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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Page: 6801

Turnbull Government


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:10): My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann. I refer to the Prime Minister, who says the government's economic team has:

… not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs.

As the finance minister in this economic team—the minister who has overseen increased net debt, the doubling of the deficit and slowing economic growth—will the finance minister now do the honourable thing and resign? Or is he waiting to be sacked?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On both sides!



Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:11): What a juvenile question from the worst finance minister in the history of the Commonwealth! When we came into government in September 2013, the legacy that we inherited was a weakening economy, rising unemployment and a budget position that was deteriorating rapidly and, of course, in the 11 or 12 short weeks between Labor's last budget and their last pre-election budget update the budget position deteriorated by more than $30 billion—more than $30 billion! That is $3 billion a week!

We came into government with a plan to repair the budget, with a plan for stronger growth and more jobs. Of course since we came into government, in Australia we have faced a series of additional challenges—given global economic conditions. We have confronted the worst fall in our terms of trade in about 50 years. And if you consider the challenges that we have been facing as a trading nation, then the Australian economy continues to perform quite well and we are in a better position now to take advantage of future opportunities. We are in a better position now to be as resilient as possible in the face of future challenges as a result of the work that we have done over the last few years.

The senator asked me about the comments made by the Prime Minister. Let me just say that I am looking forward to working with the Prime Minister in putting Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future—on making sure that we put Australia in the strongest possible position to deal with the challenges that inevitably come our way from time to time, even if you are an open, trading economy—and to make sure that we are in the best possible position to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way in the Asia-Pacific.

Of course, a central part of that is the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement that we have concluded with China and that Labor is too weak to support, even though they know it is in the national interest. (Time expired)


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:13): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister agree with the Prime Minister's statement that the government's economic team has, again:

… not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs.

Or does he think that the Prime Minister was only talking about the Treasurer?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:13): What another juvenile question from the worst finance minister in the history of the Commonwealth! This is the finance minister who left Australia with spiralling debt and spiralling deficits, and no amount of Labor spin is going to whitewash the disastrous record that she left behind.

This government will continue to work every day to put Australia on a stronger economic and fiscal foundation for the future. This government will continue to work every day to ensure that the budget is in the strongest position possible. As I have indicated in response to the senator's primary question, I look forward to working with the Prime Minister in putting Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. I am looking forward to working with the new Prime Minister in implementing our economic plan to ensure that everyone across Australia has the best possible opportunity to get ahead. Labor can continue to play politics; we will continue to focus on the national interest. (Time expired)


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:14): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Did Mr Turnbull ever raise concerns with the finance minister that the current economic team was not capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs? Or was yesterday's press conference the first time the Prime Minister had heard this criticism?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:15): This is coming from a former failed finance minister who was there at the scene of the crime, stabbing a Labor Prime Minister twice. On this side of the parliament it is a matter of public record that we as a party made a decision yesterday—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Moore: Mr President, a point of order on direct relevance: the question was about whether Mr Turnbull ever raised the concerns with the minister and also whether yesterday was the first time he had heard these concerns. The minister has gone nowhere near that question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Moore. The minister has 37 seconds in which to answer the question.

Senator CORMANN: The senator would not be surprised to hear me say that conversations between me and the Prime Minister that are of a private nature will remain private. But what I can say is that I look forward to working with the Prime Minister and indeed with all of my colleagues in the cabinet and in the coalition party room to do everything we can every day to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future to make sure we are in the best possible position to be as resilient as possible to face the challenges and in the best possible position to take advantage of opportunities, in particular in the Asia-Pacific. (Time expired)