Interview with ABC Riverina

SALLY BRYANT

I am joined this morning by the local member and also Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. 

The HomeBuilder scheme might seem like a boost for homeowners, but you have to spend at least $150,000 and it can't be earning more than $125,000 a year as an individual or $200,000 as a couple.  This scheme is probably going to be too tightly targeted to provide stimulus required to support the construction sector properly.  Did you think about making it, maybe, on a pro rata basis for people? Because you are excluding a lot of people, aren't you? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, what we did do was took the advice from the Master Builders Association, the Housing Industry Association, but as well local tradies, local home builders. 

Certainly I talked to them as part of the Cabinet, as part of the Expenditure Review Committee that formulated this plan.  And it is a seven‑month stimulus.  And with the land shortage experienced around the nation, there is an opportunity to create new developments by refreshing and re‑developing older dated areas within towns and cities. 

And house prices are generally more affordable in regional areas. A $150,000 renovation would make these homes, particularly your typical sort of ’80s homes, a very, very desirable accommodation.  This is a stimulus package for seven months.  It expires on the 31st of December –  

SALLY BRYANT

To be fair though, Mr McCormack, you haven't addressed any of the problems that I've raised. It excludes a lot of people, there are a lot of houses in regional Australia where people would not be investing.  If they were trying to update them, if they were trying to make them more liveable, they're not going to invest $125,000 in them. 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, it also includes a lot of people. It also does include. And this $25,000 grant on top of what some states are doing for first home buyers is very desirable. 

And, you know, I'll take the best advice of people such as Wayne Carter who said people will be dancing in the streets about this. Not only those home builders, but also those people contemplating a renovation, those people who are a tradie, who haven't had work for some weeks, if not months, those home builders who have got their own small businesses who want to get back on the tools and want to be able to build homes, renovate homes and do all those sorts of things. 

This is an opportunity.  $25,000, it is all about creating jobs, it is all about creating more work, both in regional areas, as well as, of course, suburban and metropolitan areas. 

SALLY BRYANT

So, the grants though aren't going to help those people who actually really need a roof over their heads.  Could it not have been tailored to help those who are actually in need while also supporting the construction sector? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, the Federal Government, to be fair, spends billions of dollars on social housing for lower socio‑economic groups.  The Federal Government does do that.  And of course, working in with States, we spend a lot of money to help put roofs over peoples' heads. 

Yes, there will always be people who fall through the cracks.  And aren't we lucky we live in Australia where we do have the safety net systems, where we do have the help that people desperately need if they lose their job.  And I appreciate that many, many people have lost their jobs during this COVID‑19 crisis.  And that's why we are trying to stimulate the economy through the JobMaker program.  That's why we're trying to stimulate the economy through the $585 million Work Skills Package that Michaelia Cash announced, here in Wagga Wagga. That's why we're doing all these sorts of things.  And I know working with the Industry Minister Karen Andrews, she is doing a blueprint for the future to help us out the back end of this.  But we're taking the best possible advice to the people who matter on the ground.  Those people who you mentioned who have lost their jobs, those people who are looking to put a roof over their heads and indeed, those people who are taking the risk and backing themselves and are in small business. 

SALLY BRYANT

Mr McCormack, will there be more money for training and TAFE‑type courses? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, indeed.  And we're working with the VET sector.  And I know what a great job Michaelia Cash, the Small Business and Skills Minister, is doing. To do just that, we've already put $585 million on the table.  We're rolling out that program and enhancing it as part of job creation opportunities, JobMaker.  We have been a government which, you know, certainly reduced unemployment to the lowest levels it had been for many, many years prior to, of course, COVID‑19 taking full effect. 

And you know, we're still not out of the disastrous situation that it has forced upon our nation yet and that's why people need to be their best self, they need to ensure that they continue to follow the best possible medical advice, that's why they need to download the COVIDSafe app.  And we will get through this.  We've done it very well.  We are the envy of the world as far as I –  

SALLY BRYANT

[Interrupts] Yes, Mr McCormack, I have a whole lot more questions, so if I can just interrupt you there. 

This morning you're making an announcement about Round 4 of the Federal Government's Building Better Regions Fund.  That's a $207 million investment? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Indeed.  Right across the nation but in regional areas, of course.  Building Better Regions Fund round 4 for $207 million.  163 projects. 

Indeed, there were many more applications received, 544 applications received, we're funding 163 of them.  Wagga Wagga is going to be the beneficiary of a $4.2 million spruce up of the Botanic Gardens, a new exhibition hall incorporating with the wonderful museum there, which is also getting a refurb and some outdoor space is also being revitalised and renewed, so that will be good. 

