Transcript 5AA Radio Adelaide interview

LEON BYNER

Now, one of the big issues for us right now is that plane tickets to places like Whyalla, Port Lincoln and other very important centres could increase by $50, $20 respectively if the Federal Government agrees to increase security measures at regional airports. Now, there are many who argue that this is not by any means the most satisfactory situation. Let's talk to the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. Michael, thanks for coming on this morning.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

That's a pleasure, Leon and sorry I'm a little bit late –

LEON BYNER

No, not at all.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

– but we had a division in the House.

LEON BYNER

That's fine.  Well, I hope we haven't got a division here, because –

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

No, indeed.  Well, a division equals a vote actually. We call them ‘divisions’ but I think the general public would call them votes.

LEON BYNER

Okay.  So what can we do about these regional airports that are terribly important for South Australia, not just for passengers, but for freight and there are now concerns that the cost of tickets will be going up significantly which puts everybody at a disadvantage?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Yes look, I understand this completely and it's an issue that I've been working on for some time. I appreciate that we do need to have increased security screening and Leon, you would appreciate that September 11, back in 2001, it changed the world and changed aviation, changed security and changed the way in which we live.  But it's important that we have more security. It's important that certainly for those regional areas that they have more security but we shouldn't do it at the cost of regional commuters, many of whom are travelling for medical reasons. They are also obviously doing business. They're travelling for leisure. But, for whatever reason, they are travelling. 

Why should a regional commuter, indeed somebody coming to a regional community to do business or whatever, why should they have to pay up to $50 more on the price of their ticket to pay for that additional security screening? So I'm working through a way and my Nationals colleagues in the Senate certainly made this point last night when they were debating this very topic and we are going to ensure, as a Government, as a Government that wants to lower costs, as a Government that wants to have lower taxes, that's what we've always said and done, we're not going to slug regional commuters for the cost of putting in additional security and indeed, the cost of running and operating that additional security. 

So those regional listeners of yours, they can rest assured we're not going to pass on those unnecessary impositions onto their air tickets. They mean as much to us as anybody and as a person who lives in the regions, I understand full well exactly what this means for them. So it is going to be fair. It is going to be equitable. And whether you travel in a metropolitan area airport or whether you are in a regional airport, you should be paying roughly the same price for that additional screening. You should not have a large fee imposed on your air ticket for that service.

LEON BYNER

So when will that announcement be made? Is it imminent?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

That's a good word, imminent. We're working through it. So we'll work through it for the duration of COVID-19 and you know, there's limited air travel, but certainly coming out of the back of COVID we'll be making announcements such that we're not going to slug people, you know, unfairly so that regional commuters are paying more for their air tickets as opposed to metropolitan flyers.
 

LEON BYNER

Given as Deputy PM you're also versant with the responsibility, to a large extent, on aviation, what is your take on Australia's number two airline that went into voluntary admin last month? The Queensland Government has announced plans to bid for Virgin. What do you think of that?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, there are 19 other potential serious investors. Preliminary bids close tomorrow. I think Queensland should be concentrating on running its economy and running the State rather than running an airline.  That said, I want, as everybody does, as you do, as every regional commuter, as every person who flies in aeroplanes across Australia, they want competition. They want two commercially viable airlines coming out the back of COVID-19. It's always been my narrative that we want a market-led solution, not a government-run solution and I haven't swayed from that.

LEON BYNER

So, again, are you of the view of the ACCC's Rod Sims that wants a full service airline to compete with Qantas?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I know Rex has also put its hand up to play a bit more in the aviation space and that's good. I encourage that. I want to see whatever form and shape Virgin takes through this voluntary administration process, I want them to be viable. I want it to be commercially viable. I'm confident that we can do that. I know that Paul Scurrah is working well with Nicholas Moore who we've appointed to liaise with the administrators, to liaise and report back to Treasury. The process is working well. Preliminary bids close tomorrow, so let's see what happens. 

There's going to be a lot – and you know going to any real estate auction, Leon, that often the real serious bidders only put their hands up at the last moment.  We could well see that too.  So 19 potential bidders at the moment. Who knows? That could well be 20, 25 tomorrow.  Let's see what happens. I know the administrators want the jobs for their wonderful airline.  It has been a great airline.  We want it to continue.

LEON BYNER

Deputy PM. Thanks for making the time in your division or vote. That's Michael McCormack just updating us on two things. Good to know that our regional listeners – and they've got a big stake in our economy, not the least of which is agriculture. There's the comment from the Deputy PM that you won't be enduring higher airfares as a result of extra security costs at regional airports. That's good to know, isn't it?

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