Press Conference - Narrabri, New South Wales

MARK COULTON

Thanks, everyone. I’m joined today by the Acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, the Acting Mayor of Narrabri Shire, Cameron Staines and the General Manager, Stewart Todd of the Narrabri Shire Council. And we’re here to talk about the $44.7 million upgrade of the line that’s here adjacent to us that will connect the Hunter network to the Inland Rail. It’s the missing link, the 30-odd kilometres of missing link, so we can increase the axle weight and the length of the trains coming from the north west or, indeed, the central west through to the Port of Newcastle to, you know, more efficiency, greater savings for growers in this area and a very, very important link.

Inland Rail will be absolutely changing the dynamics of freight across northern New South Wales. With the development of the Inland Port, the Commonwealth funding towards that along with the state government as well as the great leadership shown by Narrabri Shire Council and this is another part of the network that is going to increase the efficiency of freight movements right across the north of the state.

I’d like to, before I hand over to the Acting Prime Minister, thank him for his support and leadership in the role of portfolio minister to make sure that we secured this essential funding to do what – you know, to make sure that the Inland Rail is used to its full capacity but also the leadership shown by Narrabri Shire. They are putting a lot of their planning for the future of their entire shire around the infrastructure that is coming from the Inland Rail and are showing great leadership in their community while they do so.

So I’ll hand over to the Acting Prime Minister now and at the end I might actually [indistinct] the Croppa Creek announcement, but we’ll do that separately.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Mark Coulton. And nobody – nobody – has fought harder for Inland Rail than Mark Coulton. He mentioned it in his inaugural speech to the Australian Parliament in 2007. He’s fought for it the whole way through. When I took over as the Minister responsible for Infrastructure, Transport and, indeed, Regional Development, the three intergovernmental agreements had not been signed. We got those signed and all the way through Mark Coulton has been a champion and an advocate for Inland Rail. And like Cameron Staines, the Acting Mayor of Narrabri Shire Council and, indeed, Stewart Todd, the General Manager, they too, know full well about the job creation, about the small business prospects that Inland Rail is providing. Whether it’s the Turrawan upgrade – 35 kilometres, that missing link, as Mark Coulton has so appropriately described it – connecting the Hunter coal network and grain prospects and coal prospects, agriculture, resources industry with Narrabri. This is, of course, one of the big producing areas. No matter what the case might be, no matter what they’re producing here, they need to get it to port. And the Inland Rail is going to do just that. That 1,700-kilometre corridor of commerce between Brisbane and Melbourne, connecting Narrabri with the rest of the world like never before, connecting the north and north west of New South Wales.

And indeed, as Cameron Staines reminded me this morning, that $7.8 million that we put down in the budget in October for the Northern Inland Port is going to also provide so many opportunities for farmers, for small businesses in Narrabri and beyond. And that’s what it’s all about. Our regions have been magnificent during COVID-19. They’ve been beset by drought, they’ve been beset by all sorts of other calamities, notwithstanding, of course, the COVID restrictions that have been placed on them. But all the way through we’ve grown with the help of the Federal Government, with the help of the New South Wales State Government – both Coalition governments – we’ve helped that job creation. We’ve helped these small businesses not just survive but thrive. But we’ve done it by small business people taking risks, by still employing people, by backing Inland Rail. And Mark Coulton the whole way through has been a champion of this project.

And we know how much it is going to add to the gross regional product that is very much part and parcel of this fine area. I know that in the Parkes to Narromine first section of Inland Rail, 99 small businesses benefited to the tune of $110 million of Federal Government procurement just in that first section alone there’s 12 more sections to go – Narrabri to North Star, the second section. Mark and I turned the first sod on the second section not that long ago. And we’re making sure that businesses can benefit. We’re making sure that people who are out of work or looking for another job can also benefit from the expansions, from the Northern Inland Port, from this 35-kilometre upgrade that we’re doing today. So everybody benefits. It is going to be transformational to get product from these great producing areas to port.

I might ask Cameron to add to those remarks and then happy to take any questions. I’m just going to throw you in right there. Step right up to the microphone.

