Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News AM agenda

Keiran Gilbert: Joining me now, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Thank you very much for your time, Deputy Prime Minister.

Michael McCormack: Good morning.

Keiran Gilbert: This measure to increase the pension age has been on the Budget since 2014. It was going to cost about $5 billion. Well, this announcement will cost, I should say, $5 billion across the decade. Can you confirm to us that this has not been to Cabinet yet?

Michael McCormack: Certainly Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, has consulted his cabinet colleagues. We've agreed it's a sensible and pragmatic move. I think if you're a tradie or a brickie or a shearer in rural and regional Australia you don't want some suit in Canberra telling you that you've got to work until you're 70.

It's hard back-breaking work what a lot of our people do and being told that they're going to have to work until 70, I think, was probably a step too far and it's a sensible move by the new Prime Minister to make sure that that decision has been overturned.

Keiran Gilbert: You said he's consulted Cabinet colleagues, but it hasn't actually gone to Cabinet.

Michael McCormack: No, that's correct. But as he said in your introductory remarks, I saw him there, what looked to be one of the football ovals, probably Townsville yesterday where he was making a fantastic announcement. The fact is that decision will go to Cabinet next week and I'm sure that Cabinet will ratify the decision.

Keiran Gilbert: It's interesting though that he makes such a decision with big fiscal implications on breakfast television.

Michael McCormack: Yeah sure, but he has consulted with his Cabinet colleagues and we all agreed that it was a pragmatic, sensible move.

I say again, if you're doing a back-breaking job, the last thing you need to be told by a suit in Canberra is the fact that you've got to work until you're 70 years old until you get a pension.

I think it's a good move. I think it's the right move and I think the Prime Minister has seen to that that he wants to change something for the better and that's got to be a good thing.

Keiran Gilbert: You have responsibility, as well as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. In terms of the infrastructure element, I want to ask you about, in the context of those projects that we reported on earlier in the week, $7.6 billion.

But more broadly in terms of spending and project-ready ideas that the Government has before it, I'm told that the Prime Minister has asked his Department secretary to rev up the public service. He was disappointed with the amount of project or shovel-ready projects there are in the lead up to the next election. Is that a fair characterisation of where things are at?

Michael McCormack: There's a lot of work going on at the moment. We've got a $75 billion pipeline of investment over the next decade and there's a lot of work going on.

Whether it's the Bruce Highway in Queensland. We're looking at Rookwood Weir and certainly planning for that. That's been decades in the making.

The Inland Rail is going on at a pace. The first 600 tonnes of steel were dropped off at Peak Hill on 15 January and that's going to be nation-building infrastructure.

And of course, there's the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, planning is underway for that.

There's projects in every state and every capital city. There was a billion dollars put aside for congestion-busting in capital cities. But more than that, a lot of regional connectivity roads are happening.

We're looking very much at shovel-ready jobs and we're doing just that. The Roads of Strategic Importance. There's a lot of work going on.

Keiran Gilbert: That's in your portfolio. More broadly though.

Michael McCormack: There's no engineers and workers idle, put it that way, Kieran.

Keiran Gilbert: Okay, but more broadly across the Government, I would have thought five years on that there would have been more shovel-ready projects, as it's termed, and the Prime Minister was apparently disappointed when he put out this call for that sort of project in the lead up to the next election and well basically, as I say, he's told his Department chief to rev up the public service to finalise some of these projects.

Why would the Government be playing catch-up right now?

Michael McCormack: Some of the jobs in Northern Australia, for instance, we're looking for workers. And the fact that we've done so well as a Government and the fact that we've helped small business, many of which are in the excavation and road building sphere. The fact that we've helped small business create a million jobs in five years—small, medium and large businesses—the fact is it's sometimes hard to find workers to be able to do all these jobs, particularly in Northern Australia where we're continuing to roll out a package of development. A package of infrastructure through Roads of Strategic Importance, through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.

There's a lot of work going on in Australia and you only have to look at the number of cranes around capital cities, the number of road works going on in regional Australia, to know that the infrastructure funding is rolling out and rolling out very, very well.

Keiran Gilbert: On to a few other issues, obviously the drought continues. There's talk of a milk levy, a 10 cent levy, on milk purchases. Do you support that initiative with those funds to go via the Agriculture Department to farmers directly?

Michael McCormack: I support anything that's going to get more profitability at the farm gate. And appreciate that people in Australia are being asked, via a petition, albeit started in social media. Certainly I know the big supermarkets are looking to what they can do as well.

But anything that gets a bit more profitability at the farm gate—particularly at this troubling time where farmers, dairy farmers, indeed all farmers, are doing it pretty tough—has got to be seen in the context of that's going to provide a bit of assistance and a bit of help at a very troubled time.

