Australia’s longest serving Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, is set to quit politics after calling Scott Morrison a name.
Australia’s longest serving Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, is set to quit politics after calling Scott Morrison a name.

Cormann to quit after calling the PM a ‘control freak’

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, the man who revived Arnold Schwarzenegger's "economic girly man'' insult in the Australian political lexicon and privately called Scott Morrison "narcissistic" is set to quit politics sparking a cabinet reshuffle.

Australia's longest serving Finance Minister has denied growing speculation he will quit politics for months, but has responded with notable silence to three reports in the last month that he plans to resign.

But his departure also is set to remind voters of the ongoing leadership fallout within the Coalition over the ascension of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his increasing popularity, dominance and control of the government in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, there was even speculation that he might return to Europe in a diplomatic posting for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the Belgian-born Liberal senator told friends he is more attracted to making some money in the corporate sector.

Cormann reportedly called the PM “a control freak” who spent too much time briefing the media of the government’s plans. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Cormann reportedly called the PM “a control freak” who spent too much time briefing the media of the government’s plans. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Much-loved in some quarters of the Coalition for his calm and steady disposition and work ethic, he has come under sustained attack from former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as "weak and treacherous" over his role in the coup that elevated Scott Morrison.

Mr Turnbull's memoir, A Bigger Picture, also revealed he privately criticised Mr Morrison as "a control freak" who spent too much time briefing the media of the government's plans.

"Mathias regarded Scott as emotional, narcissistic and untrustworthy and told me so regularly," Mr Turnbull wrote.

"Of course, if Mathias had a poor opinion of Scott, (Peter) Dutton's dislike of him was even stronger," he says.

According to his book, Mr Turnbull and Senator Cormann were at times "at our wits' end as to how to manage Scott" and that the Finance Minister said the government had "a treasurer problem".

In one exchange of messages between the pair, he wrote that Senator Cormann replied: "[Morrison] operates completely differently from us. We prefer to stay absolutely resolute on course until we decide to change. He wants to flag possible changes way in advance (why?) which reduces optionality and makes us look undecided. I can't work it out because it's so counter productive."

Senator Cormann played a central role in the leadership coup that destroyed Mr Turnbull's prime ministership, switching his allegiance to Peter Dutton.

His decision to pull his support - along with fellow senators Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield - was regarded as critical but his own candidate Peter Dutton lost out to Mr Morrison.

In the hours after the leadership coup, Senator Cormann texted Mr Turnbull to apologise for what had happened and deny being part of an "insurgency".

"I genuinely backed you until events developed, sadly, which in my judgment made our position irretrievable," he wrote.

"All this has been very painful - yes, I know, first and foremost for you, and for that I am very sorry."

But Mr Turnbull replied that Senator Cormann should be "ashamed".

"At a time when strength and loyalty were called for, you were weak and treacherous. You should be ashamed of yourself," he wrote.

Famously, Senator Cormann also made headlines after he took to the stage with German performer Nena, for a rendition of the pop song 99 Luftballoons at the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference.

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He also compared the former Labor leader Bill Shorten to jelly.

"Will Bill Shorten step up to the plate on budget repair in this Parliament, or will he continue to be like a jelly on that plate?" he said.

"Wibble wobble, wibble wobble jelly on a plate. First opposing, then supporting then not knowing what to do."

After the election, Senator Cormann has been dogged by speculation that he was no longer in Mr Morrison's inner circle, despite his senior role as Senate leader and Finance Minister.

Senator Cormann repeatedly denied he planned to quit politics in the lead up to the last election.

"I'm absolutely in it for the long haul," he said.

But he has failed to deny recent reports in The Age, The Daily Telegraph and today in The Australian Financial Review that he plans to resign sparking a cabinet reshuffle.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, the deputy Senate leader, is tipped to take on the position of Senate leader and potentially the finance portfolio.

There's also speculation that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton could be moved from the Home Affairs portfolio to Defence, a senior portfolio that is nonetheless regarded as something of a poisoned chalice as it is frequently the last stop before MPs depart the ministry and politics.

Originally published as Cormann to quit after PM insult