OECD Chief Mathias Cormann: a lose-lose for Australia and Europe

Mar 18, 2021

Pictures stick in your head don’t they. The tongue kiss Soviet President Brezhnev gave East German President Eric Honecker in 1979 is one. That photo of Scotty (“Holidays”) Morrison and now deposed clown-king Donald Trump getting close on the White House lawn is another. Smiling, whispering, foreheads touching, a speck of dribble on the corner of Trumps mouth.

Then there is that photo of Joey Hockey (“Stumbles”) and Matthias (“Waffles”) Both sucking down hard on fat Cuban Arturo Fuente Opus cigar ($30,00 box) while preparing the 2014 Federal Budget, that among other things, led to cuts in Aged Care that produced the crisis we have today. This budget goes down in ignominy.

Cormann, the bad budget co-conspirator, came from Belgium to Perth in July 1996. Little Johnny Howard had just started his 11-year social demolition project only four months prior. “Waffles” Cormann’s first job was as a gardener at Presbyterian Ladies’ College at Peppermint Grove in Perth. It soon dawned on this uber ambitious man that he was working in the wrong position. He was on his knees ripping cat’s ear and onion grass weeds, when he should be on his feet harvesting power. As he looked over the school, he said to himself I am going to be rich enough one day to afford the $28,992 (2021 prices) to send my daughters to this school.

Eleven years later he found himself on the bottom rung of the Commonwealth Parliament as the junior Senate representative for Western Australia. He held this position until November 2020. In that time, he was the Minister for Finance from 2013-2020. He was such a failure, both as a state representative and as a Minister for Finance that Australia would have been better off if he had quelled his political ambitions and stayed a gardener.

With no papal vacancies at the Vatican in the short term, and with more ego than talent, “Waffles” set his heart on being the next Secretary-General of the influential Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD has been around for 60 years. It was created in 1948 to run the Marshall Plan to reconstruct post-war Europe.  The OECD is a major international player producing policy advice on a vast array of areas from economics to education, climate change and taxation.

That Cormann has just won this job, by the barest of margins, suggests deep fissures in the OECD working culture. It suggests that issues such as COVID, China, and international digital taxation, have distracted the OECD’s focus on the climate emergency. It will take some time to get a fix on the shifts going on in OECD. We can see this in the change of leadership values.

The man Cormann replaces is the remarkable Angel Gurría, a Mexican socialist, diplomat and economist. Gurría has been at the OECD helm for 15 years. He firmly established the OECD as a pillar of the global economic governance architecture including the G20, G7 and APEC. Cormann’s tiny feet are going to look awfully funny in Gurría’s shoes.

Cormann’s sweaty ambitions were blind to the achievements of the front runner, Cecilia Malmström. Cormann knows little about Europe. Malmström, on the other hand, is a member of the European Council for Foreign Relations. She is fluent in Swedish (native), English, French and Spanish. She also has a good understanding of German, Italian, Danish and Norwegian. From 2014–2019 she was the European Trade Commissioner, from 2010–2014 she was the European Home Affairs Commissioner and from 2006–2010 she was the Minister for EU Affairs, in the Government of Sweden. Yet, by the slimmest of margins “Waffles” got the job. What happened?

Scotty Morrison gave his blessing to Cormann’s ambitions. “Holidays” even gave Cormann unbridled access to a RAAF Dassault 7X Falcon jet to fly him all over Europe to tell the voting delegates they should cast for him because he just loves the climate to death. “Holidays” has also approved, again at taxpayer’s expense, a task force of eight Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade full-time staff to help run Mr Cormann’s globetrotting campaign to secure the $383,000-a-year tax-free job.

Lobbying for Cormann with post-vote deals in the offerings, were led by Alex Robson, Australia’s ambassador to the OECD, Arthur Sinodinos Australia’s ambassador in Washington, George Brandis in London, and Gary Gray in Dublin. In the 6-months election campaign “Wafffles” gave mixed messages to the OECD voting constituency. To some delegates he promised to push the world towards net-zero emissions by 2050. To other delegates, like Poland, the new sick man of Europe, he talked coal.

“Action on climate change, to be effective, requires an ambitious, globally coordinated approach. That has always been my view”, Yeah right Mathias. Cormann was found at the crime scene after the Abbott Government tried to abolish both the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Let’s look at a sample of Cormann’s voting record. Something that the OECD voting delegates failed to do.




Cormann’s Vote


Larissa Waters (Greens)

Calls of the Federal Government to recognise that the Adani coalmine Project is unviable and withdraw its support for the project



Anne Urquart (ALP)

Calls on the Federal Liberal National Party to support further investment in renewables



Anne Urquart (ALP)

Calls on the Federal Government to introduce a consistent national energy policy that supports renewable energy investment



Louise Pratt (ALP)

Calls on the Federal Government to take real action to reduce the cost of energy in Australia



Rachel Siewert (Greens)

That the Senate does not consider coal-fired power to be clean



Vote put

Repeal of the carbon tax



Vote put

Abolition of the Climate Change Authority


This is an appalling record. Being an economic dry with a reason-proof belief in trickle-down economics, we can expect Cormann will put the scanner over all emergent OECD climate initiatives checking for “beeps”, signalling danger to western capitalist interests. Not surprising, given he was an A student under head teaches Abbott and Morrison.


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