no alternative, there is no clear alternative to Mr Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is our Prime Minister. He will be the Prime Minister leading us into the next election. Some of the names that are mentioned in that story, I know for a fact, are falsely referenced in the way they are presented. I am not taking much credence to what is being pitched in there.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay and finally the Treasury report which suggest that uncertainty is leading to the investment drought from the corporate sector. How do you turn that around given what has been a fairly uncertain period in the last couple of months as well?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly the global economic growth outlook is improving, so that will present better opportunities for Australian businesses than we have seen in recent years on the back of global economic conditions. The Government is also pursuing an ambitious pro-growth agenda. We are pursuing reforms to our tax system to make it more growth friendly, an ambitious free trade agenda and infrastructure investment agenda and indeed reform to our energy policy framework. All of that is designed to help business be more successful and more profitable because more successful, more profitable businesses will invest more, hire more Australians and pay them better wages. Contrast that with what Bill Shorten is promoting, higher taxes, higher energy costs, less trade, that would of course lead to less investment, lower growth, fewer jobs and lower wages. That is the contrast as we go into the next election between the Coalition and the Labor party.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finance Minister as always I appreciate your time. We will talk to you next week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Will do.