Interview with Graeme Gilbert, 2SM

Graeme Gilbert: And today the Federal Government have announced a billion-dollar package for drought-affected farmers and businesses. Joining us the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, leader of the National Party Michael McCormack. Good evening sir, how are you?

Michael McCormack: Good evening Graham. Yeah, very well thank you.

Graeme Gilbert: You're keeping well? Are you happy with today's announcement?

Michael McCormack: Look very pleased with today's announcement, it gives farmers but perhaps almost as importantly, it gives regional small businesses hope for the future. It's not just a package for the here and now, it's also a package for them for the future. And it's important to note that as a Government, we're not only addressing this drought but we're the first government in history that is actually looking at the drought that will no doubt ultimately follow this one because we all know Australia is the country of flooding rains, followed by drought, followed by more wet. And then so if you can make sure that you can address the issues that need to be addressed now for the future, well that makes it so much easier for people in the future.

Look I'm up at Hughenden, little town in North Queensland, population eleven hundred, looking at the Hughenden district's prospective dam project, prospective irrigation project and sitting around the local pub here with eight or so of the [indistinct] irrigators here. They're really keen to get a dam built here. Just [indistinct] like they are at Stanthorpe in David Littleproud's electorate, just like I know they are in the New England near Tamworth with the Dungowan Dam, just like they are at Cowra with the Wyangala Dam. People are keen to see water infrastructure built and started now for the drought that will ultimately follow this one.

Graeme Gilbert: Yeah I'm glad you're looking at the next drought because we will- the rain will come, we know that, it's just a case of when. But callers to this program Sir, they just keep saying when is the Government just going to start announcing we'll have a dam here, a dam there? We don't need environmental impact statements, all of that's been done. You know, the Government should be able to go in and the other thing they ask about—when is your Government, your and the Morrison Government  going to make water a national issue? Nationalise water the same way John Howard attempted to.

Michael McCormack: Well indeed, we're actually doing that Graeme and the National Water Grid which was established on 1 October is going to do just that—take the petty politics out of it, make sure that we- we have to work with states—that's- according to Section 100 of the Constitution we've got to work with states. But you're right, people are just sick and tired of the bureaucracy, they're sick and tired of the, you know, everything getting in the way and actually getting on with building water infrastructure. But when you look at Scottsdale in Tassie, up there in the north of Tassie, you know, this time last year it was only just starting. Well now the dam is more than half full, so there's 5900 megalitres. So appreciate it's not that large, but at least it's a dam project that has been started and finished within about 12 months which shows what can be done. Sixteen of the last 20 days that have been built in this nation have been built in Tassie, and of course, that was the state of the huge Franklin protests. We all remember those. But if Tassie can do it, goodness gracious, so should we be able to in other areas.

So I'm glad that I've got Steph Ryan and Peter Walsh there in Victoria talking about the Big Buffalo project. Glad that we've got the Queensland on board with Emu Swamp Dam near Stanthorpe and Rookwood Weir, well we're negotiating through that process—we've put $176 million on the table. And so pleased that Melinda Pavey and John Barilaro are coming on the journey with us with Wyangala, rising that dam wall by just 10 metres means that there's an additional 650 gigalitres of productive water for the central west of New South Wales. I know how important that is for Andrew Gee; I know how important that is for me in the Riverina electorate. So if we can do that, goodness we can do it elsewhere, as you quite correctly point out, right across the nation.

Graeme Gilbert: Let me ask an absolutely dumb question and feel free to tell me I'm a dill, if there's an obvious reason for this. You're buying a lot of water out of South Australia, congratulations. How do you pump that water back from SA back into New South Wales?

Michael McCormack: Well it's water that will be- they will use it for their own uses, but that allocation of water will then provide- some of the water that's further upstream will be used to grow fodder up and down the Murray. So that's the idea there. They will crank up their desal' plant. They will benefit from Federal Government financial assistance to do just that. They will come on the journey with us; so pleased that they're doing that. Steven Marshall has shown true leadership today. Of course, they had a Cabinet meeting to thrash that out. They've agreed, in the national interest, to do the right thing, to crank up the desal' plant. That will provide for fodder up and down the Murray. This is going to enable the farmers to be able to grow the food to feed our dairy cattle, feed our breeding stock, to keep that stock from being sent to the abattoirs. Because in this country at the moment, generally, we've got about 40, 45 per cent of the cattle going to be processed; heifers and cows, at the moment, unfortunately it's about 55 per cent. So we send too many females to the abattoirs, we- unfortunately we end up processing our breeding stock and then it takes years to recover from that. But we want to put a stop to that. We want to make sure that with the recent rains, we've got a bit of a pick down, green pick down in south west New South Wales. We take advantage of that. We take advantage of the hundred gigalitres that South Australia is going to kindly provide. As far as growing fodder is concerned, farmers can then make the decision having spoken to their accountants, to their banks, to their partners, to their families, to their rural financial counsellors whether they want to borrow through the Regional Investment Corporation, of course, putting that money on the table today, as we have also for regional businesses.

So it's a good package and of course councils, I've just got off the phone through Mark Liebich, the Weddin Shire Mayor there at Grenfell. He's delighted they're getting an extra million dollars and delighted that also they're going to get a top up of their Roads to Recovery funding, like 127 other councils throughout this nation.

Graeme Gilbert: Now, of course you can't please everybody, Deputy Prime Minister, so who are you going to upset with this package?

