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Mathias Cormann would be a disaster for the OECD

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Mathias Cormann is taking drastic measures to become the next secretary-general of the OECD (image via YouTube)

This week saw outrage over former Senator Matthias Cormann’s taxpayer-funded jet-setting around Europe in his quest to be the next secretary-general of the OECD.

The jet is a grotesque misuse of public funds, but more on this later.

First off, there would not be many people less suited for the position than Cormann to start with. His principle party trick seems to be his multilingual capacity being fluent in German (his mother tongue, French, Dutch (Flemish) and Schwarzeneggeresque English. His political career as a senator in Australia is a CV littered in failure.

As a senator, Cormann was always elected on the Liberal Party WA ticket. He never had to campaign in his own right and like most senators, his was an appointment made through the usual Liberal Party cronyism, mutual back-rubbing and plain old-fashioned quid for quo corruption. In fact, he only gained pre-selection when two incumbents (Ross Lightfoot and Ian Campbell) resigned near-simultaneously in 2007.

His was a Steven Bradbury type win.

Cormann’s first few years were in Opposition. He came to prominence in 2013 under the newly elected Abbott Government when he was appointed Finance Minister, a position he held until his resignation in 2020. He served with three different Treasurers over that time: Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison and the incumbent Josh Frydenberg. All six budgets he was part of were failures in either public acceptance, neoliberal ideology or fiscal rectitude or combinations of those elements.

Cormann two most glaring budget failures were his first and last. His first, the Hockey and Cormann 2014 Budget was so drastic, so unpopular it ultimately led to the resignation of Hockey and the downfall of his Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. That particular budget also included the pro-coal ideological vandalism that was the removal of the Gillard Government's carbon emissions trading scheme (the erroneously named “carbon tax”).

It didn’t help Cormann’s image when he was photographed with Hockey smoking cigars after completing the budget. The two of them were so out of touch with public sentiment they actually thought they’d done a good job. They were proud of the stinking pile of neoliberal dross they’d drafted. The coming weeks would show just how poor it was.

This episode also highlights Cormann’s attitude to climate change. He has, throughout his time in government, been front and centre of the Australian Government’s reluctance to act in any meaningful way to address climate change. Now he is expected to reverse that ideology if he becomes head of the OECD. Under Cormann, Australia has become one of the worst climate criminals in the world.

The rationale for the deplorable 2014 Budget was Australia’s so-called “debt and deficit disaster”. Cormann used the phrase repeatedly while trying to sell the garbage he created. Despite this, over the ensuing six years, Cormann as Finance Minister went on to more than double the nations’ net debt and triple the deficit. That was before COVID-19 even made an appearance.

And what has Australia got to show for that debt? Infrastructure lagged, public education and health care suffered as did Australia’s international aid program and diplomatic standing. 

Cormann’s final budget failure was the infamous 2019 “Back in Black” Budget, created purely for electoral purposes that saw great swathes of creative accounting and budget cuts used to forecast a surplus in the following year. It was crafted to tell voters they were "back in black" when of course they were nothing of the sort. They were hoping to be elected before the truth was revealed. It was dishonest.

As a result of cuts to government spending in that budget, the economy was nose-diving. Almost all prominent economists said it was highly unlikely they would have delivered a surplus, no matter how slender.

Fortunately for Cormann, COVID-19 hit before the numbers came in and gave him an excuse for his failure. In the end, not only did Cormann fail to deliver his promised surplus, he actually delivered Australia’s biggest debt and deficit on record. Journalist Alan Austin has written an excellent synopsis of Cormann’s fiscal failings.

Apart from his failures as Finance Minister and his climate change denying credentials, Cormann also has a history or rorting taxpayers for his own benefit. He was caught out in the Helloworld Travel family holidays scandal. He paid the money back, but only after he was caught out. We will probably never know how many other cases went undetected.

Cormann also famously led the Coalition in the Senate when it voted in favour of Pauline Hanson’s “It’s OK to be white” motion, demonstrating perhaps some innate racism on his part. The resulting uproar later saw him reverse the vote. Like his financial rorts, one wonders what he would have done if he had not been called out on them.

All this make Cormann grossly unsuited for the OECD secretary-general role. It also suggests he is fundamentally unsuited for any public office in general. Why the Labor Party has backed Cormann’s bid for the role is a mystery.

Since leaving Parliament, Cormann has become a private citizen. He has been provided with a staff of 8 and a RAAF jet that costs taxpayers $4,000 per hour to use as part of his bid to head up the OECD. Compare this to the meagre support most Australian job-seekers get from the Government. Most receive so little they cannot afford the bus fare to actually attend interviews. How and why has Cormann received such largesse from the government?

Morrison claimed it was because Cormann would catch COVID-19 if he travelled to and around Europe on commercial flights, however, the OECD’s own guidelines on the interview selection processes state very clearly that all interviews will be via videoconference. After Cormann’s seven years in finance, his support of Peter Dutton in the leadership spill that brought Morrison to power, he knows where Morrison’s multitudes of bodies are buried.

As Finance Minister, Cormann was responsible for the likely unlawful Robodebt abomination. Is Morrison using the cover of Covid and taxpayers’ funds to buy Cormann’s silence? Time will tell.

If the OECD were to select Cormann as their next secretary-general it would be the beginning of the end of their once-respected organisation. No good would come out of the appointment.

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