Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann

Minister for Finance

18 September 2013 to 30 October 2020

Joint Press Conference - OECD


The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister
Federal Member for Cook

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia

OECD nomination

PRIME MINISTER: Well good morning everyone. As you have heard me say on many occasions now and the Treasurer and the Finance Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister - this is the most significant global recession the world has seen since the Great Depression. This year we will see, we expect, the world economy to shrink, to contract, by 4.5 per cent. By comparison, during the global financial crisis, it shrunk by 0.1%. So this is a global economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that really is on a scale that the vast majority of us have never seen in our living memory. But what makes it different, I think, from the Great Depression is that this global economic crisis is happening in a truly globally, interconnected, real-time economy. We have not seen this scale of disruption occur in our global economy in a way that the effects can be so quickly transmitted. There is not a corner of the world today that has not been touched by this COVID-19 pandemic or the economic tragedies that have followed it. 

Australia has always been a country that has looked not just amongst its own, but beyond, for our economic opportunities. We have always been an outward-looking country, a nation that has backed itself to make its way in the world, to lead, to set example, to get ahead, to trade, to welcome people from all around the world - we are the most successful multicultural immigrant nation in the world and I wouldn't say arguably, I would say definitively. That's who we are. We know we don't get rich selling stuff to ourselves. We know that the opportunities and the growth, the jobs that are necessary, not just today, but into the future, depend on a resurgent global economy. There are many things we can do here as we did on Tuesday night as part of our Budget for the recovery from the COVID-19 recession. And to build our economy for the future. Things that address matters here in our domestic economy and to get that firing up again. 

But Australia will always be limited by the growth and the performance of the global economy. And that's why we're interested in those issues, that's why we're engaged in those issues. And the OECD is the gathering and a gathering, I would say, that is more important than I think it's ever been during its time, because it brings together the liberal democracies and market-based economies of advanced countries all around the world and our view is - and I know in my many, many discussions with the leaders of those countries that form the OECD - that we want a global economy in the future that will grow on the basis of those market-based principles. That will see the incentivisation of investment, that will see market-based economies and the trade that follows from that and the economic advancement that follows from that and the jobs and the betterment of peoples all around the world will depend, we believe, on the success of those market-based principles once again just as that has delivered since the Second World War, the most prosperous age in world history. But that is now under threat and those same market-based principles are the same ones that will again recover the global economy. 

It is the pandemic that has caused this recession. It's not some global failure of capitalism or market-based principles. Quite the contrary. The world economy got shut down because of a health pandemic and we're going to grow our way back out of it and the way that is going to happen globally is through the return and the nourishment of those market-based principles that are so evident in the liberal democracies of the world today. The OECD has played an incredibly important role on so many issues in which Australia has been a key participant. The base erosion in profit-shifting, the taxation of multinationals, all of these important international principles that govern and help drive our global economy. The OECD plays a specially important role in supporting the work of the G20 of which Australia has been a very active member. And so we believe that as the Secretary-Generalship of the OECD is coming up after many, many years, and I pay tribute to work of Angel Gurria who has led that organisation for many years, I’ve met him on numerous occasions and he's done a fantastic job and we have worked well with him and I thanked him personally for the great job that he has done. 

We believe the OECD needs the sort of leadership that we think Australia and an Australian can provide. And so I am announcing our intention to nominate Minister Cormann, Mathias Cormann, for the position of Secretary-General of the OECD. Mathias's 7-year experience as our longest-serving Finance Minister, Belgian-born, French-German and Flemish to boot, I think ideally equips him for the challenging role of the Secretary-General of the OECD. His belief fundamentally in these market principles and the way they can drive a global recovery I think are essential for the job. But beyond that, I'd make this point: The OECD brings together most of the European economies, but it also brings together the economies of North America and the Asia-Pacific as a truly global organisation and a voice from the Asia-Pacific which will increasingly be the centre of the global economy, a voice that understands this region as well through our traditional relationships with both Europe and North America, we think, is just what the OECD needs. 

Australians have an ability to work with everyone, to get on with everyone, to find the way through, to be practical, to bring people together and to support the many global organisations with which the OECD would work, particularly the G20. And so that's why I'm very proud, after Mathias had indicated he was intending to retire at the end of this year, I approached him about whether he'd be interested in us putting him forward as our nominee for the OECD Secretary-Generalship. And I was very pleased that he agreed because I can think of no finer candidate that Australia can put forward - with his experience, with his skills, he has accompanied me and former Prime Ministers as we have attended the G20 meetings, he has participated in all these high-level meetings in the past and is well-known, not only in North America in the Asia-Pacific, but particularly well-known in the big economies, in Germany and France and the United Kingdom, but also in the economies of Netherlands and, of course, his home of his birth. And he is well respected and he is well-known. I have had numerous conversations over these past many months discussing Mathias's candidacy and it has been well received, but, of course, it will be the usual process. We will do our very best and it's important that Mathias is in a position to be able to be there for that process in November and so at the end of this month, on 30 October, Mathias will formally retire from the Senate and from his position as Minister for Finance and then we will move immediately to formally nominate him for that role. I have already advised the leaders of the OECD nations of our intention to make that nomination and, as I said, it's been well received. 

