Interview with Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan ABC Radio Brisbane

Craig Zonca: How you fly in out of Brisbane is set to change dramatically in the coming years and today it’s all about planes at the Australia Airport Association Conference which is happening here in Brisbane. In fact, it’s brought the Acting Prime Minister and Leader of The Nationals to town, Michael McCormack, good morning.

Michael McCormack: Good morning.

Craig Zonca: By 2020, Brisbane will have the greatest capacity of any airport in the country. Do we have the infrastructure? And I’m asking that because you hold the portfolio of infrastructure.

Michael McCormack: We’re getting the infrastructure Craig. The new runway is under construction at the moment; we’re really looking forward to that opening very, very soon.

Look, things are happening. It’s an exciting time. We’ve got a $75 billion infrastructure rollout right across the nation but with one in seven Australians actually living in South East Queensland and Brisbane of course as you say this area plays such an important part in our inbound tourism and even domestic. It’s really important that we get that infrastructure in place.

Craig Zonca: Well do you feel that Brisbane will be the gateway to the country with this second runway when it comes online?

Michael McCormack: Indeed, it has a big, big role to play. Not everybody wants to go to Sydney, not everybody wants to go to Melbourne. A lot of people want to come to Queensland, to Brisbane, that is the gateway to the sunshine.

We're investing heavily in Brisbane with $4.4 billion being spent in and around the city. But not just Brisbane, you know; I’m a rural and regional member and so they're critically important to me as well. I'm looking forward to spending the afternoon with Keith Pitt, the Member for Hinkler, and talking up infrastructure and roads and better services up there. So it's an important time.

Craig Zonca: Well you put that $4 billion figure on what you're investing in South East Queensland but you look at the second runway airport: that's privately funded. The other major infrastructure project happening in Brisbane right now is Cross River Rail: that's fully funded by the State Government. Are we really getting our fair share in Brisbane?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely. Only last week I was up at Rockhampton with the Prime Minister announcing the $800 million that the Federal Government is investing in the Rockhampton Ring Road and of course $10 billion on the Bruce Highway.

You know, it's not just all about Brisbane, it's about Queensland and anybody contemplating a trip to Queensland should not just think about the Gold Coast and Brisbane; there are many, many destinations to go to and particularly at this time with the drought. They should also think about going to places like Longreach and Quilpie.

Craig Zonca: But you are throwing far more money at the likes of Sydney for instance, $5 billion for a second airport which has been on the table for a long time.

Michael McCormack: Well 30 years but it’s necessary; it has been talked about for more than 30 years. We're getting on and building. The Melbourne Airport Link to the CBD there, that's important too, but we're also investing in infrastructure right throughout Queensland. We know that Queensland is a growing state and it’s growing faster than most. So we want to invest in the infrastructure and we are.

Craig Zonca: Well you spoke about the roads, the Bruce Highway to the north, Cross River Rail - is there going to be any change in Federal Government policy on that and would there be any contribution under your reign as Infrastructure Minister…

Michael McCormack: …Well the Queensland Government has said that they're going to fund it and so if they're going to fund it, we'll look at other projects, we'll look at other infrastructure, roads, whatever the necessity is: That's what we're doing. We're taking on board our soundings from the Queensland Government.

I'm in close contact with Minister Mark Bailey. We're always in touch about what we can do and how we can do it better and I was delighted to have him at the Transport Infrastructure Council meeting in Sydney just last week where we talked about Queensland's infrastructure needs and particularly the Inland Rail.

Craig Zonca: Because there have been some, maybe not barneys but certainly disagreements between the State and the Commonwealth over funding for road infrastructure closer here into towards Brisbane and on the M1 where you've been calling for a 50/50 split. The State Government’s saying why not make it 80/20 as it is on the Pacific Highway South of the Queensland border. It seems that every time there is a road announcement, then there's a debate about who's going to actually pay for what.

Michael McCormack: Sure and it's generally with a metro road or a metro piece of infrastructure that it's 50/50 and a regional rural road, be it a national highway or whatever it's 80/20. That's generally the split.

But I want to work with any Government. I don't care what their political colour, stripe or creed is. I want to work with any Government to build better infrastructure for Australians to get people home sooner and safer.

Loretta Ryan: Mr McCormack, of course with Brisbane growing at the rate that it is, people listening who may be stuck in traffic at the moment and seeing brake lights are going to be thinking: well it's going to take a while for this road infrastructure to be increased and be improved. Can they blame you if they're looking at brake lights in the future?