CAMERON STAINES

Yeah, first of all thank you to our Acting Prime Minister and our Parkes Member, Mark Coulton, for coming here. And the great leadership of the Nationals, we actually thank you for you what you do and you supporting rural Australia and Narrabri. This is a monumental upgrade and pretty much putting all the pieces of the jigsaw together of an Inland Port which is going to play a pivot role for Narrabri and the region. It’s going to – hang on. It will play a pivotal role for the Narrabri region, the Inland Port, creating jobs, growth and investment to Narrabri and the region, which is beneficial for this area. Once again it’s going to connect. The connectivity will be great, and we’ll definitely support what we are looking for in our investment.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Any questions?

JOURNALIST

Do we have a start date for this to get underway?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, very, very soon. Of course, there’s still the ARTC who are working with local stakeholders. ARTC are working through all sorts of studies. But, look, I’d like to see the work start as soon as possible because that’s what it’s all about. It’s actually about creating jobs. It’s actually about creating opportunities. And whether it’s that entire Narrabri to North Star or whether it’s just these connecting lines that we’re upgrading and whether it’s roads as well. Mark Coulton mentioned before roads and we’re going to make an announcement under the Roads of Strategic Importance Program for road upgrades this afternoon, because that all feeds into this Inland Rail project. It all feeds into what we’re doing as part of the overall $110 billion – a record amount of money I might say for infrastructure right across the nation. But more than a third of it is going to regional areas. Mark and I are very proud regional members and the Nationals always fight hard for better outcomes for regional areas, whether it’s road and rail, whatever the case might be, even airport upgrades. We’re doing it right across the country. And certainly in this electorate of Parkes, Mark Coulton is delivering like never before.

JOURNALIST

Regional areas, particularly ours, weren’t that badly affected by COVID as it was in the metropolitan areas, but jobs are still good. Do you know how many jobs roughly this will create?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there were hundreds upon hundreds of job created in the first section of the Inland Rail – Narromine to Parkes. It will be the same because it’s actually – the line is actually even a bit longer than that first section and there’s more new greenfield site to be provided for. So there’s going to be hundreds of jobs, overall thousands of jobs with the Inland Rail project. And of course, that’s not to mention – we’ve talked about New South Wales, but that’s not to mention Queensland where there’s a whole host of – see, we’re getting pips of delight from the passers-by. They know how important this is. They know how job creating it is. But there’s thousands of jobs. Whether it’s Queensland, Victoria and indeed, right throughout North West New South Wales.

This is going to be transformational. And you know, I talk to many businesses and they know getting their product to port is only going to grow their businesses. You know, even the little rock quarry places down near Forbes and Parkes, they doubled the size of their numbers of employment. And because of the work that was provided they’ll keep those workers on. They’ll keep those workers on. That’s what it’s all about. You say that a lot of these areas haven’t been affected by COVID and that’s largely due to the diligence that many people have shown around here by wearing masks when required to do so, by exercising social distancing and doing everything that the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, and subsequent to him Paul Kelly, have actually asked.

We’ve largely remained COVID-free in these regional areas. So I say to regional people: not only have you helped the economy tick along through agriculture and resources, but by doing what you’ve been asked to do, you’ve kept these regional areas largely COVID-free.

JOURNALIST

Back to the jobs, would it be hopefully looking at local contractors?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. And even know as being the member representing the town of Parkes if not the great electorate of Parkes – that’s Mark Coulton’s responsibility – many of those jobs were, in fact, local. Many of those jobs were, in fact, Indigenous people. And many of those people who actually were locals and did tap into that did not have jobs before or they didn’t have jobs that were as well paying as what Inland Rail provided. So, you know, there’s great prospects there not only for workers, not only for people looking for work – and say to those metropolitan people who might be taking the feed – you know, have a look at what prospects there are on the Inland Rail website, on the ARTC website, because there are prospects there for good and well-paying jobs in Inland Rail and other sites.

JOURNALIST

And I guess, it might not directly affect people here on the ground, but our trade relations overseas, people would be worried about by the time they get to the port whether they’re actually going to leave.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’ll work through those. By the time Inland Rail is finished in the mid-2020s hopefully we’ll have worked through all those, as we are, in a very responsible, pragmatic sensible way, as you’d expect a Liberal-Nationals government to do. We’re working through those situations at the moment and we’re making good progress.

