Transcript - Interview ABC Riverina with Sally Bryant

SALLY BRYANT 

Michael McCormack is the Federal Member for the Riverina and Deputy Prime Minister. I spoke to him a short time ago and I asked him which local outlets is he aware of which will get the share of this $50 million package? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, the actual breakdown of who gets what has not been announced but Antony Catalano's ACM group, which, of course, includes the Daily Advertiser and any number of mastheads throughout the Riverina and south-west New South Wales, certainly have been looking for this type of assistance and of course, with some of their titles, including the Junee Southern Cross going into hibernation, I would like to think that those actual mastheads, those newspapers which people in those communities have known to come and love for so many decades will be back printing again soon. 

SALLY BRYANT 

Now there's been $20 million allocated to television, $18 million for publishing and $12 million for radio. Is this a hard and fast cap for the distribution of the funds? What about if certain media outlets need more funds? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, at the moment it is and of course, we address these things as they arise and with COVID-19 with any situation that comes before Government, of course, we keep a regular brief and a regular watch on it and if more assistance is required down the track, well, we'll assist that at the right time. 

SALLY BRYANT 

So some regional newspapers have had to stop printing and this measure may provide a boost to keep local news services alive for the moment, but what about the long-term viability of these media outlets? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, I saw the Daily Examiner close the other day, its printing presses and its print edition. They've been publishing since 1859 and of course that's unfortunate but the media is evolving, as we know. Twenty years ago there wasn't such a thing as social media and the internet as such and you know, the news being able to be used on that and as a platform. Of course, it's ever changing and as a former newspaper editor I appreciate and I love having that feel of a newspaper in my hands but you know, who knows what might happen in the next 20 years, Sally. 

It is ever changing but thankfully some outlets will endure and there will always be news services available so that we can get good community news but it's important that that community news isn't just awash with just national and international news. We need good regional local news being prepared by good local regional journalists and that's why I've always been a fighter and advocate for local outlets providing local news about local events for other local people. 

SALLY BRYANT 

Now you've announced a joint $1 billion investment in shovel-ready infrastructure projects and road safety upgrades across the State. Do you have any idea of how many local jobs are going to be generated through this? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, it will be certainly a lot of local jobs and it depends how far and wide you are saying local but certainly across your listening area, I would imagine there would be a couple of hundred at least, 3,500 across regional New South Wales and I know ABC Riverina reaches into a large portion of the south-west New South Wales and the Riverina area and local governments could also expect to get considerable funding. Just, for example, Wagga Wagga City Council is getting $3.6 million towards the removal and replacement of the Lake Albert Road surface and replacing damaged kerb and guttering. Now that's going to be so good for those motorists, they will be inconvenienced while the work's being done, there will be nightworks and all sorts of things, but that will create jobs. 

SALLY BRYANT 

Now the ABC's reporting that today on the last day of the financial year, your Government has failed to spend a single sent of a $50 million annual mitigation fund that was supposed to be used to lessen the impact of natural disasters. The experts were warning very early that the last bushfire season was going to be a horror one so why hasn't the Government done anything with this money? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, that money's going to be used wisely and of course it will be used and of course, when that fund was established, when that fund was first set up, we didn't have COVID-19 on our doorstep and of course, the Government's emphasis has been on addressing the health pandemic and fallout from that global situation, that crisis that has enveloped the nation and of course, making sure that we also have the right economic outcomes as well. 

Yes, of course, the next bushfire season is fast approaching and what we will be doing is making sure that we've got the right assistance measures for those communities so badly affected, including in your listening area, Tumbarumba and Batlow, to make sure they've got the right clean up, to make sure that they've got the right assistance in the apple industry, the timber industry, the logging industry. We've provided the right assistance there. Yes, we will make sure that –  

SALLY BRYANT 

But that is $50 million in this financial year that hasn't been spent and it could possibly have been spent in a way that could have generated additional income, additional wages. 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Yes but many of these funds are ongoing and they're rolling funds and that money unspent, you know, it will be, of course, used for measures in the future. It's not as if money that's unspent just goes into the ether. Its taxpayers' money, it needs to be accounted for, needs to be used wisely. 

