Transcript - Interview on 2CC with Stephen Cenatiempo

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

Well, tomorrow night’s Federal Budget will include more than $160 million in funding for infrastructure projects here in the ACT. To talk to us more about it, we’re joined by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack. Deputy Prime Minister, good morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

A lot of this – or the bulk of this – is previously announced funding. Are you trying to follow the ACT’s lead here by re-announcing stuff that’s already been announced?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there are key new projects funded, including $26.5 million to duplicate the remaining sections of William Hovell Drive and $2.5 million for upgrades to Beltana Road. So Chris Steel, who is of course, the Minister with the portfolio responsibility for infrastructure in the ACT and he’s not on my side of politics but I tell you what, he was pretty pleased with what I announced to him last night. As a bit of a pre-brief of what we were going to be talking about today and indeed, Josh Frydenberg was going to announce tomorrow in the Budget at 7.30, this Budget is about securing Australia’s recovery, Stephen.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

So, there’s a fair bit of road funding which is interesting here given that the ACT Government is trying to encourage people to get off the roads. But I guess an acknowledgement that most Canberrans still like to drive wherever they’re going.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, cyclists use roads, too and cyclists use of course, cycleways. And we want to make sure that the road network of the ACT is the best it can be and that’s what we’re doing. That’s why we recently announced an upgrading of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. That’s why we’re putting $132.5 million into the Canberra Light Rail Stage 2A. And I know I announced that with Andrew Barr, the Chief Minister. And, again, he acknowledged the Commonwealth contribution to a better, you know, more freely congested ACT. We want to bust through that congestion. We want to make sure that Canberrans can get to where they need to be sooner and safer and that’s exactly what this is doing and perhaps even more importantly as well, the Budget, these new projects, supporting 200 direct and indirect jobs over the life of them.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

That’s what I was going to get at. Because, I mean, that is a focus for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, is jobs, jobs, jobs. Although having said that, are we still looking, anticipating that there’s going to be a bit of after effect of the ending of the JobKeeper program?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we needed Australians to get back to work and that’s, in fact, what they do. And the statistical data from Treasury and others proves that, you know, by ending that JobKeeper it actually has got Australians back to work. More Australians than ever are actually actively involved in taking up those positions and indeed, doing those positions that Australia needs right at the moment. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the measure was necessary at the time. We’ve provided the assistance. We’ve tweaked it all the way through. We then absolutely made sure that we followed the best advice by taking that assistance and redirecting it into other areas. And we’ve made sure that the economy is what it needs to be whilst at the same time of course, addressing the health outcomes that of course, Australia’s population needed at the time and continues to need.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

One of your areas of responsibility is regional development and there has been a lot of concern about getting – well, the fact that we have got a lot of people moving into regional areas and making sure we’ve got the infrastructure there to support them.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

43,000 metropolitan people can’t be wrong, Stephen.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

Well, I’m not disputing that. I just wonder whether or not we’re ready for those people to move out of the metropolitan areas into the regions.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed they are and people make these lifestyle choices. They have chosen to go to regional Australia because it’s the safest place in all of the world in which to live. They’ve decided to go to regional Australia because they can buy an affordable home with a big backyard, not be sitting traffic going to and from work. That probably doesn’t apply to Canberra, Canberra’s traffic is generally free flowing. Of course, yes, you have days on Northbourne Avenue and other areas where it’s banked up a bit, but generally speaking the ACT, Canberra, is pretty good. But, you know, in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, other capital cities, there is congestion, no question about it. The Budget will address that. But, indeed, more and more Australians are looking to a regional lifestyle, to take that opportunity to raise their family, to take, indeed, one of those 66,000 jobs which are on offer in country areas at the moment.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

What are we doing structurally to change the culture where we need to bring in foreign workers to do agricultural work when we still have Australians sitting on unemployment benefits in other parts of the country?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there are 90,000 backpackers at the moment who aren’t in Australia who would normally be, so that is an issue. But there are, of course, opportunities for Australians to move to the regions, not just to take jobs in orchards or indeed, meat processing plants but in law firms and accountancy practices. Yes, we’ve addressed the seasonal worker issue. It is difficult because we’ve also made sure that it’s easy and easier for those Pacific Island people who often do come and do those manual labour jobs that can’t be filled otherwise, we’ve made it possible for them to come over and indeed, I know Heath Newton who runs the Junee abattoir put on a special flight of his own and quarantined the island workers at his own expense. And, of course, he’s got one of the biggest abattoirs where they’re processing 5,000 sheep a day and providing somewhere in the order of about 40 per cent of prime lamb comes out of that Junee district. So, you know, there are opportunities for those entrepreneurs, for those business people and indeed, for those workers to fill those positions which are there in regional Australia at the moment.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

Is there anything left for Josh Frydenberg to announce tomorrow night?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Plenty and he’ll be having more to say about Council funding for infrastructure, for road safety upgrades, I’m sure for mental health, women’s health, aged care. There’s plenty for him to announce. I know he’s excited. I spoke to him very, very early this morning. I don’t think he’s slept for some days because that’s just Josh. He’s bouncing off the walls. He is pretty excited and pumped about what will be a responsible Budget, what will be a Budget about securing Australia’s future and recovery.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO

Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Any time at all, Stephen. Thank you so much.

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