Transcript ABC News Breakfast Interview

LISA MILLAR

Let's take you to Canberra now. While politicians are wrapping up the shortened sitting week, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack joins us now. Good morning Minister, how are you?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Good morning, Lisa.

LISA MILLAR

Now, it’s as your role as Transport Minister that I kick off this interview with. I want to ask you about that bid by the Queensland Government with Virgin. Your colleague, Peter Dutton, says it's laughable. What do you think of it?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I believe that it should be a market-led solution. I have said that the whole way through, Lisa. I've not swayed from that and I still do think that it should be a market-led solution. Look, there are, as we read and as we hear, potentially 19 serious investors. Who knows who might come forward in the next 24 hours before preliminary bids close. We have got Nicholas Moore of course, in there talking with the administrators. I know Paul Scurrah, the CEO and the board of Virgin want to see their airline up and running again. We all want to see two commercially viable airlines coming out of the back of COVID-19. The process has been followed. Let's see what happens from here.

LISA MILLAR

Do you think it is acceptable for the Queensland Government to be part of a market-led solution?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, they are a Government and I agree with Deb Frecklington, they should stick to trying to run Queensland and Queensland's economy. I think this should be left to companies, it should be left to potential bidders and investors who aren't necessarily Government. I believe that there should be very much a market-led solution. Look, we want to see, of course, Virgin up and back in the air. I know how many letters I have received and I have been writing back, hand signing each and every one of them to the hundreds, if not thousands of Virgin employees. They’re concerned of course, about their jobs, appreciating they are based in Brisbane. We all want to see Virgin back in the skies, domestically, regionally and of course, potentially internationally.

LISA MILLAR

Yes, but here we have, on the other hand, Rex Airlines, which did get Federal Government help, now expanding. You talk about two airlines after COVID-19, you might end up with three trying to battle for what could be a much smaller passenger list?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, indeed. Yes, at the start, we will have a smaller passenger list. That is a given. But as it builds back up and as regional tourism destinations open back up, we want to see people visiting those drought-stricken, bushfire-ravaged and now COVID-19 affected areas.

LISA MILLAR

But Rex is talking about going to capital cities.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Indeed and good luck to Rex, I wish them well with that. If we have got three commercially viable airlines flying domestic routed, so much the better. We want to see competition. We want to see aviation, be its best self. That is why we put $1.28 billion on the table, sector wide assistance for Virgin, Rex, Qantas, for all of those airlines which do Australia so proud.

LISA MILLAR

We had the head of the International Air Transport Association on the program a little bit earlier. He is saying nothing is going to be viable, certainly internationally, if you have this 14-day quarantine in place. He said international travel just will not be able to restart.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, eventually that will lift. Of course, we will take the advice of Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. He's done a sterling job so far. The fact that Australia has been able to contain and minimise the case rate and indeed, the death rate so, so very well compared to other countries. I think we will take his advice. We have done very well so far. What we don't want to see is a second outbreak. What we don't want to see is a number of cases as what happened 100 years ago. History has a bad habit of repeating itself. 100 years ago when we had the Spanish Flu, it was the second wave of attacks that killed so many – 12,000 Australians died in that. We have done so very well so far. We thank Australians for what they have done. Download the COVIDSafe app and we’ll all get through this together.

LISA MILLAR

Can I turn to China now, we have seen it happen with beef and barley. There are concerns that it is going to happen with iron ore and LNG, this action from the Chinese Government. Is this an attempt by China to silence its critics?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

I think we need trade with China – $149.7 billion of trade. And when I talk to farmers, when I talk to barley growers, when I talk to beef processors and indeed, cattlemen and people who raise stock, they want to make sure that we've got viable trade with China. They want to make sure that we work through this process. Yes, it is difficult.

LISA MILLAR

Is it a campaign to silence the critics?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

We want to make sure that we work with China, that we, indeed, have trade going forward with China. Our farmers, our resources industry relies on it.

LISA MILLAR

Your constituency, the National Party's constituency, now seems to be paying the price of the tit for tat that's gone on in regards to coronavirus?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

We will work through it of course and any inquiry that does occur on a world, on a global scale, in relation to COVID-19 needs to happen. We know that. No-one walks away from that including China. But what we do want to see is continued trade. Whether that's with China, whether that is with any other market destination, we want to make sure that our produce which is the best in the world, our resources and indeed, agriculture. I know how hard David Littleproud is working as the Agriculture Minister. I know how hard Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is working to make sure we follow the processes, that we get our trade back where it needs to be. We produce enough food to feed three times Australia's population and China is one of those areas where we need to continue to do that trade.

LISA MILLAR

Mr McCormack, is the antics perhaps you could call it, of John Barilaro in regards to Eden-Monaro cruelled any ambitions that the National Party might have had in that seat now?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, we have never held that seat and it is a Federation seat. Yes, we will continue to see, through local branches – I have said all along as the Leader of the National Party, it is up to local branches whether they field a candidate. I would never take away their autonomy. I would never take away their rights to pick the person they want to represent them in that seat. Local branches always know best. The National Party's been going for 100 years. We've done it well for 100 years. We have had some very good representatives in Parliament. I know John's working hard for regional New South Wales. I wish him well in that endeavour. In Eden-Monaro the pressure is on Anthony Albanese. They hold the seat. They hold the seat and no Government has won a seat in a by-election in 150 years except for one, back in 1920. The only one out of 158 since Federation. The pressure is on Labor and the pressure is on Anthony Albanese.

LISA MILLAR

Michael McCormack, thanks for your time this morning.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Thanks, Lisa. Any time at all.

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