774 ABC Mornings with Jon Faine

Jon Faine: Michael McCormack is the newly minted Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. He's the Nationals Leader, and also now Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He has, just minutes ago, made an announcement together with our Victorian Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan, at Southern Cross Station, about infrastructure investment in Victoria. Deputy Prime Minister, good morning to you.

Michael McCormack: Good morning Jon.

Jon Faine: And congratulations. Did you need a guide to find your way through to Melbourne?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely not. My daughter lives in Melbourne, and I love Melbourne. I come down here for the football and it's a wonderful, wonderful city.

Jon Faine: The Premier seems to think that you and your colleagues in the Coalition Government don't give a rats about Melbourne.

Michael McCormack: Well, we absolutely do and that's why nearly 20 per cent of our infrastructure spending going forward in the forward estimates is actually going to Victoria, and…

Jon Faine: They dispute that figure and say it's 9 per cent whilst more than 45 per cent is spent in New South Wales.

Michael McCormack: Well, that's not right, and Daniel Andrews should ask his federal colleagues in the Bill Shorten Opposition about the fact that we are spending, in fact, $2.1 billion more—I repeat, more—than Federal Labor did in their six years, and that's each and every year. So, $2.1 billion more; 20 per cent of which is going to Victoria. I think that's a fair share.

Jon Faine: What's the substance of your announcement with our Victorian State Transport Minister this morning?

Michael McCormack: Well, a couple of things. Jacinta Allan and I have signed this morning, less than an hour ago, the bilateral agreement, the inter-governmental agreement, to get Inland Rail up and running. So that's the first state that's come on board to sign the inter-governmental agreement. Delighted that Jacinta has put pen to paper along with myself, and we were there with the Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie, Deputy Leader of the Federal Nationals, for that historic signing. And so that'll mean that we will work very closely in the future with the Victorian Government for that Inland Rail project, which of course, $9.1 billion of equity has already been invested by the Federal Government.

And that's going to create, just in the construction at its peak alone in Victoria, 2800 jobs. So our government, the Liberal National Federal Government, is all about creating jobs and helping small and medium enterprises, and of course, major infrastructure projects in the creation of jobs, 1100 a day last year. We're building on that this year, and we're also building infrastructure that the nation needs.

Jon Faine: What are those jobs going to be doing?

Michael McCormack: Well, helping to build the Inland Rail, along with ARTC and…

Jon Faine: So is there an additional track to go anywhere along the corridor from Melbourne to Wodonga?

Michael McCormack: Well, there will be some resumption. There's obviously corridor which needs to be preserved, so we'll be working closely with the Victorian Government in that respect following this bilateral agreement. But on top of that, as part of today's announcement, $135 million is going to be spent along with the $100 million we invested in June of last year for the North East Rail Line, so for those people around Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga, that's great news. We're going to be improving the track along with the Victorian Government's announcement that the rolling stock is going to be updated and upgraded. That's great news for those passengers, those rail commuters in the north east of Victoria.

Jon Faine: Last time there was a regional rail upgrade federally funded and implemented by joint Victorian and federal authorities, it was the passenger service between Melbourne and Sydney, and the railway line that was laid all needed to be re-laid a second and then even a third time, because it was done with such disregard for best engineering standards. So, who's going to be in charge this time and how do you guarantee it doesn't all go wrong again?

Michael McCormack: Well, the ARTC is going to be working very closely in conjunction with the Victorian Government, in conjunction with the Commonwealth…

Jon Faine: But they're the people who got it wrong last time.

Michael McCormack: Well, look, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and…

Jon Faine: No, a lot of water's gone through the sleepers, actually.

Michael McCormack: I've got every faith that the project will be delivered on time and….

Jon Faine: You're almost on your own there, I'm sorry, Deputy Prime Minister. But…

Michael McCormack: Well, $235 million is a large investment…

Jon Faine: Yeah. They could…

Michael McCormack: …that I could work in conjunction with….

Jon Faine: They could fritter that away in no time.

Michael McCormack: Well, I'm delighted that Jacinta Allan is being so cooperative. We've agreed that we need to build the sort of infrastructure that not only regional passenger commuters but also our freight task requires, and delighted that we've signed that agreement, delighted that the North East Rail Line is being looked at for passenger safety and security, and a very good and historic day in signing this morning. So, onwards and upwards from here, Jon.

Jon Faine: Alright. Now, your colleague, the Home Affairs Minister as it's now called, Peter Dutton, has upset South Africa apart from others over his comments that there are white farmers in South Africa being persecuted who should be given some priority in migrating to Australia. First of all, do you agree with his analysis and do you agree with his suggested solution to it?

Michael McCormack: I'm not in disagreement, I understand where he's coming from. There obviously is an issue there, and obviously there's been a bit of to and fro between the countries overnight. I understand it's a delicate situation…

Jon Faine: Well, the South African Government have demanded that he retract and apologise.

Michael McCormack: Sure, and look—and I appreciate that it's a delicate matter—I think it'll be best handled by the Immigration Minister, and…

Jon Faine: No, but you're the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, so do you agree with the implication by saying that they would be welcome in a civilised country? The implication is that they're leaving one that's not civilised.

Michael McCormack: Well, I don't think that South Africa is not civilised, I would not say that. I appreciate also that, you know, we've got a cricket series being played there at the moment and it's a bit robust as well, but I understand the implications, understand that Peter Dutton has made those comments. I'm sure that, on a bilateral and international basis, we will sort it out in the best interests of all concerned.

Jon Faine: Well, but how do we sort it out is what I'm asking you. Do we sort it out by Peter Dutton saying…

Michael McCormack: Well, I'm sure that'll be done in a very diplomatic way.

Jon Faine: Do we sort it out by Peter Dutton saying: yes, I overreached.

Michael McCormack: Well, we'll just have to wait and see what happens. That'll be up to Peter Dutton. That will be a matter for Peter Dutton, and I'm sure that, as I say, it'll be reached in a diplomatic fashion.

Jon Faine: Thank you, indeed, for all of your timely contributions this morning. It's good to be able to touch base with our new Deputy Prime Minister. Congratulations again, look forward to speaking sometime soon. Michael McCormack, the new leader of the National Party, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in the Coalition Turnbull Federal Government and Australia's Deputy Prime Minister.