Doorstop, National Drought Summit Canberra, ACT

Question: What are you hoping to achieve out of today?

Michael McCormack: It’s great that State Premiers, their Agriculture Ministers, the National Farmers’ Federation and so many other key stakeholders in agriculture are coming together to talk to us about what we need to listen to as far as what we can further do to help with this drought. Its crippling effects are taking such a toll on Queensland, on New South Wales, on Victoria but also now South Australia.

We’ve provided $1.8 billion worth of funding so far to help with this drought in the recovery relief efforts. We need to also build resilience.

So we’ll be listening to those key stakeholders today to see what else we can do for this drought but also for future droughts because Australia is always beset by droughts. I’m delighted that the Prime Minister is going to be announcing a new future drought fund, that’s so important.

So we’ll be getting on with the job of listening and then, of course, taking away what we hear from this summit today and acting upon it.

Question: Deputy PM, the same time as this drought summit is underway, we see reports in the Fairfax press that The Nationals’ Treasurer Peter Schwarz is accused of gouging, the reports say $850,000. What do you make of those reports and have you looked into them?

Michael McCormack: Victorian Nationals have made commentary on it; they’re standing by Peter Schwarz. I know Peter Schwarz very well, he’s a good man. I’ll be making some enquiries too. I only know what I read, what I’ve read in The Age today, so I’ll be making some enquiries. But as I say, Peter Schwarz is a good man, the Victorian Nationals are standing by him and so will I.

Question: If these allegations are found to be substantiated, what do you think would be the right course of action?

Michael McCormack: That’s a big if, and it’s hypothetical. Let’s see what happens. Everybody’s innocent until proven otherwise. Let’s see what happens.

Question: There’s reports today that Larry Anthony has been talking to Nats’ MPs about your leadership. Is that correct?

Michael McCormack: Well, I have always had discussions with Larry Anthony. As the Federal President he of course has discussions with MPs about The Nationals, where we are going and what we are doing. But most importantly Larry Anthony is talking to National Party members.

National Party members are talking to me about what we can do in future to help the members that we serve, the people that vote for us, the people who send us to this great place to represent them, to fight for better infrastructure, to fight for better outcomes. That’s what we’re doing here today. 

I’m pleased that Barnaby Joyce is here today in his role as Drought Envoy. I’m really pleased that he’s doing a very, very good job of that. We’re not discussing leadership at the moment, we’re discussing how we can better help our farmers, our rural communities, because it’s not just about farmers, it’s also about those small businesses in rural communities who are the cornerstone largely of those rural communities, those ag sector related rural communities. That’s the focus for us today.

Question: Are you confident you’ll lead ‘till the next election?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely. Thanks.