MARK COULTON

Before you go on to national ones, also today Croppa Creek, the Acting Prime Minister and myself will be announcing $8.2 million to go towards a $10.2 million sealing of the County Boundary Road. And for those that aren’t aware, the County Boundary Road will connect a large grain-growing area back into the Newell Highway but also to Croppa Creek with the potential intermodal port, grain loading port there. And, you know, those grain-growing areas that aren’t largely populated but, you know, in the past have had difficulty obtaining funding for those roads, now through the Roads of Strategic Importance Program we’re taking into account not only the population of the area but the productivity. And so it will give those growers in the Croppa Creek, North Star, Pallamallawa area access to all-weather road that can take high-mass vehicles connected to the Inland Rail.

JOURNALIST

Just on that, are those projects and this one here, would you be hoping for local contractors, local businesses?

MARK COULTON

Look, the Gwydir Council, which will be overseeing this, they’re certainly gearing up to that. They’ve already received quite considerable funding for another road in the area called the I B Bore Road, which will play a similar role and they’re also doing a road at Upper Horton, you know, just east of here at Narrabri. So they’re gearing up. They’re looking at how they can make the best use of the workforce they’ve got as well as using local contractors.

JOURNALIST

As the local member how do you feel that these projects are happening, things are really moving?

MARK COULTON

It’s very exciting. Michael mentioned that I mentioned Inland Rail in my first speech. The other thing that I mentioned in my first speech in Parliament was a better deal for local government. So as the Minister for Local Government I’ve been able to build those relationships where the Federal Government can fund local government, have the confidence in local government knowing that they are the organisation that’s the closest to the people, they are the organisation that can really deliver these projects locally and understand what the priorities of local districts are. I find that is an incredibly proud moment to know that, you know, 14 years ago I stepped off a tractor with the idea of going to Canberra to make a difference, and you actually can. So these announcements mean a lot to me personally but nothing in comparison to what it will mean to the local communities that they serve.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And Mark’s right – there are 537 local governments across Australia benefitting from the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program that we are rolling out right across the nation. And every council benefits from that investment, whether it’s a roundabout upgrade or whether it’s a lick of paint on a town hall, we’re doing it. And you can see even in the Narrabri main street the upgrades that’s happening there. Beautifying main streets, making sure that black spots, road black spots, are fixed. And Mark, of course, in his role as minister is fixing mobile black spots as well.

JOURNALIST

I’ve just got one for you: so why is the National Emergency Medal being made available to emergency service workers that fought during the Black Summer bushfires?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what we’re doing is we’re making sure that people are recognised for the efforts that they went to. And so many people went above and beyond the call of duty and so many people put their lives and livelihoods on the line, their lives at risk to help others, to help some in those communities that they knew and knew well, to help strangers, complete strangers, get through what was a disastrous time, what was a deadly and tragic time for our nation. And it’s one way – a small token of gesture – to recognise and appreciate their efforts that they went to to ensure that they feel that in some way that the efforts that they went to – and people don’t do it for reward. They don’t do it for recognition, but it’s a small token of appreciation from the government to say thank you and on behalf of a grateful nation we say thank you. Of course, what happened last summer is still very much front and centre of people right across the nation and we know that so many volunteers, as I say, put their lives and livelihoods on the line, and we want to say thank you to them.

JOURNALIST

Do you have an idea of roughly what the requirements are to –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There’s a certain number of hours that they have to have done, a certain number of hours that they have to have contributed to one of those volunteering efforts. But I say to anybody who thinks that they are eligible for that, call your local member, call up your local member’s office – they’re all reopened after the Christmas-New Year break – and see what the minimum requirement is. But to them again I say: please apply for it because you deserve it. Well done to you.

JOURNALIST

One final one: will you be going for a swim when you go to Townsville?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Hang on, Matt. Just one tick, Matt; there’s one more local question and then I’m happy to answer whatever you’ve got.

JOURNALIST

Are you going to go for a swim when you get to Townsville?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Am I going for a swim? I didn’t bring my board shorts or my rash top. I don’t really want to subject the good folk of Townsville to my festive-season bod. So, no, I won’t be going swimming. But thanks for asking. I’ve got a bit of a Tasmanian sun tan as you can probably see. I’ve been busily working over the period and I’m sure the Prime Minister is trying to work on his tan at the moment. He’s taking a very well-earned break. If anybody deserves a few days off it is the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Because he and Greg Hunt and Josh Frydenberg and members of the National Party and other Liberal members of the government have done an amazing job.

