Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

Sabra Lane: And joining us now is Michael McCormack, the Leader of The Nationals and the Infrastructure Minister. Good morning and welcome to AM.

Michael McCormack: Good morning, Sabra.

Sabra Lane: One Nation's Pauline Hanson says that she's not going to back this company tax plan without the Government further reigning in the multinationals. The package appears dead. How will you overcome that?

Michael McCormack: Well I've got every faith in Mathias Cormann to do the right negotiations. But more than that, Pauline Hanson did the right thing last week. She gets another opportunity. Last week, it was for personal income tax, and certainly she made the right choice and the right decision there for Australian taxpayers.

This week she gets the right chance, another chance, to make the right decision for more Australian taxpayers, and they are the workers of Australian businesses.

Sabra Lane: She says she's not for changing her mind.

Michael McCormack: Well look, she said that some weeks ago about the personal income tax too. But you know, this is an important piece of economic development for Australia.

The fact that big business, like small business, like medium enterprises, needs these tax cuts to be able to grow, to be able to grow our economy, to be able to provide higher wages for their employees.

So many people I've employed over the years—and that's many hundreds—have had on their CV a job in a big business, whether it was a supermarket, whether it was a bank, as their first job.

And look, at the end of the day, if we're more internationally competitive—and we will be if all business is paying 25 per cent tax rate—that will make us more internationally competitive, and that's the thing going forward that's going to be so vital for Australian business, for the Australian economy.

Sabra Lane: That attack ad on Malcolm Turnbull, how do you think Australians will respond to it?

Michael McCormack: Badly I think, because it's class warfare writ large. It's just typical Labor.

And the fact is many nurses, many police officers, many emergency workers, many school teachers, they've all got share portfolios. They all rely on the banks and big business to do well. And they've also got share portfolios that they're relying on for their little nest eggs when they retire.

You know, and the fact is many Australians have shares, many Australians understand the value in reinvesting and investing in Australian companies and that's why our tax breaks that we're trying to give big business and all business are important. That's why it's important for Australians to have their businesses, and their big business, going well.

Sabra Lane: If it doesn't pass, will you take the plan to the next election or would you rather that it's dropped and would free the Coalition up to make promises on other things?

Michael McCormack: No. That's the policy we're taking to the election.

Sabra Lane: The nation's biggest live sheep exporter—Emanuel Exports—has had its licence revoked.

60,000 sheep now in quarantine in the west, without any market destination. Three abattoirs over there are shut for maintenance. The sheep apparently can't be on-sold because of quarantine restrictions. What's going to happen to those sheep now?

Michael McCormack: Well, the next 48 hours is going to be very important. And certainly it's up to Emanuel to… I mean, they've got the sheep. They'll obviously take care of those sheep, but they also, it could well be that another company comes on and perhaps then takes the sheep to a Middle Eastern destination. It could well be that a company like KLTT or Wellards is asked to take the sheep over to the Middle East. These 60,000 sheep were obviously on-sold, and so it's going to be critical that we keep this live export trade open.

Sabra Lane: Could this episode…

Michael McCormack: It's critical for our farmers. And make no mistake, our farmers need the live sheep export trade to continue.

Sabra Lane: Could this episode bring about the end of the industry?

Michael McCormack: Well, the summer trade is obviously something that has been front and centre of national debate in recent weeks and months. But the fact also is that we need to keep the trade open. Australia is the only country in the world with a supply chain assurance scheme for exports that guarantees…

Sabra Lane: Clearly it's had problems. Major problems.

Michael McCormack: Well, it has had problems, yes, but other countries don't even put animal welfare at front and centre of their export live trade. We do. We always have.

That ESCAS system is putting animal welfare front and centre. I know the Agriculture Minister is making sure that we've got those inspectors on the boats to ensure the welfare standards are met. We've got stocking densities lowered by 28 per cent, which gives them all more room in their pens—38 per cent more room—and we're certainly trying to get through the Parliament a provision whereby if people do the wrong thing, they're penalised for it and penalised severely.

Sabra Lane: Infrastructure Australia has handed down a report today. It's critical of the Federal Government for doing nothing about initiating an inquiry into road user charging, saying the current system is unfair, unsustainable and inefficient; pointing out the Government did indicate two years ago it was prepared to do something. It's done nothing. What's your response?

Michael McCormack: Well, that's something that we're looking at and we're looking at with key stakeholders. We're looking at making sure that, you know, with the automated vehicles becoming more and more prevalent, making sure that we do everything that we should do in this space, without putting additional cost of living pressures on ordinary, everyday Australians.

We want to make sure that, as part of our $75 billion infrastructure package, that we build the very best roads, that we get Australians home safer and sooner. We're doing that.

Appreciate that this report has indicated those things, but at the end of the day, we are looking at it. We are making sure that we're building the infrastructure of the future and we'll continue to do that.

Sabra Lane: It's estimated up to 12,000 electric cars will be sold in Australia next year and the numbers will double the year after. How is that fair, really, because those people, they don't pay the fuel excise so they're not making a contribution?

Michael McCormack: And that's a point. And the fact is, as well, we are looking at the future. We're seeing where battery storage placements can be put around the countryside so that they are able to charge up.

But the fact is we are building better roads. We are duplicating roads—whether it's the Bruce Highway, or whether it's the Warrego, whether it's the Pacific Highway—we're making significant funding announcements, the Princes Highway, right around Australia.

Road user charges are something that, you know, we're looking at, we're making sure. Minister for Urban Infrastructure, Paul Fletcher, it's something that's certainly on his plate, is looking at what we should do in the future, in conjunction with and collaboration with our stakeholders. Something that we're looking at, but we're concentrating at the moment on getting the right infrastructure package to get Australians home safer and sooner.

Sabra Lane: Alright. The Banking Royal Commission resumes today. Five days on farming, is that enough? We've heard from a lot of groups saying that it's not.

Michael McCormack: Well, if it's not, we'll look at seeing what we can do to perhaps extend the amount of time that farmers can put their problems and issues and concerns to the Royal Commission. Look, we'll see how it pans out during the week.

Sabra Lane: It's a decision ultimately for Dyson Heydon, is it not?

Michael McCormack: It is, yes. But certainly if—I'm sure—he's being very magnanimous so far with hearing people, listening to what is being told to this very important inquiry, and if farmers and those sorts of groups need more time, I'd like to think that more time will be allocated.

Sabra Lane: Alright. Thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

Michael McCormack: Thanks, Sabra. Any time.