SALLY BRYANT

Okay.  What was the process for choosing the successful applicants in that fund? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Very much went through the Department.  Mainly local government areas and their proponents put their applications together. They were all assessed independently by the Department of Infrastructure.  They then provided the information to a Ministerial Council, which I chair. And each and every project that is being funded was eligible for that funding.  Each and every project was done with representing value with relevant money.  No ineligible projects were funded.

SALLY BRYANT

Okay.  Now, Australia's major airlines are warning that the number of operating routes could drop if the Federal Government support dries up next week.  Will your support of the airlines continue? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

We are continuing to monitor the situation, continuing to provide assistance for aviation on a sector‑wide basis. 

SALLY BRYANT

Anything else you can add to that? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, look, I don't want to give anything away prior to what might or might not get announced. 

It is important that we work with stakeholders.  We work with the likes of those running the voluntary administration process with Virgin.  It is important that we work with, of course, Qantas.  It is important that we work with regional airlines, including Regional Express based here in Wagga Wagga.  It is important that we do all of those sorts of things and that's what we are doing, not just on a daily basis but seriously, on an hourly basis at the moment. 

SALLY BRYANT

Because a healthy airline network is going to be key if we're going to have something of a domestic tourism‑led recovery. 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Absolutely.  Couldn't agree with you more.  And it certainly will be a domestic tourism‑led recovery because I don't think we're going to have or see the international flights that we saw prior to COVID‑19 in the immediate future. 

It is going to take a long time for the globe to get through this pandemic and indeed, many countries will still be having their borders shut long after Australia's are re‑opened. 

SALLY BRYANT

Now, southern irrigators are turning towards the Shooters and away from the Nats.  There's even talk of them starting their own party and targeting some seats in the next Federal Election, including Riverina.  Are you concerned about their claims of government inaction on issues like water? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

We've done a lot on water.  We're not just a one‑focus party in The Nationals.  We concentrate on all on matters pertaining to the national interest and of course, regional interest and that's why at the last election, on May 18 last year, every one of our 16 seats was retained because people know we deliver.  Hence, today with the $207 million of the Building Better Regions Fund.  Would not happen without The Nationals.  Would not happen without The Nationals. 

Now, yes, water is important.  It is very, very important.  And of course, States have a role to play here, too.  Each and every state signed up to the Murray-Darling Basin. It is an adaptive document.  And we've had, let's not forget, a very prolonged drought.  Let's not forget it has been the worst drought that many people have ever experienced. 

And so, you know, you can create water by storing it and building dams and that's what I'm doing with a $3.5 billion Dam Infrastructure Fund.  Indeed, we have to work through the States there as well to make sure that the priority areas are identified.  And that we can build water infrastructure in the right place. But water allocations are very much the remit of State Governments and it is not just the Federal Government which has responsibility in this area. 

SALLY BRYANT

Now, on another matter, as a former newspaper editor, what do you think of the treatment of journalists at the moment, including Australian journalists in the US? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Oh, well, very concerning, of course.  And the scenes coming out of the US and elsewhere are very distressing, I think, for a lot of people. 

Of course, those journalists, including former The Daily Advertiser journalist here in Wagga, Sophie Walsh, who, you know, had a situation there happening in London.  It is very concerning. I’m pleased that there is obviously consular assistance and pleased that those American police who attacked the Australian journalists have been called before an inquiry and stood down pending those investigations because obviously they were journalists, obviously they had large cameras with microphones, etc.  They weren't just your average protester trying to get their face on social media.  These were professional people just doing their job and of course they need protection. 

SALLY BRYANT

Now, there's been considerable concern around the scenes that we're seeing from the US but also a lot of Australians are saying we should be very mindful that our record on the way we have dealt with Indigenous people in Australia is not perfect. 

I note that there was a rally in Sydney recently and this weekend there's a rally in Wagga.  Are you proud that the city, the heart of your electorate, seems to be leading regional Australia in responding to Black Lives Matter? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Wagga Wagga has always been a very welcoming city and a city with not just strong Indigenous routes but of course, it is a great multicultural place and that's why, you know, more than 10,000 people turn out to the Fusion Festival each and every year.  That's why we've got such a proud record.  But as you say, we can always do better and that's important that we do be very mindful of these things and we exercise restraint and we make sure that we don't tolerate racism in any way, shape or form. 

SALLY BRYANT

So, will you be in Wagga over the weekend? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Unfortunately no, I'm going back to Canberra tonight and won't be here.  I'll be back in Wagga Wagga probably on Sunday but heading over to Canberra tomorrow for some meetings. 

SALLY BRYANT

Okay. Any message to your constituents?  Would you be encouraging them to join the rally on Saturday? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

I think the message would be exercise tolerance and respect. 

SALLY BRYANT

That's the Deputy Prime Minister and local member, Michael McCormack.

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