But I say again to those regional Australians and Australians at large, yes, we lost 909 people through COVID. We’ve lost that many, and that’s very, very sad, but Australians have responded magnificently to the call and to the cry and to the request for people to do the right thing by the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, and following on from him, Paul Kelly, and we’ve done magnificently well considering, compared to other countries elsewhere. Matthew.

JOURNALIST

Acting Prime Minister, sorry to hear you’re not going for a swim, but –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

You’re not, Matthew, tell me the truth.

JOURNALIST

I’m keen to pick up on something that’s happening overseas. Of course, we’ve seen the social media companies like Twitter and Facebook banning Donald Trump and suspending his account from their platforms. Do you think that they made the right decision in suspending him from those platforms, and do you think it accounts to the stifling of free speech?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, this is a decision made by the people who own Twitter. I would say to the people who own Twitter I’m, you know, all for freedom of speech. This is a country, Australia, that has long prided itself on free speech, on the democratic right to say what you think within, of course, the bounds of decency. We fought two world wars to make sure that freedom of speech is something that is the hallmark of our democracy. But I say to the owners of Twitter, if you’re going to take down the comments of someone who is still the American President, you need to think also about the photo, the doctored photo, the doctored image, that shows a soldier, supposedly an Australian Digger, with a child in his arms about to do harm to that child. Now that has not been taken down and that is wrong. If you’re going to take down Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, then think very carefully and closely about also taking down that photo, which should have been taken down weeks ago.

There is some sort of decency that needs to be affected on Twitter. But I’m not in favour of censorship. I know the media here – and, you know, it’s great that we’ve got so many cameras and we’ve got, of course, Ian Dunnet from the local newspaper interested in local events and local happenings. But, you know, right across Australia our journalists have always done the right thing as far as freedom of speech concerned and as a former journalist and a former daily newspaper editor I uphold those values and principles of freedom of speech and not necessarily censorship.

JOURNALIST

Acting PM, Shuba Krishnan from SBS World News. So given all of that, do you support a push by your member George Christensen to stop social media platforms censoring [indistinct] speech?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, George Christensen, as I understand, has called for Donald Trump’s Twitter feed to be reinstated. I mean, as I’ve just stated, I’m not in favour of censorship. I think if people don’t like what they see on Twitter well don’t go on to that social media platform. There are things on Twitter which you would probably not see on other social media platforms, but that’s a matter for those people who decide and determine to go on Twitter. It is a different sphere altogether, but I’m not in favour of censorship, and nor is George Christensen. I know that I was on Radio National this morning and made comments to that effect and I’ve spoken to George subsequent to those comments I made this morning and he and I share the same view.

JOURNALIST

Acting Prime Minister, Jonathan Kearsley, Nine News in the Gallery; in that case then, do you believe that George Christensen should be counselled for spouting conspiracy theories about foreign countries ‘elections to thousands of social media followers?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m not going to counsel George. The National Party is a broad church. One thing I also say about the National Party, we’ve got some different views on different topics at some stage or another, but I tell you what – we’re all united on one thing and that is improving the lots and lives of those people who live in regional Australia, on making sure that we’ve got the right job-creating projects and programs for regional Australia. George Christensen, Mark Coulton, Michael McCormack and any other Nat you care to point to or talk about, we’re all united on that front, and we always will be. But George is larger than life when it comes to some things he writes on social media and good luck to him. Again, I’m not in favour of censorship, so I’m not about to say one thing and then go and suggest to George that he should be censored.

JOURNALIST

But, Acting Prime Minister, not only is George Christensen spouting conspiracy theories, he’s falling in line with Donald Trump on election fraud claims in the US, gone against medical advice by pushing Hydroxychloroquine during a pandemic as a course of treatment here in Australia. Why shouldn’t he be counselled for pushing false claims what is essentially non-medical advice to thousands of followers?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, George Christensen’s also supported the Mackay Ring Road. George Christensen has also supported water infrastructure projects in North Queensland. George Christensen is known as the voice of the North and he’s done a darn fine job making sure that there are job creation and prospects for particularly young people and those people, indeed, who’ve fallen out of work during COVID-19. And I know that George Christensen’s heart is in the right place. Again, I say I’m not in favour of censorship. So if I’m not in favour of censorship for Twitter then why would I be wanting to censor George Christensen?

JOURNALIST

 But this is an MP who’s been the subject of an AFP probe about this frequent travel, he’s spouted claims of –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And which he’s been cleared about, Jonathan.

