Transcript - ABC Western Plains Breakfast Interview

NICK LOWTHER

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is in Dubbo today. He is with Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton. The two are making a number of engagements and I believe I have both of them on the phone right now. Mr McCormack, good morning. 

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning, Nick. 

NICK LOWTHER

And Mark Coulton, good morning. 

MARK COULTON

Good morning, Nick. Good to talk. 

NICK LOWTHER

Good to talk to you. Deputy Prime Minister, you're in town today with the Building Better Regions Fund. What's actually on the agenda?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, under the latest round of the Building Better Regions Dubbo Council is delivering a research paper to provide a framework for future events in the region. We know how important events are and particularly during COVID-19 when we haven't been able to hold too many events, Nick and of course community organisations and towns and good folk right across regional New South Wales, regional Australia, indeed, that's what brings communities together. So Dubbo will be using this money to see where they can plan for the future to see what's worked, what possibly could work even better and it's a good investment. Dubbo Council is one of those can-do councils and really delighted that that money is being invested. 

NICK LOWTHER

You mentioned that forward-look is incredibly important. I think on the back of many events being cancelled over the years of drought and now when we thought we could get them back up and running, COVID-19 putting the skids on them. It is important to be able to take a few years to look forward and see what is next?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That's correct. And of course we just don't know where COVID-19 is going to go at the moment but one thing is for sure, regional Australians are very resilient and these communities bounce back, whether it's drought, fire, floods, no matter what's thrown against them, they seem to bounce back.  They're great little communities and we want to make them even better. 

NICK LOWTHER

There has been a suggestion that the resilience that communities in regional New South Wales fostered in the wake of the drought has been particularly effective when it comes to coping through COVID-19.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, indeed and that's why we gave many, many councils, including right throughout this region, a million dollars each to help them with that. Then we topped it up. And then, of course, they got a new round of Roads to Recovery funding and community infrastructure money. So, there's been a lot of money going through these regions and it's all been needed. It's all been well used because if there's one area that we know can spend money well and it gets right to the level of needs, too, that's local government. 

NICK LOWTHER

Look, of course, that funding it's not a bottomless pit. Obviously that expenditure has cost the Government quite a lot when we look at the bottom line on the budget?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It's got to be paid back and with interest, but it has been necessary, it has been targeted, it has been specific and it has worked. I don't know how many business people have come up to me over recent months and said but for JobKeeper their businesses would just not be afloat these days and they've been able to engage with their employees, they've been able to keep them on the books, they've been able to keep their doors open to a degree for many of them and for those that haven't and those that are looking to reopen soon, JobKeeper has been a lifeline. 

NICK LOWTHER

As you said, it has been a lifeline, Deputy Prime Minister. We've had a lot of regional businesses who have been barely afloat during the drought. Certainly, JobKeeper has kept them rolling. We do feel at times like that program is on a bit of tenuous ground. I mean are you pushing the Prime Minister to keep it active, especially for regional areas?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I can tell you this, Nick, we won't be pulling the rug from underneath Australia and we certainly won't be pulling it from underneath regional Australia. The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, will be making some more statements about where we're going to next week but we always said that it was a temporary measure.  We have to, eventually, wean businesses and individuals from the assistance that has been provided as a temporary measure and we're just, you know, as we all are, we're disappointed with what's been happening in Victoria and of course, the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney where it's not a daily, it's an hourly update on how COVID-19 is, unfortunately, seeming to now spread again. 

So we need to be our best selves. If you haven't already downloaded the COVIDSafe app, I urge listeners to do so.  We need to practice social distancing and do the sorts of things the chief medical officers have asked us to do. 

NICK LOWTHER

Look, while we're talking about the COVID-19 response, yesterday's JobTrainer announcement, $1 billion, over 100,000 new training places in New South Wales, school leavers, people looking to re-skill, we know that skill shortage is a very real problem for the regions. How much of that JobTrainer commitment is being directed outside of the big cities and into regional areas?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

In fact, there's $2 billion and all of that is going to be, of course, on a needs basis, all of that is going to be demand-driven but what we do know is that it is going to cover 180,000 apprentices to keep them employed and their training secured and it will also support the 90,000 small and medium businesses that employ them. The program is a good program, it's targeted and it's certainly going to help regional Australia. 

