Mathias Cormann set for nail-biting finish in race to become OECD secretary-general


Another candidate, the deputy OECD secretary-general Ulrik V. Knudsen who hails from Denmark, withdrew from the race after struggling to find momentum.

That leaves Cormann, Malmström, Hammond and Greek candidate Anna Diamantopoulou as the remaining four of 10 initial candidates.

“Further consultations will take place in February, with a view to identifying collectively the candidate around whom consensus can be built,” the OECD said in a statement.

The OECD emerged from the post-war Marshall Plan and plays a key role in shaping the economic agenda. Its 38 members represent more than 60 per cent of global GDP.

A Cormann victory would be the first time the OECD has been led by someone from the increasingly important Asia-Pacific region.

Cormann, who was born in Belgium and is fluent in German, French and Flemish, is pitching himself as a bridge between Europe’s traditional economies and Asia-Pacific markets.

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A European has not held the post since 1996 and Malmström would be hard to beat if Europe’s member countries unite behind her.

However, the Australian campaign team thinks it will have support from some European governments following an in-person lobbying blitz by Cormann last year.

Labor – which has offered backing to Cormann’s bid – criticised the government for letting the ex-senator use a Royal Australian Air Force jet to fly around Europe and South America in November and December and rally support.

Headquartered in a sprawling compound in central Paris, the OECD has an annual budget of €386 million ($606 million), staff of more than 3500 and a seat at G20 meetings.

Supporters of Malmström are arguing that the OECD must be led by a woman for the first time.

The dean of ambassadors to the OECD, the UK’s Christopher Sharrock, is responsible for guiding the selection process by consulting member countries about which candidates have the best support.

In an apparent nod to some member countries who believe Cormann has an advantage because the British government supports Australia’s candidacy, the committee noted in its statement on Wednesday that a member is present in each cull to “witness and validate the conclusions being drawn” by Sharrock.

Cormann, who served as finance minister under prime ministers Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, has ramped up his rhetoric on global warming since the OECD campaign began.

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Environment groups have claimed the Coalition’s record on climate change would make Cormann an unlikely choice to lead the economic body.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Cormann said it was “essential” that the OECD provide global leadership on climate change.

“Achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 requires an urgent and major international effort,” he said.

“In this regard, the decision by the Biden administration to ensure the US re-joins the Paris Agreement is crucial.

“Paris Agreement targets are a foundation to build upon and not a limit on our ambition to do more sooner.

“As secretary-general of the OECD I would work with member countries and partner organisations to deploy every policy and analytical capability available through the OECD to help economies around the world achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050.”

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Mathias Cormann confirmed as frontrunner for OECD post following candidate cull


The next group, with “good” support, included candidates from Canada, the United States, Denmark and Greece. This group included the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, who some observers believed was a threat to Cormann’s chances.

Candidates from the Czech Republic and Poland had the lowest support and have withdrawn from the race.

The result suggests Cormann’s vision for the OECD is resonating and that the strategy of lobbying member countries in person paid off.

Labor – which has offered backing to Cormann’s campaign – criticised the government for letting the ex-politician use a Royal Australian Air Force jet to fly around Europe and South America in November and December and rally support.

Environment groups also claimed the Coalition’s record on climate change would make Cormann an unpopular choice to lead the OECD.

The OECD emerged from the post-war Marshall Plan and plays a key role in shaping the economic agenda. Its 38 members represent more than 60 per cent of global GDP.

It is also the likely venue for a breakthrough on a new tax on multinational tech giants that could reap up to $135 billion in extra revenue for 137 governments.

Headquartered in a sprawling compound in central Paris, the OECD has an annual budget of €386 million ($606 million), staff of more than 3500 and a seat at G20 meetings.

Cormann, who was born in Belgium and is fluent in German, French and Flemish, is pitching himself as a bridge between Europe’s traditional economies and the increasingly important Asia-Pacific markets. He spent 25 years in Europe before moving to Australia in 1996.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised Cormann’s bid during a congratulatory November telephone call with President-elect Joe Biden in the hope Australia can secure US support for the secretary-general campaign.

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America’s candidate, Chris Liddell, is Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff and a dual citizen of New Zealand. However he has struggled to get enough support to be a serious contender and will almost certainly be eliminated in the next cull later this month.

New Zealand’s opposition leader Judith Collins withdrew her party’s support for Liddell’s candidacy, citing last week’s riot at the US Captiol.

“Mr Liddell’s ties to the Trump administration cannot be overlooked here, making it difficult to see how he would be suitable to uphold the OECD’s strong commitment to democracy,” she said.

