Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB Sydney

Ben Fordham: The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is coming up in just a moment. A lot of New South Wales is in a crippling state of drought. A drought is a concern not only in the summer months because a number of stations in central and southern parts of the state record their lowest amounts of rain on record for the month of April. So, for the first quarter of 2018, New South Wales endured particularly dry weather, with the so-called wet season not proving to be so wet after all. Rainfall has come in at even than what was expected for the year so far, which not only poses a heightened threat of bushfires next summer, but it also means that our farmers, those living in rural areas, are doing it tough. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spent the day in rural New South Wales meeting with people living in remote and drought-affected areas, and also with him was the National Party leader, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Michael McCormack, who joins us on the line.

Michael McCormack, good afternoon.

Michael McCormack: Good afternoon to you, Ben.

Ben Fordham: Thank you for joining us. I know you're about to jump on a plane so as soon as it starts boarding just let me know and you can bail on us.

Michael McCormack: I'm actually sitting on the plane ready to go.

Ben Fordham: You're on the plane. Alright, you're doing even better. Thank you. It's- look, I know you don't need a reminder of this because you're the National Party Leader, you see it all the time, but Malcolm Turnbull certainly learnt some pretty raw lessons today about how tough people are doing it in rural New South Wales.

Michael McCormack: Well, we can't make it rain, Ben, but we can certainly listen and we can act upon what we hear from those farmers, and Ashley and Phillip Miles, property called ‘Strathmore’ near Trangie, they're doing it tough just like their neighbours, indeed like everybody throughout Western Queensland, New South Wales and parts of Victoria.

You know, some of these farmers haven't had significant rainfall for seven years and in parts of Mark Coulton's electorate, it's three out of the last four. So, it's tough and as you said in your intro, it's fighting hard.

Ben Fordham: 60 per cent of New South Wales on drought watch. For the first three months of this year, we've experienced the driest results in 30 years in New South Wales. So why was there no further drought relief included for farmers in the Federal Budget?

Michael McCormack: Well, there was. And there's the continuation of the farm household assistance package. There was a number of things that we put there, things that farmers and indeed local government areas—and we met with a number of councils that- you know, from Dubbo, Narromine, Trangie and Cobar and elsewhere besides today—and the sorts of things that they're after are, you know, assistance for agribusiness as well. The small businesses within communities who also do it tough.

But certainly, the water infrastructure provisions that we've put into place, the extension of the dog fences, they've made a big difference and certainly making sure that local businesses get a slice of that procurement action has been so important.

So, we've done all that. There's further measures in the recent Budget, but we want to also hear firsthand, and that's what the Prime Minister learnt today, as you said, what exactly that we can do in the future if it doesn't rain.

Now, Phillip and Ashley told us today they're still hopeful that they'll get a crop in if it rains in the next four weeks, and most of the farmers, they're very resilient, but they just need rain and they'll get a crop in. And then they get a crop in, crops things will be okay. But you know, it's just a watch and wait.

Ben Fordham: I heard one question at the press conference today just about funding and investment that if you got farmers who were doing it particularly tough and they've got a successful business, but it's going through a dry patch like this, that what they can really use is Federal Government investment in their business, which will be repaid.

And some people have received that kind of assistance, but others have not. Can you elaborate on that for me because the Prime Minister seemed to say to whoever was asking that question: well, that's a worthy question and we're certainly willing to look at that further.

Michael McCormack: Well, it is and it goes to, you know, the funding that we're doing for programs to help small businesses and farmers and that procurement. So, whether it's instant write-off for fodder storage facilities, or water infrastructure, those sorts of things, that helps, not just the farmers, but it also helps the businesses besides in these rural communities.

So making sure that there is some assistance, which perhaps can be just for those local government areas which are declared in a drought-affected area and not for all of New South Wales. Appreciate that you're going live to all of New South Wales and it's great that city people are actually hearing that there is a problem out here in the west.

Ben Fordham: No doubt about it. Now, just on another subject that you guys were asked about today at that news conference. Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion spoke last night to the nation on Sunday night on Channel 7, and not a lot of people tuned in to watch it compared to what was expected. But one of the things in there was the suggestion from Vikki Campion that someone in the National Party pressured her into having an abortion. Can I ask, as the new National Party leader, whether you have investigated that allegation today?

Michael McCormack: Well look, I haven't. I'd like to think that that actually didn't take place. But look, if the allegation obviously has been made, I think that's a matter for Vikki and Barnaby to take that up with whomever is alleged to have actually said that.

And you know, it's an intensely personal matter. Barnaby has made that quite clear. Well, if there is that allegation, then either name the person or take it up with them and, you know, see where that takes it.

But the fact is, I sit there with fine people in the National Party. They represent regional Australia very, very well. They represent their seats well. I'd like to think that that didn't take place, but if it does, I think it's a matter between Barnaby and Vikki and the person who is alleged to have made that statement.

Ben Fordham: Because you're now the Leader of the National Party and they've made the allegation, would you encourage them to come to you and to tell you who made that comment to Vikki Campion so you can investigate it?

Michael McCormack: Well again, I say it's probably more a matter of them approaching that person and taking it up with them.

I'm more interested, I've got to tell you, in making sure that the drought-affected farmers and communities in western New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria are looked after.

I've got to tell you, as I go out about people sit around kitchen tables and talk to people and sit around boardrooms of small businesses, they're not talking to me about the Barnaby situation. They are talking to me about the drought. They are talking to me about the recent Budget, which was a very good one. They're the sorts of things I'm focused on and I think the Australian public would expect me to be focused on that as well.

Ben Fordham: Good luck with the flight, Michael McCormack. Thank you for squeezing us in.

Michael McCormack: Okay. Thanks very much, Ben. Anytime, mate.

Ben Fordham: Thank you. The National Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Michael McCormack, who's on a plane at the moment getting ready to take flight.