Michael McCormack: Well we might upset—I suppose some people who think that, you know, they don't want farmers to go into further debt but you know, they don't have to borrow that money. If they want to cope with the mechanisms that they've already put in place, they want to just try and survive this drought, then they can do that. But if they want to take advantage of a no interest, a two-year loan, and then of course only paying the interest back after that, then they're more than welcome and we encourage them to do so.

Yeah, look, it might upset a few Greens that, you know, that water is going to be used for fodder and not flowing out of the mouth of the Murray like it generally does, you know …

[Talks over] Now, talking about [indistinct]-

Michael McCormack: … but there's always—but there's always [indistinct]. There's always doomsayers. You've always got the …

Graeme Gilbert: [Interrupts] Talking about the [indistinct] struggling farmers and went out to sea out of South Australia, are you aware how much anger there was in regard to that?

Michael McCormack: Well absolutely. Look, I talk to farmers; I talk to Riverland communities all the time. I talk to those people for whom they need obviously, a vibrant river system. There's no better, no better environmentalist in this nation, Graeme, than our farmers, than our irrigation farmers, than our dry land farmers. They have to care for country; they have to care for the waterways because if they don't, well their livelihoods as we all know depend on it. So they know that all the water flowing past for environmental purposes, yes, to a degree it is important; but they also know that without that water being used for productive purposes, then they don't—then they don't survive it. If they don't-  if they get off their land, then those communities die.

Look, let me tell you, the frogs and the birds and the fish will always come and bounce right back soon after a rain event …

Graeme Gilbert: [Talks over] That's right. I know. Yeah.

Michael McCormack: …  soon after a ripe [indistinct] watering event way quicker than our farmers ever will. And if our farmers leave the land, then you don't get back the hairdressers, you don't get back the numbers in the school, you don't get back the coffee shops in little towns like I'm in right now. -Hughenden in North Queensland. Now, I could name all those towns, the Milduras of the world, the Griffiths, the Deniliquins, the Hillstons, you know, all those towns on the Lachlan, on the Murray, on the Murrumbidgee, on the Darling, they rely on a vibrant water river system but they can't do it if there's not government help and that government help certainly has coming again today.

Graeme Gilbert: Yeah. No I say congratulations, a terrific package and realised it was Bill Shorten who was the problem at the most recent federal election.

Michael McCormack: It was more than Bill Shorten, let me tell you, but anyway, that's a matter for Labor. But yes, do continue.

Graeme Gilbert: Are you surprised that doing this navel-gaze six months later that surely they knew the day after the poll what had gone wrong?

Michael McCormack: Well it's no coincidence that while we're talking about our struggling farmers and we're talking about how to grow our regions even further, Labor are talking about themselves. But that's typical Labor and quite frankly, that's about it for Labor.

Graeme Gilbert: Yeah. And I'm a big fan of your Deputy Bridget McKenzie. I'm a big fan of yours too, but your Deputy Bridget McKenzie. When are they going to stop playing silly buggers with her future?

Michael McCormack: Well look, that's part of politics I suppose. If politics were easy, everybody would be doing it. It's always easy when you're in these sorts of positions for people to go and criticise and you know, to say various things that aren't quite true. Look, Bridget is working very, very hard. She's the Senator for Victoria but she's getting right out and about the countryside. Wherever I go, people speak well of her. Yeah look, some of the shock jocks and some of the print journos, they can write whatever they like. Quite frankly, she's doing a very good job in very trying and difficult times. She has my support; she's got the support of the National Party; she's got the Prime Minister's backing. And you know, and more importantly perhaps, she's got the farmer's backing.

So I know that the NFF and individual farmers know that she's working and in very, very trying times and working hard to achieve the outcomes that we all want. Not just the farming communities, not just regional Australia but indeed, dare I say, people in metropolitan Australia too, have been very generous, very caring. They know that our communities in the country areas are doing it tough; they've helped out. Certainly, the government has again stumped up today with a $709 million package. And of course, there's more work to do and we will do it. We're up for the job.

Yeah. It's a big job still ahead. We've got Christmas coming up; it's going to be very tough on the farms. All you and I will continue to do is pray and do rain dances.

Michael McCormack: Yeah, Graeme. And you're right, and Christmas is coming up so I would urge and encourage people to look at what they can do as far as visiting a country area …

Graeme Gilbert: [Talks over] Yeah. Buy regional.

Michael McCormack: … as far as spending- spending money in a regional shop. I know Senator Hollie Hughes has done a good thing, if people go onto her website. Have a look and see how they can buy local, buy regional. That would be a good thing for them to do and I'm sure the gift receiver would appreciate it as well.

Graeme Gilbert: And also to all of our listeners, remember just to buy a bale; b-u-y-a-b-a-l-e; just google it up and if you've got a few bob, you know, say to your children: you're not getting a gift this year; we're giving it to the farming community. Buy a bale or buy some water, it can be done ever so easily. I appreciate your time. I know your dad was a farmer; your granddad came from Greece; we're not sure how a Greek offspring got a name like McCormack but I thank you for your time.

Michael McCormack: Well that was on mum's side. [Laughter]

But I did all of this very paperwork in 2010 I have to say, and then it certainly came up when everybody was being chucked out of Parliament. It was only a matter of going out and getting the paperwork out of the file, updating it and then sending it in. So I was very much—very much an Aussie citizen, Graeme, I'll have to tell you.

Graeme Gilbert: I wasn't hinting. I've got to go to news. Let's talk again soon.

Michael McCormack: Good man. Alright.