More candidates will be eliminated in late January and early February before a winner is picked via consensus in early March. The five-year post will commence mid-year.

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OECD warns Australia not to withdraw economic support too early in pandemic recovery | Australian economy


The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has warned Australia not to withdraw fiscal and monetary policy support before the recovery from the economic shock associated with the coronavirus pandemic is “well entrenched”.

The latest economic outlook from the Paris-based OECD, published ahead of new national accounts data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics due on Wednesday, forecasts the economy will contract by 3.8% in 2020 before rebounding in the new year to grow by 3.2% in 2021 and 3.1% in 2022.

While the OECD is pointing to a relatively rapid recovery from Australia’s first recession in 30 years, it has warned the government and the central bank to support the economy during the transition.

The new outlook published on Tuesday night notes the planned unwinding of Australia’s “strong” fiscal support rolled out during the first wave of the pandemic “will be a headwind to higher GDP growth in the second half of 2021”.

It predicts that unemployment will also rise further because of the “gradual phasing out of job retention programs and increased labour force participation”.

The OECD also points to two risks for the domestic outlook – a possible fall in business and consumer confidence “as reduced government support is accompanied by a rise in business liquidations and unemployment”.

The second nominated risk is the escalating diplomatic crisis with Beijing. The OECD warns any “additional escalation in geopolitical tensions with China” could undermine growth in exports.

While warning Australia to stay the course with fiscal support – echoing public commentary from Australia’s Treasury secretary, Steven Kennedy, and the Reserve Bank – the OECD says the impact of withdrawing the pandemic income support measures will be offset by the recovery in private sector activity as containment restrictions ease further.

As lockdowns and border restrictions lift and normal habits resume, “consumption will continue to be supported by households gradually drawing down their increased savings”.

The OECD says Australia should buttress the post-Covid recovery by “reducing barriers to labour reallocation”, boosting investment in skills programs and boosting labour market mobility by the recognition of occupational licensing across jurisdictions.

It has backed proposals in the states to replace taxes and fees on property transactions, such as stamp duty, with a recurrent land tax, arguing that would “achieve a more growth-friendly tax mix and promote labour mobility”.

The OECD also says the government needs to keep an eye to rising inequality as a consequence of the pandemic. “The authorities should permanently strengthen the social safety net and support increased investment in social housing,” the outlook says.

Australia’s central bank governor will appear before federal parliament’s economics committee on Wednesday morning. The RBA left official interest rates on hold at its regular board meeting on Tuesday.

In a statement the RBA governor, Philip Lowe, said the domestic economic recovery was under way and recent data had “generally been better than expected”.

But Lowe said the central bank’s expectation was the recovery was likely to be “uneven and drawn out and it remains dependent on significant policy support”.

“Given the outlook for both employment and inflation, monetary and fiscal support will be required for some time,” Lowe said, repeating previous advice that the RBA did not expect to increase the cash rate for at least three years.

Anticipating better economic news in the national accounts data after two quarters of negative growth, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, told parliament on Tuesday Australia’s economy was exhibiting a “comeback”.

But the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said the government should heed the warning from the OECD about supporting the economy through the transition.

“Scott Morrison’s decisions to withdraw support too soon and exclude more Australians from income support will exacerbate the economic damage being inflicted on those who were hit hardest by the virus outbreak and left behind by initial policy and fiscal responses to the crisis,” Chalmers said in a statement.

Chalmers noted the OECD had “joined the Reserve Bank, the IMF, Deloitte Access Economics and other prominent Australian economists who have called for more to be done, not less”.



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Mathias Cormann would be a disaster for the OECD


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.

This Election saw the revival of white supremacy, nationalism and exclusion

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.

Remember when Australia had the world's best economy?

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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Scott Morrison defends charging taxpayers to fly Mathias Cormann around Europe to land OECD job



Scott Morrison has defended using public money to fly former finance minister Mathias Cormann around Europe.

Mr Cormann has traversed the continent on a Royal Australian Air Force plane as he campaigns for a job with a global economic think tank.

The RAAF plane costs taxpayers more than $4,000 per hour of flying.

The prime minister said the jet was being used because coronavirus was “running rampant” across Europe.

“There really wasn’t the practical option to use commercial flights in the time we had available because of COVID,” he told 2GB radio on Wednesday.

“If Mathias was flying around on commercial planes, he would have got COVID. The risk of that was extremely high.”

Mr Morrison also justified the costly flights by arguing an Australian had never held a leadership role at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, more commonly known as the OECD.