Michael McCormack: No, but what they can do is think about moving to a regional centre because there are jobs in Mackay; there are jobs in Rockhampton; there are jobs in Cairns; there are some fabulous regional centres, Toowoomba. They're growing. There's jobs there. There's friendly people. They are communities small enough to care but big enough to get a good cup of coffee.

Loretta Ryan: I don't know if Brisbane people stuck in traffic at the moment are all going to be thinking about they want to move to a regional centre though.

Michael McCormack: No, but we're getting on with the job of building better infrastructure. We're getting on with the job. Look at the Beerburrum to Nambour rail that we are investing $390 million in to make sure that those people can not only work in Brisbane but can live on the Sunshine Coast. We're making those opportunities for people, cutting their rail times, cutting their road times by up to 40 minutes one way. So that's a saving of up to an hour, 80 minutes, to spend more time with their families at the end of the day.

Craig Zonca: The Acting Prime Minister is Michael McCormack, he’s the Leader of The Nationals, and in town today for the Australian Airport …

Michael McCormack: …Not quite Acting Prime Minister yet. I don't think ScoMo actually leaves the country until about midday.

Craig Zonca: Oh hasn’t left yet? Until midday? I’m jumping the gun a bit.

Loretta Ryan: Practicing.

Michael McCormack: [Laughter]

In training. Prime Minister in waiting!

Craig Zonca: So Deputy Prime Minister, until about lunchtime today, 8:40 on ABC Radio Brisbane. Does that mean you're looking forward to lunchtime when the roles swap over?

Michael McCormack: Oh absolutely. I mean, you know it's always one of those childhood fantasies to be Acting Prime Minister so you know, I'm going to live it out today.

Craig Zonca: Do you get a text: ScoMo has left the country?

Michael McCormack: Well, you just know because the security detail all of a sudden you descend upon you and all of a sudden you have somebody to open the door and you’re not allowed to drive anymore.

But look, the most important thing is to get a focus on rural and regional Australia. I'm the leader of The Nats as you've said in the start of the show and there's some really good things happening in rural and regional Australia and I’m proud to be a boy from the country.

Craig Zonca: The Prime Minister has this morning reversed his decision on the charitable organisation Foodbank. They were due to have their funding cut in half. I heard about that yesterday. Outrage across the country, reversing that decision today, is a long term commitment to funding for Foodbank?

Michael McCormack: It's $1.5 million in extra money over four and a half years. That's a significant amount of money and Foodbank will get the $750,000 that it's always received.

We’re talking rural and regional—this is a vital organisation to stop food waste but particularly for rural and regional Australians, many of whom are doing it tough. This is a good decision, the right decision and a decision by good Government.

Craig Zonca: Yes, that funding is over four years. It's not just a little stopgap for 12 months?

Michael McCormack: No but these sorts of funding initiatives are always ongoing; you don’t fund things out forever but these organisations know that they're going to be funded. And look, when obviously the…

Craig Zonca: Well, they didn’t know they were going to be funded, you cut them in half.

Michael McCormack: ...I was just about to say. When, obviously, they saw that other players had come in and they were getting funded as well, we made the decision very quickly to reverse it; to make sure that not only we reversed it but we actually gave more money to food relief right throughout the country so $1.5 million more.

This is important. A lot of people are doing it tough, particularly in country areas and particularly with the drought, and the Prime Minister has asked that future initiatives have a particular emphasis on those rural communities really struggling with the drought.

Craig Zonca: Michael McCormack, there has been a lot of focus on the leadership of the ABC in recent months. It was a discussion on Four Corners last night as well, where the former Chairman drew a direct link in some ways between the ABC’s funding and its coverage of the Government. To what extent does the ABC’s reporting of the Government determine the level of funding the organisation receives?

Michael McCormack: The ABC is fiercely independent and so it should be. I'm a big believer in the ABC, particularly in rural and regional Australia and particularly in times of crisis whether it's a flood or fire or drought, you see the ABC at its best. When crisis happens you can rely on the ABC to provide those updates, not just every hour but almost by the minute, and people rely on that service.

I'm a big, big believer in the ABC, particularly in country areas, and I know Tim Fischer made a lot of comments yesterday that without the ABC Australia would be like Siberia. I agree with him. I love the ABC. Why wouldn't you, as a regional Australian, love the ABC? It does such a power of good in our rural communities.

Loretta Ryan: Will funding be increased?

Michael McCormack: We're always looking at funding and I know that the funding for the ABC is significant. I know that the ABC does a great job. I'd actually like to see some more of the ABC move out of capital city areas like Ultimo and move into regional capitals where I think it would be better served, where the rents would be a lot lower and the ABC could even do more good and could spend more of its money, more of its funding, on programming. There's a lot of stories to tell in rural and regional Australia and they’re stories of success; they’re stories of opportunity and hope.