Of course, Mathias's departure at that time necessitates us making a number of other important decisions and Senator Simon Birmingham will become the Leader of the Government in the Senate after Mathias retires at the end of this month and I congratulate Simon, on that appointment. He will also be sworn in as Minister for Finance from the time of Minister Cormann's retirement. He will continue in that role as well as his current role as there are many issues that continue in the trade agenda, not the least being the EU and the UK Free Trade Agreement which he will continue to lead, and as I have already flagged, at the end of this year, I'll be making further announcements about any further changes to the ministry line-up at that time after Parliament has risen at the end of this year. Simon's promotion also necessitates the appointment of a new Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and that will be Senator Michaelia Cash and I congratulate Senator Cash on that appointment. I have worked with both Simon and Mikaela over many years and I'm pleased to be able to appoint them to these very important roles within the Government. That will ensure the strong continuity of what the Government is doing, the implementation of our Budget, of course, Minister Cormann will continue on in that role as you couldn't drag him away from it to appear in those final two weeks of Senate estimates which may be even more closely watched than usual and perhaps even more than his appearance on Mad As Hell last night on the ABC which I'm sure some of us saw. 

So, look, congratulations to you, Michaelia and to you Simon, but particularly Mathias. Today is not so much about those appointments as I know my colleagues know. It is about Australia, as I flagged last year, last October, when I spoke to the Lowy Institute, that we would take a position, we would take an interest in the areas where we thought we could add the most value and we believe this is an area where we can add that value and I know Mathias Cormann is just the person to ensure that we will add that value should we be able to get the support of the requisite members of the OECD to do that job. 


MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you very much Prime Minister.

It is a great honour to be nominated as Australia’s candidate for the position of Secretary-General of the OECD.

I thank the Prime Minister for showing such faith in me.

The OECD is without any doubt one of the most consequential international economic policy and governance bodies in the world today.

Through its work over the past six decades it makes a difference to the daily lives of billions of people all around the world.

The OECD helps to improve living standards, build social cohesion, strengthen environmental performance, not just in its own member economies, but through its work in countries all around the world more broadly.

It does so by sharing information, developing policy best practice and agreeing standards and norms to help facilitate the operation of a free market and by sharing norms and standards which help to promote growth and productivity.

As we confront the economic impact of the global COVID recession, this is going to be a particularly important time in the history of the OECD.

The importance of practical co-operation has never been greater, whether when dealing with the pandemic, the challenge of climate change, education and skills needs, the promise and challenges of the digital economy and narrowing differences on taxation policy.

These are big challenges.

I have accepted this nomination because I believe I can make a real difference.

I believe I bring a combination of the right skills and experience and, perhaps a rare perspective to an organisation made up of 38 nations from Europe, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

I have shared my life in equal measure between Europe and the Asia Pacific.

The first half in Europe, growing up in the German-speaking part of Belgium and graduating with a law degree after studies in French, Flemish and English.

So I hope you will indulge me if I make some other remarks.

Pour nos amis francophones à travers l’OCDE.

En ces temps difficiles, l’OCDE est plus importante que jamais.

Pour maximiser la force de la récupération économique et des emplois;

Pour renforcer la résilience économique et pour reparvenir à une croissance durable du niveau de vie.

Ce serait un grand honneur de diriger l’OCDE au nom de ces members et de soutenir ces efforts visant à générer une croissance durable du niveau de vie.

Für unsere deutschsprachigen Freunde.

Die Arbeit der OECD ist in diesen Zeiten wichtiger denn je.

Um unsere gemeinsame wirtschaftliche Widerstandsfähigkeit zu stärken und um Wachstum für uns alle wieder zu erreichen.

Es wäre mir eine große Ehre, die OECD im Namen ihrer Mitglieder zu leiten und ihre Bemühungen zu unterstützen ein nachhaltiges Wachstums des Lebensstandards zu erreichen.

Prime Minister, may I again thank you for the faith that you have shown in me by nominating me on behalf of Australia for this position.

May I also close in congratulating my friends and colleagues, Senator Birmingham and Senator Cash on their nominations to become the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my job as Leader of the Government in the Senate. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Prime Minister to help put Australia on the strongest possible foundation and trajectory for the future.

I can honestly say that I have given this my everything. I have put my heart and soul into this job, I will continue to put my heart and soul into this job until the end of October.