I know if there's one person in the Parliament who has fought for apprentices, who has fought for those young people in regional Australia who need jobs, who need not necessarily the high academia jobs, although he fought for those too, but for those ones who want to work in manufacturing, who want to work in agriculture, who want to get on the tools, it is Mark Coulton.  He has fought for them right since the time he first entered Parliament and I know he had a lot to do with this particular program as well in his ministerial role and as the Member for Parkes. 

NICK LOWTHER

Well, Mark Coulton, in that case, maybe this question goes to you. I know the placements we're talking about are going to be with private and public training providers. It is going to include TAFE but for a lot of regional areas, TAFE has been where the skills have come from. Should the lion's share be going to TAFE? They're established in regional communities, they're already training for those community needs?

MARK COULTON

Look, the focus on this is to the employers and the apprentices themselves and as you know, Nick, before the drought really bit and before coronavirus, unemployment in Dubbo was just over 2%.  We actually have, you know, a skills deficit in this town and with the overseas workers of which many have come and made their home in Dubbo, that's going to be more difficult. So it's important that we train these people. 

Obviously, there needs to be partnerships with training providers but this funding will go to the businesses and the apprentices because ultimately you've got to have that relationship with a business and an apprentice that starts, you need the training provider. The days of churning people through a course without a job at the end are over. These are going to be funding direct jobs that are going to help grow the community. 

I think, Nick, that regional Australia and the number of visitors that are coming through Dubbo at the moment, you know, our hope is that when young people look for their career, they will be looking at regional Australia and thinking it's a safer place to live, it's a better lifestyle and if they can take up a traineeship out in Dubbo or in a country town that would be a great thing. 

NICK LOWTHER

You mentioned the low unemployment rate in Dubbo or what we did see before COVID-19, that's great but it's a very different story if you head further west. Certainly, some of those towns have quite a strong unemployment. How do we focus on changing that?

MARK COULTON

Look, it's not as hard as you think. Prior to COVID, the unemployment rate across the whole Parkes electorate was 3.6%, which is way below the national average. We're actually a couple of months from a jobs crisis of a different sort in that we've got a big harvest coming up. A lot of the overseas workers that normally would come into drive the chaser bins and work out in the field, won't be there so we've got to encourage Australians that might be struggling for employment to head out into western New South Wales because there’s numerous jobs. 

GrainCorp alone have got advertisements out for 3,000 jobs at the moment and so I think regional Australia at the moment, and particularly our part of the world, is actually sitting a lot stronger than some of our inner-city counterparts and I think there's a lot of notice being taken about how strong we are at the moment and the challenge that we've got between now and October is to encourage quite a few thousand people who may be not normally thinking about taking up a job in agriculture, to think of that and maybe with a short-term experience working in a field at Coonamble or Walgett, it might be enough to make them realise that there is opportunities out in the bush. 

NICK LOWTHER

I'm chatting with Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton and of course Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.  Deputy Prime Minister, the final question for you. I know you said you're meeting with Dubbo Regional Council this morning but after that you're actually sitting down with members from the shared workspace, The Exchange. What's the plan?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It's not so much me talking at them, it's me listening to them and I know that Jillian Kilby and her colleagues, they are absolute advocates and fierce ones at that, for regional development and like Mark Coulton, they want to see and build a better western New South Wales, they want to build a better Dubbo and that's what it's all about, listening to their concerns, listening to their issues and listening to their ideas because when you get into these community groups, there's lots of people with lots of good ideas and sometimes it's just a spark of an idea in a forum such as this which can make a world of difference for these regional communities. 

NICK LOWTHER

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister, thank you both for your time this morning. 

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thanks, Nick. 

MARK COULTON

Thanks, Nick. 

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