“Now we’re in the race for it and it will be very important,” he said.

“Mathias would be an outstanding secretary-general of the OECD, standing up for those liberal, democratic, market-based values which the OECD represents.”

Taxpayers are also funding a team of staff working 24/7 from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to manage Mr Cormann’s globetrotting campaign.

“A small temporary campaign task force has been set up to support Mathias Cormann as Australia’s candidate for the secretary-general of the OECD,” a DFAT spokesman told AAP.

“This team will return to other duties at the conclusion of the campaign in around March 2021.

“The task force consists of 8.5 dedicated staff, made up of a task force manager and campaign strategist, strategy and policy advisers, a visits manager, two graduates and a communications specialist.”

The public servants are coordinating advocacy by senior government ministers, organising travel arrangements, and preparing campaign briefs and communications material.

Mr Cormann is being accompanied by one DFAT officer while overseas.

He is not being paid a salary by the Australian government.

The government is refusing to disclose the exact costs of his campaign until a successful candidate is chosen, claiming it could erode Australia’s competitive edge.

There are 10 other candidates vying for the OECD position.

Since leaving Australia on 8 November, Mr Cormann has met with key players in Turkey, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

He is planning to meet decision-makers across other OECD countries over coming weeks, including in Austria, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, France, Chile, and Colombia.

In France, Mr Cormann will be interviewed for the position of secretary-general by OECD member state ambassadors.

Labor finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said the prime minister needed to be up front about what the campaign was costing taxpayers.

“And whether other options, such as a virtual campaign, were considered before agreeing to the exclusive use of one of Australia’s RAAF aircraft and any other related costs,” she told AAP.

Meanwhile, the Australian Greens have written to the ambassadors of OECD member nations warning them appointing Mr Cormann would be a blow to tackling climate change.



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Mathias Cormann to run as a candidate as the next secretary-general of the OECD


After channelling Arnold Schwarzenegger to attack his critics as “economic girlie men”, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has officially quit politics to run as a candidate as the next secretary-general of the OECD.

And the money man could double his dough if he gets the gig with a base salary of $383,000 that is tax-free in member countries as an employee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Belgian-born senator currently earns around $390,000 as Senate leader but actually has to pay income tax.

The economic conservative has masterminded billions of dollars in tax cuts for companies and individuals as the nation’s longest serving Finance Minister but a tax-exempt salary could loom if he is appointed to the role.

He spruiked his credentials for the prestigious job on Thursday by speaking in French and German at a press conference in Canberra.

Announcing the decision today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed he will be replaced as Senate leader and Finance Minister by the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

The changes will take effect from Senator Cormann’s retirement at the end of the month.

“Mathias’s seven-year experience as our longest-serving Finance Minister, Belgium-born, French-German and Flemish to boot, I think ideally equips him for the challenging role of the Secretary-General of the United Nations,’’ Mr Morrison said.

“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 which the OECD would work particularly the G20.”

Senator Cormann said it was a great honour to be nominated as Australia’s candidate for the prestigious role but stressed his candidacy was no guarantee he will secure the top job.

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

“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.”

“I’m a veteran of selection contests. And rule number one: Never take anything for granted,’’ he said.

Indeed, Senator Cormann emerged as a key player or kingmaker in every Liberal Party leadership coup since Malcolm Turnbull was first removed as leader in 2009.

Senator Cormann had a bitter falling out with Mr Turnbull over the 2018 leadership change after the former PM accused him of being “weak and treacherous” in a private text message published in his memoir A Bigger Picture.

The WA senator denied being part of any insurgency.

“I genuinely backed you until events developed, sadly, which in my judgment made our position irretrievable,” Senator Cormann wrote.

“All this has been very painful – yes, I know, first and foremost for you, and for that I am very sorry.”

The longest serving Finance Minister in Australian political history, Senator Cormann farewelled his cigar-chomping impersonator on the ABC’s Mad As Hell comedy program last night by confronting his mythical spokesman Darius Horsham who frequently orders others to stop being an “economic girlie-man”.

“And finally, Darius, as Mathias Cormann is leaving politics and this will be your last time on the show, we’ve arranged for someone very special to say goodbye,” host Shaun Micallef said to the fictional character.

“Hi, Darius. Mathias here to wish you all the very best for your future,” Senator Cormann said.

“If you’re writing your memoirs and you need someone to record the audiobook for you…”

Darius: “Oh, come on. Don’t be ridiculous. You sound nothing like me.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” Senator Cormann replied.