JOURNALIST

Acting Prime Minister, this is one of your Members of Parliament who has been subject to an AFP probe about his travel to the Philippines, he spouts claims about election fraud on social media. When Donald Trump asks his supporters to back down or when Twitter then turns around and says it’s banning the President because in part there are claims on and off Twitter about the claims [indistinct] of violence, your MP then goes on to social media and demands enquiries into these social media giants accusing them of being tech tyrants. He’s spouting these claims to his thousands of followers on Facebook. Why shouldn’t he be counselled or drawn in for the language he uses?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I make two points to you, Jonathan. First of all, all of those claims that you make about AFP investigations, George Christensen has been cleared. The second point I make is to revert to my earlier comments about censorship. I’m not in favour of censorship. I never have been. I’ve always been a believer in somebody who was stridently upheld the values of free speech. George Christensen exercises that, I do, others do as well. Yes, there are some things that are said on particularly Twitter which are unfriendly and which, you know, are quite frankly above and beyond what, you know, people would actually expect those people to be putting on. I say to those trolls: think about what you’re actually putting on Facebook and social media. Think about those sorts of things and how it affects others. Because there are a lot of anonymous people who go on to Twitter and other social media platforms who write things that they would not say to that person face to face.

I’ll say one thing about George Christensen – whatever he writes he puts his name to. He’s never anonymous. He’s always upfront about what he says. He holds very firm and strong and strident views, yes. But I’m not in favour of censorship, as I said before.

JOURNALIST

Acting Prime Minister, the lockdown has now been lifted in Brisbane. There have been no new cases in three days –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Lifted tonight, as I understand it. It hasn’t been lifted yet – it’s being lifted later on tonight.

JOURNALIST

Yeah, sure. Is it time for all other states to reopen their borders to Queensland and should the people interstate who have been forced into isolation because they’ve been in Brisbane now be released?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’ve never been in favour of border lockdowns. But that is entirely a matter for state governments. They are largely responsible for public health outcomes. And premiers have done what premiers thought that they needed to do to keep the lives and livelihoods and health and safety aspects of the people they represent what they need to be. So I had a good long chat to Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Queensland Premier, on Saturday. I respect that she’s got the jurisdictional responsibility for that three-day lockdown. It hasn’t been lifted yet – it will be later tonight. I respect her decision to do so. I appreciate that it’s been hard on holiday-makers, it’s been hard on businesses. It’s been hard, indeed, on people, residents, who are in Brisbane or those who may have visited Brisbane not knowing that the lockdown was going to be put in place. But that’s the world in which we live.

I say again to Queenslanders or anybody else right across Australia: thank you for doing what you’ve done, for largely listening to the advice from the Chief Medical Officers, whether it’s been Professors Murphy or Kelly or, indeed, the state and territory CMOs right across the nation. By doing what you’ve been doing, by following the advice, by always making sure that you tap into those QR codes and exercising social distancing and wearing masks when asked to do so I know that we’ve been able to keep as COVID-free as possible.

JOURNALIST

What damage has been done to business confidence by the yo-yoing closures? Some tourist operators say they’re on the brink of collapse?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, I understand that. And I understand very much from a regional point of view that decisions made in capital cities have very largely impacted upon their business operations and their way of life when in many cases there were very, very few – very few – COVID cases if, in fact, any cases at all. I mean, Narrabri, you know, heaven forbid, there haven’t been too many, if any COVID cases in the north west of New South Wales but still there were restrictions earlier on placed on the North West of New South Wales. And I understand it. That is the Premier’s perspective and point of view. New South Wales has done very well compared to other states. But I’ve never been in favour of border shutdowns.

I’m very thankful, that said, having worked with the state transport and infrastructure ministers, we worked a national freight code through not in days but, indeed, in hours to make sure that we kept those supermarket shelves stocked, to make sure that we got the personal protection equipment and face masks and respitory devices transported by our wonderful truckies around the nation. And I did that with largely more Labor and Coalition-variety politicians who were the ministers for transport, responsible for freight. And I say to them thank you, too, because by doing that and by working collaboratively and cooperatively across the board with federal, state and in some cases local government we were able to do that. And we’ll continue to work through the national cabinet process to bring about the best health outcomes for all Australians.

