Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News Live

Laura Jayes: Let’s go live to Sydney now, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack joins us now. Michael McCormack, thank you for your time. I know you’ve been in drought-affected regions since Parliament did break last week. Can I ask you first to clear up the confusion about The Farm Household Allowance?

Michael McCormack: Well, the Farm Household Allowance of course is available for four years in every ten, and once farmers have finished with the Farm Household Allowance, if they’re coming off that, if they’ve been in drought for four years, well there’ll be a supplementary payment of $13,000 for couples. But we’re not going to allow any farmers in drought-stricken areas to miss out. To not know where their next income is coming from.

We will support farmers, the legislation allows us to make supplementary payments, and we will continue to do that, Laura. It’s very, very important that people know that the Federal Government has their back. That certainly in those drought-stricken areas, there will be assistance, there will be ongoing assistance and we will be supporting our farmers.

Laura Jayes: Five hundred farmers and households have been kicked off the farm household assistance so far. Will that happen to any more?

Michael McCormack: Well, there’s- as I say, there's going to be more supplementary payments for farmers who've  finished their Farm Household Allowance. But it's also important to note that we've just changed the rules, such that it's now four years in every ten. Previously, it was only three years.

We increased it  to four years, and that is forever, and now we've increased it to four years in every ten. So for those farmers, they may now be eligible for the four year in ten rule, whereas they may have previously had the four years of assistance and then finished up. So we're supporting our farmers. We'll continue to do that, and we'll continue to monitor the situation.

Laura Jayes: So after four years, they'll get a supplementary payment and that's it?

Michael McCormack: Well there's a $13,000 supplementary payment. But look, if the drought continues, of course we will revisit it. Of course we will continue to monitor the situation. We're not going to leave our farmers high and dry. They're already in desperate straits. We know that, and we'll continue to monitor the situation. We’ll continue to represent our farmers as we should, as people would expect and we will continue to provide for them in these terrible times.

Laura Jayes: So can farmers expect to get a second supplementary payment or are you saying you haven’t quite made a decision on that yet?

Michael McCormack: Well the second supplementary payment for some farmers, some farmers are receiving their first now, and obviously we've got a meeting today, and another cabinet meeting next week where we're addressing those very things. So watch this space. Indeed, we've got a good package of announcements to be made, and that will continue. We have continually addressed the situation - the drought situation - as it's gone on. But we've continued to make adjustments, we've continued to put a million dollars into councils, and continue to make even more councils eligible for that assistance.

Originally it was around 60, it's now up to 122. I mean, it may well be that even more councils, obviously, are now eligible for that drought community support funding. And we'll monitor that, we'll make sure that we've got the right money out there to keep farm hands and other people getting off farm income.

We'll continue to monitor the situation so that we've got people being able to be supported via employment in the town, so that regional small businesses can continue to have money generating through those drought-stricken communities. And we’ve- we also need the states of course to stump up and to make sure that they continue to play their part in drought subsidies, in fodder support, in those sorts of things for urban water.

That’s the state’s responsibility but let me tell you the Federal Government’s not going to let any community run out of water and it’s not going to leave our farmers without any money.

Laura Jayes: Okay, so just to be entirely clear, Michael McCormack, [indistinct] you can forgive my confusion and viewers’ confusion in all of this, the Nationals are pushing for the Farm Household Allowance to be extended so that supplementary payment perhaps extends beyond one but it’s not yet Government policy?

Michael McCormack: It’s as simple as this Laura, we want to continue to make sure that our farmers have money in their pocket, food on their table, and we’re doing just that.

Laura Jayes: Is the Prime Minister listening?

Michael McCormack: Of course he’s listening and you know, there’s a lot of people saying that criticising the Prime Minister for leading the response to the drought. I’d be more surprised, I’d be more astounded, I’d be more disappointed if the Prime Minister indeed wasn’t leading the drought response.

I mean that is obviously something that needs to happen. John Howard led the drought response of course when we were in very severe drought conditions in the millennium drought. He was out there with John Anderson, the Nationals leader visiting farmers, making sure those rural communities were supported. Scott Morrison is doing that in this drought. And of course with myself, we're out there with David Littleproud the Drought Minister, Bridget McKenzie the Agriculture Minister.

I mean we live – Bridget, David and I and the other Nationals and regional Liberals of course – we live in these drought areas, we see it firsthand every day. We've got families in drought, it's a terrible situation and we’re there supporting our people all of the way all of the time.

Laura Jayes: So do you have any idea what the extension of this Farm Household Allowance would cost?

Michael McCormack: No I don't, Laura, but it's a case by case basis obviously and with some farmers with their situations many are in dire straits. As I said before, others are doing okay, but of course they would like to do better, but it's a case by case situation.

But I would say to farmers who are in drought: do not self assess, make sure that you have the proper financial counselling, make sure you talk to your bank, make sure you talk obviously to your partners and your families, and make sure that you seek what drought assistance is available to you because for some they are still self assessing, for some they are still eligible for funds that they feel as though they may not be. But make sure you avail yourself of all of the measures that are available.

Laura Jayes: So the Government also – let's switch to energy now – is today announcing they're pumping $1 billion into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation [indistinct] a focus on reliability on the grid. Where is that money coming from?

Michael McCormack: Well it's on the contingent liability and of course with these sorts of things there's an underwriting scheme, indeed there will be a return on investment, so that's important. We want to make sure the important thing is that energy costs are pushed down and for businesses, for families that they can have reliable, affordable energy. That's the whole part of our mix, whether it's clean energy, whether it's continued reliance on coal.

Of course I know the protesters are going a little bit crazy again in Melbourne today – shame on them. The fact is coal provides for 54,000 jobs in this country, $62 billion of exports and indeed 60 per cent of our energy requirements in this nation. They should think about that before they go slapping police horses. They should think about that before they turn on these people who are trying their best to help this nation have the power energy needs in a reliable and affordable manner.

We of course are doing our part as the Government with this reliability grid to make sure that we've got the right funding, to make sure that we've got the right mix all of the time. We're looking at clean energy, we're looking at batteries, storage, pumped hydro but also coal is very much a part of the mix and will continue to be.

Laura Jayes: Well that said, when’s the Collinsville feasibility study going to start?

Michael McCormack: Well that will be very soon …

Laura Jayes: [Talks over] Weeks or months?

Michael McCormack: … and indeed there's work being done by the company in line for that at the moment. And certainly I know Matt Canavan and I have had some very good meaningful and productive talks about that. I know we've also …

Laura Jayes: [Interrupts] Apparently he did with the Prime Minister too.

Michael McCormack: Well indeed, he's very passionate Matthew and I commend him for that. Politics is a …

Laura Jayes: [Interrupts] But there’s no delays? Just to be clear.

Michael McCormack: Sorry? What was that delay?

Laura Jayes: There’s no delay to that feasibility study?

Michael McCormack: No. No. There’s no delay, there's still some information being provided on that project and look it’s only been five months since we’ve been re-elected. That- I think if that stacks up, that’s a very good initiative, $10 million for a project at Collinsville which is going to help certainly the power needs of Gladstone. Gladstone is a …

Laura Jayes: [Talks over] [Indistinct] weeks or months though?

Michael McCormack: Well, I would say it will be probably early in the New Year.

Laura Jayes: Okay.

Michael McCormack: It’s already early November, so that’s only a couple of months away. So that’s a fairly good timeline.

Laura Jayes: Michael McCormack, thank you.

Michael McCormack: Thanks Laura.