Craig Zonca: Do you have confidence in the board?

Michael McCormack: I've got confidence in the board, yes. The ABC, well, it's a little bit like looking at the cricket team and saying: oh, woe is us, our cricket team have had some really bad things happen to them lately with the sandpaper incident, we've lost our captain, our vice-captain, but the Australian cricket team will continue. Always has. It’s an institution just like the ABC.

It might be a long hot summer for our cricketers, and the ABC are going through their troubles and turmoil at the moment, but the ABC will endure and good luck to it; and it'll have my support every step of the way.

Craig Zonca: And when it comes to leadership, well, we're no strangers to changes in leadership when it comes to the political sphere as well. Scott Morrison taking on the job after Malcolm Turnbull…

Michael McCormack: …And doing a fine job too.

Craig Zonca: …opposed by his Liberal colleagues.

Michael McCormack: …Really being well-received.

Craig Zonca: …I wanted to talk to you about that. He’s just been on a tour of Queensland.

Michael McCormack: Yep.

Craig Zonca: … a poll locally here in the Sunshine State…

Michael McCormack: …I joined him in Rockhampton.

Craig Zonca: …showed a bit of a bounce for the Prime Minister. But more broadly, the latest Newspoll figures show that there hasn't been a bounce with Scott Morrison taking the leadership. In fact, going backwards the vote for the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis. Do you feel that you're in a better position now as a Coalition Government member than you were a few months with Malcolm Turnbull in the helm?

Michael McCormack: I’ve never been somebody who looks at polls and thinks oh, because if you looked at your news clips of the morning and everything that you read you lived by, you wouldn't get out of bed as a politician.

So, I bounce out with optimism and hope in my heart every morning and enthusiasm to do the job. I know Scott Morrison does the same. He's getting on with the job. He's on the international stage this week. I think we'll see the very best of him as a diplomat and a statesman this week.

He'll be back in Australia next week and taking back over the reins of the country, and everybody can breathe a sigh of relief about that because you know the reign of McCormack will be over but he'll get on with the job of making sure that cost of living pressures continue to be addressed; energy costs, we put downward pressure on that; making sure that our tax program is put into place so businesses and individuals pay less tax, that people can still negative gear their properties.

That's the sort of things we're talking about, making sure that Australians know that the issues that are nearest and dearest to them - and many of those are in their hip pocket - are being addressed by the Liberal and Nationals Government.

Loretta Ryan: What about your own leadership of the National Party? What type of leader would you describe yourself as?

Michael McCormack: I listen. I care. I get around rural and regional Australia. I'm not the sort of person who gets on the mountain top with a megaphone and talks about what I'm doing and how good I am.

I just want people to know that I do care, I do listen, and I do certainly when they tell me that they want something done, I do act upon that advice. That's the sort of person I'm getting out and try to show people.

It's not always easy. There's a lot of competing interests in politics and that's fine. You want people to be able to see their politicians in the flesh. That's why I do a lot of town hall meetings. That's why I get out to a lot of forums and talk to people, particularly rural and regional Australians, and they know that the National Party has their back.

Craig Zonca: Given that there is such a split in the Conservative vote at the moment, Michael McCormack, are The Nationals in danger of being relegated into the history books?

Michael McCormack: The National Party are 100 years old, more than 100 years old in Western Australia. We're celebrating our centenary as a Federal Party next year. The naysayers have been writing us off for 100 years but you know what? We keep turning up. We keep listening. We keep delivering. We keep achieving.

We don't do it for ourselves—we do it for the people we represent, those people who are doing it tough out in the bush. They know, they've always known that they can rely on the National Party to serve them well, to speak up.

We won't be silent when we need to speak and we're not; and we're getting out there. We're delivering, like Michelle Landry; like Keith Pitt; like Llew O'Brien; like David Littleproud; like Matt Canavan, right throughout Queensland. We're doing the job that we were elected to do. Ken O’Dowd: What a fantastic salt of the earth member he is - that's the sort of person, and they’re the sort of people like Barry O'Sullivan that we're getting out, we're showing people we care and moreover, we're achieving for on their behalf.

Craig Zonca: Michael McCormack, thanks so much for your time.

Michael McCormack: Thanks, Craig. Thanks, Loretta.

Loretta Ryan: Be careful. They’re filming Harrow down there. I believe they’re waiting for…

Michael McCormack: …Might be a little cameo role!

Craig Zonca: The Deputy Prime Minister who’ll get the text later today to say that Scott Morrison has left the country then Michael McCormack will be acting Prime Minister. He is leader of The Nationals.