And I’ve just got off the phone from Greg Hunt and of course, with the vaccine rollout in February, this does – you know, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel for all Australians because this has been hard on our economy, very hard if you’re running a small business and very, very hard if you’ve lost a job. I say again to those city dwellers, there are jobs out here in regional Australia – good, well-paying jobs with a lifestyle like no other. You won’t have to wait in traffic and certainly won’t in Narrabri and look at the brake lights in front of you as you’re going to and from work. You won’t be spending an hour in congestion. Come out and have a look at what is available out here in the regions. Great place to be. Great place to live. Great place to work. Great place to visit and holiday. Great place in which to invest.

JOURNALIST

Acting PM, those regional business also that you’re meeting with that you mentioned, are you comfortable telling them that JobKeeper will end in March, or should some form of support continue?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

In fact, they’re telling me that JobKeeper and the other arrangements that we have in place need to be tapered off. They’re telling me that they want Australians to get back to work. They’re telling me that it’s very hard to find workers to fill those positions and those roles. If you go down the main street of Dubbo or Narrabri or any country town in which you like to look, there will be signs at the windows to say, “Work needed. Apply within. Hire right now.” And there are jobs out here. And they’re not just jobs picking fruit, they’re not just seasonal jobs – they are good, well-paying full-time jobs available in all sorts of industries and endeavours right out here in regional Australia right now. The Regional Australia Institute has identified around 50,000 jobs available in regional Australia right now. And you won’t have to pay the high rents or, indeed, that million-dollar-plus mortgage that people in metropolitan areas are facing.

JOURNALIST

Which industries are these businesses in that are telling you they would like to see JobKeeper tapered off?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, you could start at A, accountants, and you could work right through to Z, zoos and everything in between. There are jobs available in regional Australia right now from A to Z.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, if these businesses are saying that they are struggling to find people to fill jobs, that suggests that they wouldn’t be on JobKeeper anyway.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, many of the people who are running businesses and do have JobKeeper in place also understand that it’s time for many of the workers to return. Some of those workers who, you know, have been sitting on the couch and being, you know, dare I say, lounge lizards for too long, now it’s time to get back to work. And I appreciate that, you know, many people have found themselves unemployed for the first time. My heart goes out to those people, it really does. Because many people have had to seek welfare through JobSeeker and other arrangements for the very first time and that is so hard. I know what it’s like to have lost a job. But it’s also time for people to, if there’s jobs available, to take those jobs. It’s also time for people who are long-term unemployed to look beyond the hills, to look beyond that sandstone curtain that is the Great Dividing Range and to, you know, take up those job opportunities that are there and get off the couch and get out to regional Australia and take up one of those jobs. Because there are many of them out here, and there are good shire councils like Narrabri Shire that will help you get placed with that employer. There are many prospects. They can go on to the Regional Australia Institute website. They can go on to the FarmHub website. There are many jobs not just in agriculture, not just in resources but in all sorts of areas of endeavour for them to take up.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, it sounds like you were talking there about JobSeeker. The original question was specifically about JobKeeper, so this wage subsidy to keep them tied to businesses. If businesses are still doing it tough what would you say to them about how JobKeeper, the coronavirus wage subsidy is going to finish in March?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Some businesses in some areas, yes, I appreciate will still be hard hit. But, you know, we cannot keep the assistance going forever. The great assistance that we have provided in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars. It can’t go on because it’s borrowed money. It has to come from somewhere. It comes from Australian taxpayers, it comes from other borrowings. It can’t go on forever, the assistance. You have to draw the line somewhere. We’ve made that decision. We always said the assistance that we would provide – Josh Frydenberg has said it time and again, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it time and again – the assistance was targeted, was temporary. Now hopefully we’re through the worst of it.

Whilst I appreciate there will still be outbreaks of COVID, whilst I appreciate that we’ve also got a vaccine in sight and due for delivery in February, it will still be tough. 2021 will still be a challenging year. Hopefully it won’t be as challenging as 2020. However, we have got a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re looking very much towards that. The assistance, as I say, cannot go forever, because we do not want to saddle generations with the debt that has already been incurred. We were so close to balancing the Budget there just prior to the Budget being announced in May. Of course, we had to postpone that until October. It’s still a very good Budget – the very best Budget ever for regional Australia because we acknowledge and appreciate the job-creating role that regional Australia has provided and will continue to provide. But the assistance can’t go on forever. Thank you very much.

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