20 March 2014
Transcript - #2014001, 2014

Interview with Chris Uhlmann, ABC Radio AM

SUBJECTS: Senator Sinodinos, FOFA

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Senator Mathias Cormann is the Finance Minister and he will pick up the Assistant Treasurer’s duties, good morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Good morning.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Can I just establish which I don’t think are in dispute at the outset. Arthur Sinodinos was Treasurer and then President of the New South Wales Liberal Party, at the same time as he was Chair of Australian Water Holdings. That company made donations to the Liberal Party which Senator Sinodinos says he was unaware of. Those payments had been repaid by the Party. Senator Sinodinos was negotiating a million dollar success fee with a lobbyist, another prominent Liberal, to swing a deal with Sydney Water and if that deal was successful, Senator Sinodinos stood to make up to $20 million. How do you think a person on the street would judge that?

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Firstly, Arthur Sinodinos was an office bearer of the Liberal Party and he was the Chair of Australian Water Holdings. Beyond that, these are all matters that are currently being canvassed in front of an inquiry in New South Wales. An inquiry with which Arthur Sinodinos is fully co-operating and I might just add here that Arthur Sinodinos is not being accused of any wrongdoing. He is cooperating and participating in that inquiry as a witness.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

You’re right, he’s not being accused of any wrongdoing, but we do know how the Coalition has responded in the past of anyone who appears before this particular inquiry. For example, Tony Burke was attacked because he spent one night at a ski lodge owned by Eddie Obeid, and Senator Doug Cameron was attacked because he was loyal to Ian Macdonald.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Well that’s not quite right. Greg Combet, a very senior Minister in the Gillard Government appeared as a witness at the ICAC Inquiry and we treated that matter very, very differently. Again, Arthur Sinodinos is a fine man. He is a man of the highest integrity. He has provided distinguished service to Australia over many decades. He has done an outstanding job as Assistant Treasurer. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing and he is fully co-operating with the inquiry. Now Labor clearly for obvious political reasons are pursuing a particular strategy, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Arthur Sinodinos is a very decent man and we are confident that he will be vindicated and that he will return to his position in the Ministry.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Isn’t it a problem though that the Coalition made a meal of every appearance before this Commission, every mention of every name was paraded as a scandal. You’ve created the weather, now you have to weather the storm.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Well let’s be very clear. The Labor Party in New South Wales clearly has got a serious series of issues to deal with, so...  interrupted

CHRIS UHLMANN:

And so, now do you.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Well that is not right. Arthur Sinodinos is appearing as a witness and he is fully co-operating with this inquiry. This is unlike a whole series of Labor figures in New South Wales who are standing accused and who have been found to have acted corruptly.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

How could you be President and Treasurer, first Treasurer and then President of the New South Wales Liberal Party and be Chair of company and not knowing that money was going from one to the other?

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Well the thing to understand about the Liberal Party positions is that these are honourary, voluntary positions. There is a Liberal Party Administration which handles the day to day affairs of the Party. I am not sure of all of the ins and outs of how things were managed at the time. Obviously, these are the sorts of things that will be assessed during a proper process. The point here is that it is not unusual for senior office bearers not to be aware of every single transaction that happens at an administration level...interrupted

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Well the position on Australian Water Holdings was neither honourary nor, well it certainly not an honourary position, he got $200,000 a year for that. There is a duty of care involved in being Chairman of a company.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

And these are the sorts of issues that I am sure will be canvassed during the inquiry.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

It’s being said by the Labor Party this morning that you are pre-judging the outcome of this inquiry by saying that you believe that Arthur Sinodinos will return.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

That’s just a bit of hyperbole by Chris Bowen who is keen to sling as much mud as he can. We are not pre-judging anything. What I would point out again is that Arthur Sinodinos has not been accused of anything. He is appearing as a witness and unlike various Labor figures in New South Wales, he doesn’t stand accused of anything in front of that inquiry. 

CHRIS UHLMANN:

This damages the Government though, doesn’t it?

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Yesterday was a more challenging day for us, but we are just completely focused on doing the job that we were elected to do, which includes repairing the Budget mess that we’ve inherited from our predecessors.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

And some of the mess that we saw in the last government was the mess that the Labor Party had to put up with, with its own internals, with its party structure and with this Independent Commission Against Corruption, now that’s partly your problem and you’ve helped to create that, the impression of that.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

I don’t think that is right. Over the last six months, we have been a very strong and united team. We’ve been very purposeful in implementing our election commitments, in following up on the things we said we would before the election. If you look at the way Arthur Sinodinos, very honourably, dealt with this situation over the last few days, compared to the way people like Craig Thomson and others hang on to their positions, not allowing any investigations to occur independent from Parliament, while it was very obvious that they, unlike Arthur, had actually done something wrong.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Alright, on another matter. You’ve proposed scrapping some financial planning rules, one of which demands that financial planners act in the best interests of their clients, why would you do that?

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Well, that’s wrong. We are not proposing to scrap any best interest rules. We are committed to ensure that financial planners have to act in the best interest of their clients. What we said we would do before the election and what we are now implementing, is that we think that the operation of the best interest duty can be improved by providing better certainty on how it operates. And might I just say, the discussion that we are having is in relation to the statutory best interest duty. Any changes to that don’t have any implications for the ongoing operation of best interest duties and relevant duties under common law.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Briefly, but financial planners are against this?

MATHIAS CORMANN:

That’s not right. I was actually the Shadow Minister for this area in Opposition. We consulted widely.  This was subject to many inquiries in the Parliament and all three financial planning associations signed up to the policy that we took to the last election.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Mathias Cormann we’ll have to leave it there, thank you.

MATHIAS CORMANN:

Always good to be here.