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How a second wave of the coronavirus could impact global GDP and jobs, according to the OECD


With the coronavirus in rapid retreat across Europe and Asia, and in parts of the U.S., there is a sense that the worst of the pandemic might finally be over. But two words hover over any prospects for a global recovery: second wave.

The possibility that COVID-19 might come roaring back, either because lockdown measures are ending, or because colder weather will return in the fall, are scrambling predictions about how and when the world might emerge from its sharpest economic downtown since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.

The pandemic’s trajectory, say economists, is simply too uncertain—a fact that, of itself, could hobble the willingness of companies and governments to invest and grow.

On Wednesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, said with a second wave of COVID-19, global GDP would drop by more than 7.5%, and about 40 million more people would lose their jobs. 

Even without a second wave, the OECD predicted a dire 6% decline in global GDP this year, “larger by far than any we have projected in the 60 years since the OECD was created,” the organization’s Secretary-General Angel Gurría said, launching the organization’s yearly World Economic Outlook; the Paris-based organization collects data on the world’s richest economies, with 37 member countries. The OECD’s chief economist Laurence Boone said a second wave of COVID-19 would “markedly affect” the world economy in 2021, and that “massive uncertainty regarding the virus” suggested long-lasting economic damage, worsened by consumer behavior and trade tensions. “All that will hold back investment,” she said.

The OECD prediction was grim indeed—but it is not the only one to emerge this week.

“The greatest downside risk”

On Monday, a panel of 48 U.S. economists from the National Association of Business Economists predicted a 5.8% GDP drop in the U.S. this year—the steepest decline since the 1940s, and a one-third drop in the second quarter of 2020 over the same quarter last year. 

They forecast some economic recovery later this year, but only on one condition: That COVID-19 does not surge back. If it does, it would torpedo all predictions of a recovery. “Eighty-seven percent of panelists view a second wave of COVID-19 as the greatest downside risk through 2020,” said Eugenio Alemán, a Wells Fargo economist who chaired the study.

In fact, the damage could extend far beyond this year or next, according to many economists.

Marc Touati, an economist in Paris, estimates that it could take until 2026 for France to return to pre-pandemic economic levels. The French government predicts that GDP in the world’s sixth-biggest economy will contract about 11% this year. Given that, even if GDP steadily increases by about 2% a year, “it will take about five and a half years to get back to 2019 levels,” Touati, who heads ACDEFI, a Paris economic consultancy, told Fortune on Wednesday. “If we have a second wave, we have no means to make a new recovery,” he said. 

The economic disaster comes as no surprise to economists like Touati. 

Indeed, Touati said he warned France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire of calamitous consequences from sweeping lockdown measures, and still believes that the decision by dozens of governments across the world to impose broad lockdowns has been a severe error.

He shared his concerns in a crisis meeting with Le Maire and about 10 other economists on March 4—10 days before President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide lockdown. “I told him, ‘if you impose a lockdown we will have a big depression,’” Touati said. “Others said ‘no, no, we have to impose a lockdown.’ It was fear. It was panic. We reacted too late.”

How a second lockdown would look

Touati hopes governments will be defter at handling the next outbreak, including a second save of COVID-19. 

That would include imposing limited lockdowns of people regarded as most vulnerable to the coronavirus, rather than broad nationwide restrictions, he said. He also believes governments should prepare extensive contact-tracing systems, ramp up ICU beds, and lay in stocks of protective equipment.

To the dismay of the French, who boast of having first-class public health, the country had no stock of facial masks when the pandemic hit Europe. Compare that to Germany, which had plenty. Three months on, more than 29,000 people in France have died of the virus, compared with 8,000 in Germany, whose population is far bigger. “We were not prepared,” Touati said. 

For now, at least in Europe and much of the U.S., the idea that COVID-19 will come surging back feels increasingly remote, as people resume more and more of their pre-pandemic lives.

In Paris, for example, people have poured into the parks since they reopened earlier this month, soaking up the long summery days, and the sidewalk tables are jammed each evening, after the cafés reopened for outdoor dining after a ten-week shutdown. In the U.S. and across Europe, thousands have joined street protests against racism since George Floyd’s death on May 25, seemingly brushing off social distancing instructions, as though the pandemic is as good as gone.

Sadly, that might not be the case. 

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told CNBC on Tuesday that a second wave was “a very real risk,” as countries reopen public spaces and end lockdown measures. “We don’t know if it will be a second wave, a second peak, or a continuing first wave in some countries,” she said. “It really hasn’t come down that much at the time of reopening, and so all of these possibilities are very real.”

More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:



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