Sunrise interview with Sam Armytage

SAM ARMYTAGE

The Federal Government has announced a $1.8 billion boost to help areas battling the economic effects of COVID-19. The money will be distributed to councils and used to accelerate community projects like building bridges, improving roads and upgrading street lights. Now, it's hoped the funding will help support local jobs and businesses, while also stimulating the economy. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack joins me now. Michael, good morning to you.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

Good morning Sam.

SAM ARMYTAGE

This is great, we love it when money goes to regional areas but do you, does the Federal Government have any say on where it's spent because councils don't always spend wisely?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

It will be spent all around the country and there are 537 councils across Australia and I wrote to each and every one of them on March 6. More than 400 responded but each and every council will get a part of this action. Each and every council will get a part of this $1.8 billion stimulus. So $500 million will be spent under the Roads to Recovery funding model and councils, as you say, can use it to build roads and to do all those sorts of things. Yes, of course, we want the money spent wisely and they’ll work through the Infrastructure Department and myself, to do just that. But it will create local jobs, it will create local procurement opportunities for small businesses.

SAM ARMYTAGE

So it won't just be council workers, this will flow through to businesses in these communities?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

Absolutely. That is the whole idea of it and of course, $1.3 billion of their Financial Assistance Grants that we provide every year, will be brought forward, so it is money directly from the Commonwealth to local government and we know to get local jobs on the ground quickest and easiest, it's through that process. I'm really excited about it, I know that the councils are also going to be very excited about it. Those mayors that I have already spoken to about it are delighted at the prospect.

SAM ARMYTAGE

OK, plenty of potholes around so that’s good news that they will be filled! Let's talk about China. Beijing has introduced new customs inspections procedures on our iron ore imports, is the Government concerned by these changes?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

Well, trade discussions are ongoing, of course China is our largest trading partner and I know how hard Simon Birmingham is working to bring about a better resolution for this. We will continue to produce the best resources and the best agriculture in the world and we will continue to have those discussions with China.

SAM ARMYTAGE

What about coal? There’s reports this morning that the Government owned Chinese power stations are being told to buy Chinese coal not Australian coal, should that worry us?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

It does worry us and again, trade discussions are ongoing. Of course, as I say, we produce the best iron ore, we produce, certainly, the best and cleanest coal anywhere in the world, whether it's a thermal, metallurgical, our coal is the best. Of course, China needs it for energy, for steel construction and all those things. We want to make sure that we can continue to trade successfully with China as we have done for many, many years and I know how hard Simon Birmingham is working to achieve that.

SAM ARMYTAGE

This is the debate at every dinner table in the country at the moment, how do we deal with China and these constant day-by-day threats to our exports? Do we back down or do we retaliate? How hard do you go with China?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

We do it in a measured, considered way as we have always done. What we did with the World Health Organisation to ensure that inquiry was called for and passed was the correct thing to do. Everybody wants to know how and why the start and the spread of COVID- 19 developed and the whole world needs answers on that and yet, at the same time, we are a great and successful trading partner with Asia and China and indeed with the rest of the world. We have the products that the world wants, we will continue to talk through those. This is just one of those things that we will continue to work through in a measured and considered, diplomatic way.

SAM ARMYTAGE

But it's interesting the whole world is calling for this inquiry now and it seems that China is only really picking Australia to have a fight with.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

Again, China relies on Australia as much Australia relies on China. So it's a very successful two-way relationship and has been for many years. I'm sure that it will be for many years to come.

SAM ARMYTAGE

So we do have some power here, that is good to hear. Let's talk about Virgin Australia adding new flights from today under a revised agreement with the Federal Government. Is that a sign that short-term funding from the government is on the table to keep this airline afloat in the immediate future?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

Well, all our funding, Sam, as you know, has been sector-wide. Virgin has benefited, yes, from the money we have put on the table as has Qantas as has regional airlines, such as Rex and we will continue to work with Nicholas Moore through the voluntary administrators. We want two commercially viable airlines through this process. We are very pleased that the process is working very well and of course, the sooner the states relax their border restrictions, the sooner we will have more domestic flights.

SAM ARMYTAGE

Yes, I was just going to say that! As soon as the borders are open, we can take off again. Hurry up, State Governments, perhaps Deputy PM?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK 

Always a pleasure, Sam.

SAM ARMYTAGE

There you go. Michael McCormack, thanks for that.

 

Media contact:

Tess Salmon, 0467 740 017