Finance Finance News Exit Mathias Cormann, the facilitator
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Exit Mathias Cormann, the facilitator

Mathias Cormann failed to say 'no' when the country needed him to. Photo: AAP
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Position vacant: The federal Liberal Party requires a skilled facilitator to guide matters of dubious popularity through the Australian Senate.

The successful candidate must be prepared to lie down with One Nation Senators without catching fleas, befriend occasional independents as varied as Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick, not offend Labor members too much and remain at least civil with Greens.

The position will become available later this year upon the retirement of the incumbent, Senator Mathias Cormann.

Applicants should study Senator Cormann’s record as the party regards his performance as the perfect role model – someone prepared to shake Fraser Anning’s hand after his “final solution” speech and, if not fortuitously paired on the day, vote for Pauline Hanson’s “It’s OK to be white” motion. (You can always backtrack later and claim it was a misunderstanding.)

The key performance indicator is the ability to do whatever it takes to corral enough crossbenchers to get bills passed, but the ability to run interference during Senate questioning of inquiries into government skulduggery is also valuable, as is the ability to pretend to take Coalition Senators from Queensland seriously, at least in public.

Also available, the position of federal government finance minister.

What’s in a name?

It is a sad reflection on Australia’s longest-serving finance minister – seven years, three Prime Ministers – that his main achievement was being the Senate facilitator.

Upon his foreshadowed departure, the government will no doubt attempt to confer some sort of economic policy achievements upon Mathias Cormann, but it will be a stretch.

Mathias Cormann will stand down from cabinet at the end of the year.

Taking the late great Senator Peter Walsh as the gold standard in the role, the principal job of a good finance minister is to say “no” to bad spending, to be miserly with the public purse when presented with poor policy but helpful in the cause of good.

While Senator Cormann shared cigar smoking with then-Treasurer Joe Hockey, Hockey and Tony Abbott took the “credit” for the 2014 Budget cuts, the election promises broken.

While Senator Cormann spent time with the Tea Party types in Washington, his neoliberal influence as finance minister has never overshadowed his more important role as the government’s Senate fixer.

“Credit” for what promises to be a doctrinaire five-year plan for recovery from the ’Rona Recession will reside with Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison.

The budget surplus that never happened was not the work of a judicious finance minister filleting out wasteful spending, but bracket creep and iron ore prices steadily boosting revenue.

Is there a banner policy achievement associated with Mathias Cormann, a torch proudly carried, something to boast to the grandchildren about? None comes to mind.

On the other hand, it is the finance minister who must carry a disproportionate amount of the can for the bad policy the Expenditure Review Committee approves.

The ERC is where the Finance Minister saying “no” is meant to carry most weight.

But the ERC over Senator Cormann’s seven years has seen a steady deterioration in good governance, a steady increase in blatant pork barrelling and misuse of taxpayers funds for political purposes, a repeated failure of the finance minister to say “no” when he should.

sports rorts emails
Senator Cormann failed to say “no” to the infamous #sportsrorts.

The ramping up and topping up of the infamous #sportsrorts scheme was facilitated by the ERC.

The finance ninister didn’t say “no”.

The particularly egregious $2.5 billion Community Development Grants extravaganza was conceived, exploited and inflated on Mathias Cormann’s watch.

He didn’t say “no”.

Ditto to the record blowout in government “advertising”, aka Coalition electioneering, in the lead up to the last election.

Ditto to the $719 million worth of politicised regional development grants, and another $8 billion or so in other programs that are suspect given the government’s record.

In the circumstances, perhaps Mathias Cormann will prefer his legacy to be in the Senate rather than in the Department of Finance.

But in the end, history might best remember him for his inability to count numbers for Peter Dutton and his crucial role in knifing Malcolm Turnbull.