Keiran Gilbert: On another troubling issue right now and that's the banking sector. The Royal Commission continues and the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has written to the Prime Minister and it's interesting, I think this would resonate with National Party supporters. He's saying that he wants the opportunity for more victims to be able to give evidence at the Royal Commission, including in this letter he says, basically for the Royal Commission, which has not been able to travel around the country to meet with victims living outside the capitals. Do you think that this is a good idea—to extend the Royal Commission to afford that opportunity to many of your constituents?

Michael McCormack: Well that's probably a matter for Royal Commissioner Hayne and I appreciate that there have been some very disturbing stories. I also appreciate the fact that those regional members, those regional constituents, who have had issues with banks and issues with financial institutions who have been able to give evidence, it's been very troubling to hear some of the terrible and disturbing stories that they've told.

And so, if the Royal Commission feels that it needs to hear from more of those stories and more of those people who have been affected, and if it feels that the Royal Commission needs to be extended, then I'm sure that Royal Commissioner Hayne will look at that in the context of making sure that we do hear a full and raw, albeit raw, tale from right around the nation.

And certainly there are a lot of stories as well in rural and regional Australia which need to be told at that Royal Commission.

Keiran Gilbert: Now, Mr Shorten is saying that the Government should give this option to the Royal Commissioner. Is that something you believe the Government should do, at least say, look, if you need more time you can have it?

Michael McCormack: I'm sure that that will certainly be considered by Government. I'm sure it will also be taken on board by Justice Hayne.

This is a very important Royal Commission. We extended the terms of the Royal Commission to take on board some other things that weren't initially considered. There's been some—very much some breakthroughs—in banks' behaviour as a result of the Royal Commission.

And certainly the Government is very much monitoring the progress of it and seeing what further we can do to help at the end of the day, the important people, and they are the customers of Australia.

Keiran Gilbert: A Labor-led Senate inquiry gets underway in about 20 minutes from now here at Parliament House, on the au pair matter that has dogged Mr Dutton in recent days. Is this something that he should explain what the national interest was in terms of these decisions?

Michael McCormack: That's a matter for Peter Dutton, the Home Affairs Minister. But as he's already said and indicated a number of times, there are many Labor members too, who have sought Ministerial intervention on several cases; cases for their own constituents, cases for people they knew.

And we've seen some stories come out in the press this morning about very prominent Labor Ministers and Shadow Ministers asking for intervention by the Minister.

Certainly there is Ministerial discretion—always—in whatever portfolio you have but certainly in the immigration space.

The thing I will say too though, that really is important, is that under Peter Dutton we have tightened our border security measures and before him, of course, under Scott Morrison.

Under Labor, border security was almost non-existent. The fact is we have tightened our borders. We have made it imperative that people who want to come to Australia, either for work or whatever reason, they come here under our conditions. And we make sure that they are welcome and that they don't overstay if they're not entitled to.

Keiran Gilbert: When you look at the events of the last couple of weeks, it must be frustrating from a National Party perspective that the Government of which you're a part, has been immersed in such chaos.

We've seen another leak today to The Courier Mail—Renee Viellaris reports that there was an offer made, that's already been disputed by some around the Turnbull camp but this report in The Courier Mail front page that Mr Dutton felt that he was offered the deputy leadership.

These ongoing sores within the Liberal Party remain public, don't they?

Michael McCormack: We're getting on with the job of doing what we need to do as National Party members and as the Government for the Australians we serve, but particularly as the National Party for regional Australia.

I was delighted last week that the CSIRO report talking about six new dams, the potential thereof in Northern Australia, and potentially 387,000 additional hectares of agricultural land, up to $5.3 billion of economic activity.

We're building the Inland Rail. We're making sure that if you need to see a doctor in the bush then you can with the Murray-Darling Rural Medical School Network.

They're the sorts of things that I'm focussed on. They're the sorts of things that I know my National Party colleagues are focussed on. Making sure that we have reliable dispatchable and affordable power. That's the sort of thing that we're concentrating on.

But we've been a good Government. We'll get through this hiatus that has occurred in the last couple of weeks. Scott Morrison has already hit the ground running. I was delighted to be with him last week in Quilpie in outback South Western Queensland to talk drought. He understands regional issues. He certainly understands the drought.

And we're getting on with the job of focusing on Australians, not focusing inwardly on our own naval gazing efforts, and making sure that we build a better Australia.

Keiran Gilbert: Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for that. We'll talk to you soon.

Michael McCormack: Any time at all, Kieran. Thank you so much.