I look forward to participating in that great democratic exercise, which is Senate Estimates, for the final two weeks of October and after that I will give you this commitment, I will do everything I can do to help successfully secure the position for which Australia has been kind enough to nominate me here today.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Mathias. Now, we won't go to further comments today. We are pressed for time with Parliament sitting. We can take a few questions. You can ask them in English, French or German. I will let Mathias take the French or German ones. 


JOURNALIST: There's a growing field of candidates for this job. The Estonians, the Canadians, I think Americans and Swedes. You've asked Anthony Albanese, as I understand it, for bipartisan support to give Senator Cormann maximum chance. There are some people in Labor who are still bitter about Kevin Rudd not being approved by the Coalition Government for the United Nations job in 2016. What is your message to those people in Labor? Why is this different?

PRIME MINISTER: We consider every candidate on their merits. And I know Mathias has gained the respect of members all around this place. I think that will be demonstrated today as, whether it's today or at a later time, Mathias will make a final statement in the Senate Chamber. And I think what we'll hear today are earned tributes to Mathias' role and the way that he's conducted himself, not just as a fine Minister, our longest-serving Finance Minister, but also the way he's conducted himself as a member of this Parliament, and in particular the Senate, which he's led on behalf of the Government, and he's earned the respect of his colleagues. So, it really is a matter for the Labor Party to - I'm not going to make any statements on their behalf. I had a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition earlier today, and I know that Mathias has also had a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. So, I will leave their response to them.

JOURNALIST: Senator Cormann, can I just ask you a quick Budget question…

PRIME MINISTER: Why don't we just stay with the OECD? Yep, Chris?

JOURNALIST: Is it your view that leadership of these international organisations, not just the OECD, but the UN, is more important now because there is a real contest of ideas between liberal democracy and market-based economy, and a more authoritarian view of the world?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I set this out in my speech to Lowy a year ago. And my argument there is that, yes, there are a lot of contestable views. And in our global economy today, things are far more interconnected than they used to be. And I think these issues have profound importance for the wellbeing of people all around the world. And so these are important organisations through which we will have our participation. What I said a year ago is that we had to focus that effort. And liberal market-based democracies had to focus their efforts too in that process. And through the course of this pandemic, that has been a keen topic of conversation. Whether it's with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom or the chancellor of Germany, the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of Korea, all nations I've had extensive discussions about these issues, and, of course, the President of France. The way we do things, as liberal market-based democracies and economies, I think holds the answer to the problems the world faces today. And I have great confidence about that, because I know the generational prosperity that has been delivered by that process over a very long time. So, it is time to turn up and to make those cases respectfully as part of global organisations. 

Yes, I might go to Lanai because he’s also the Senator for Western Australia, and I think that gives some priority to the West Australian.

JOURNALIST: Senator Cormann, how confident are you that you will be able to convince the other countries that Australia is the best country to lead the OECD? And how will you transition from moving from Perth to Paris?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am a veteran of selection contests. Rule number one is to never take anything for granted. I look forward to working as part of a strong team, Team Australia, to put our best foot forward, to put our case, both in terms of our proposed agenda as well as in terms of my own personal credentials. Then it will be a matter for the decision-makers to make a judgement on who they think is best equipped to lead the OECD moving forward. In terms of the latter part of the question, the other thing I have learned as a veteran of selection contests is never to get ahead of myself. So, I am not going to think about these sorts of things. If we are successful in securing a consensus across the OECD membership, I am sure that there will be enough time to consider these matters. 

JOURNALIST: Congratulations on your nomination. A hearty congratulations, making Mad as Hell last night, you must have really made it. When it comes-

MATHIAS CORMANN: There might be another job now for Darius. He will be relieved.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps. When it comes to the candidacy, though, how do you lobby for yourself? Will you have to travel to Europe? I mean, because it's a very Euro-heavy organisation, the OECD. And, secondly, on the subject of climate change, you have had a - it has been a prickly subject for you over the years - carbon pricing and the like. Where will you stand on that when it comes to talking about climate change to some of those European nations?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you very much for those questions, Andrew. Firstly, clearly in this coronavirus-impacted times, it is going to be logistically somewhat more difficult to get around all of the 38 members of the OECD, including Costa Rica, which has recently started the process of joining. I will make my way to Europe in November. That is the intention, which is why the Prime Minister has indicated the transitional arrangements he has, to free me up to give that my everything. I am going to try and engage, and our colleagues across the Australian Government will try and engage, with as many of our friends across the OECD as possible, to make our argument and to put our case. In the end, it will be up to them to make a decision. In relation to climate change, the discussion in Australia has not been, as far as we are concerned, about whether or not we are committed to effective action on climate change - we are. The debate in Australia has always been about what the best method was to most effectively and most appropriately, from an economic point of view, achieve the best possible emissions reductions in an economically sensible fashion. If you look at our track record in Australia, we have not just met, but exceeded, our emissions reductions targets agreed to in Kyoto. We are on track to meet and exceed our emissions reduction targets agreed to in Paris. We are committed to the Paris Agreement. Nous sommes attachés à l’accord de Paris. We are committed to the Paris Agreement and we are committed to meeting our emissions reduction targets. I know there is always a lot of commentary, which with great respect, is not always as well informed as it should be. Australia's performance when it comes to investment in renewable energy, for example, is outstanding. It is better than that of many of the European countries who are perceived to be the leaders in this field. Just to give you one example, the investment in Australian renewable energy on a per capita basis is three times as high as the investment in renewable energy in Germany. Even in aggregate terms, our investment in renewable energy in Australia is higher than that in Germany, for example. So, the way I am going to approach this is in a typical Australian way, and that is to explain, on a factual basis, what we are committed to do, and what we are doing to meet those commitments. I think you will find that both our track record and our commitments about what we are committed to do into the future compare very favourably with the performance of other nations around the world.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m looking forward to the candidacy as a way, as Mathias has just said, to actually take that process forward, to be actually able to put the case as to what Australia has been doing. 'Cause there has been a lot of misinformation about Australia's record here. And this is a wonderful opportunity that I've already taken the opportunity of in the discussions that I've had with leaders already.

JOURNALIST: Senator Cormann, you've been a key figure in every iteration of this Government. And a key contributor to the economic strategy of the Government through the Abbott-Turnbull and now Morrison period. Is this the Budget you would have liked to have gone out on?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well, it is the Budget that Australia needs right now, given that we have been hit by the COVID recession. I take a great amount of personal pride and I know that all of my colleagues, rightly, take a great amount of personal pride, that the work that we have done during our first six years in Government, to strengthen our economy, to create more jobs, to repair the Budget, has put Australia in one of the strongest positions of any country around the world, as we entered into this crisis. Australia was in a position to put all of the necessary resources in place, supporting our health system, supporting the economy, supporting business, supporting jobs, supporting Australians who lost their job through no fault of their own. As a result of the work that we did over our first six years. Of course, in the context of the sort of global recession, a 4.5 per cent contraction in the size of the global economy, and the implications that had for individual Australians, of course the Government had to step up and do what we did. It is important now that we invest in securing the strongest possible economic and jobs recovery moving forward. It was very important to me, after I first spoke to the Prime Minister about my intention to retire later this year, it was very, very important to me to ensure that, before I left, I would contribute to the best of my ability to help shape the plan designed to help maximise the strength of the economic and jobs recovery for Australia moving forward. It was important to me, as part of an orderly transition, and I feel satisfied that the Budget that we delivered on Tuesday is a very credible, very strong plan to get Australia out of this COVID recession and to get Australians back into work.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there's growing concern from unions, crossbenchers and Labor about the JobMaker hiring credit, that it will be open to exploitation by employers. Are you willing to strengthen the eligibility test so that they couldn't reduce the current hours of an existing older employer, or removing them altogether, and replacing them with several other younger employees?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is exactly what the hiring credit is designed to do, to ensure that it is not abused. And we have a very strong track record of enforcing the integrity of our measures. Youth unemployment rate is more than double what the national unemployment rate is. One of my great passions, whether as Prime Minister, Treasurer, Social Services Minister, Immigration, Member for Cook, that I have always had in this place is youth unemployment sets people up for a life of welfare dependency, one of the most significant achievements of our Government, of which Mathias and I have laboured strong and hard for, for many years - this is our 6 Budget together - has been to ensure that the welfare dependency of Australians was reduced to 30-year lows under the Budgets we have been a part of. An Australian starting out their working life on welfare is a sentence of disengagement. From Australian life. And I don't want to see any young people start out their working life on welfare. I want them in a job. I know their parents want them in a job. I know their grandparents want them in a job. But this is a Budget for all Australians. And we will ensure the integrity of our measures. This is a Budget for all Australians. This is about a Budget of bringing all Australians together in the national interest, to get us through. And there will be voices that will try and set young people against older people, women against men, jobs in one sector versus jobs in another sector - they are the voices of division that will undermine the future economic prosperity of all Australians. My job in this Budget, in this Government, from the first day of this COVID pandemic, has been to bring Australians together. Bringing together the National Cabinet. Bringing together unions together with employers. Bringing together all Australians to focus on our shared goal. So, you will hear the voices of disruption, of division. People who have come to this place to fight, not to build. That's not why I'm here. That's not why my team is here. That's not what this Budget is about. This Budget is about all Australians going forward in the national interest. Thanks very much.