SALLY BRYANT 

So it doesn't go back to general revenue? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, we’ve always, as a Government, made sure that we did the right thing by our communities. We've done it through COVID, we've done it through the bushfires, certainly did it through drought. We've put billions of dollars of assistance, $260 billion for the COVID-situation, $8 billion for drought, $2 billion for the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and we're addressing those issues all the time and making sure that we update, keep briefed by the stakeholders, keep briefed by people on the ground who are so badly affected and making sure that we get the right money to the right people at the right time. 

SALLY BRYANT 

Now, Mr McCormack, last month Regional Express said they needed about $200 million to service routes between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but now the ASX listed airline says it only needs to raise $30 million? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, we provided sector-wide assistance for the aviation industry and whether that's Regional Express, Virgin, Qantas or any other carrier that has applied for funding, we've looked at their merit on a case-by-case basis. We've provided that assistance. Certainly I've been very proud through the regional airlines network support that has provided those communities, which otherwise would have been left high and dry through COVID-19, it's given them the right personnel for frontline medical support, it's given them the personal protection equipment, it's given them the respiratory devices and equipment. We've made sure that we've delivered when it comes to aviation. It's been hit very, very hard, let's make no mistake and we will continue to support the aviation sector on a sector-wide basis. 

SALLY BRYANT 

So if Qantas is ditching all these jobs, you'd really have to wonder what the future holds for a company like REX? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Well, the sooner that we can get planes back in the sky, the sooner the border restrictions can be eased, the sooner the aviation sector will get back on its feet. But, yes, you're right, it is an uncertain future, there's no question about it. International flights, well who knows when they will resume to what they were pre-COVID, if at all. Certainly, domestically it's going to be a tough situation over the next 12 months to two years. But if there's one thing that COVID will be able to do, there will probably be more people taking more domestic holidays, so that will be good for the aviation sector once the state border restrictions are eased. 

SALLY BRYANT 

Okay, Mr McCormack, to a story we tried to speak to you about two weeks ago, you and your wife flew to Melbourne on a VIP Government jet before the Melbourne Cup, you celebrated in the marquee of gambling giant Tabcorp, billed taxpayers for your return flights and justified this trip by re-announcing a 3-year-old funding pledge for a sports hall at an event that actually dismayed local councillors. What sort of message does this send? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Dismayed local Labor councillors, but the fact is I did a whole lot more than just that. That might have just been reported in the Guardian. I mean the Guardian has never been entirely fulsome with the information that we gave. They just picked out selected bits. But I was Acting Prime Minister at the time and so when you are Acting Prime Minister it is a little bit difficult to fly on commercial airlines, I have to say and there was a whole lot more activity that I did in Melbourne and I travel to Melbourne quite a number of times each and every month. Of course we haven't been able to lately because of the COVID situation but everything was through the regulations, by the regulations and I wasn't the only MP who travelled to Melbourne at that time, yet the Guardian chose to make that point but, you know, that's a matter for the Guardian.

SALLY BRYANT 

You don't think there would be a certain amount of disquiet amongst the electorate that somebody like Tabcorp can get unrivalled access to your ear when there are people in your electorate or other people around Australia, if in fact, as you're Acting Prime Minister at the time, who can't get that same access. It's somewhat uneven, isn't it? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK 

Hang on a minute, I think people in the electorate know that I'm pretty available. I'm still the same person I was before I got elected. I've always been available. My office is available to anybody who wants to call up and speak to me. I'm probably one of the most accessible politicians in the country and even though I'm the Deputy Prime Minister and even though when I'm the Acting Prime Minister, I have to obviously, have that security that the Prime Minister would otherwise normally have. I've been the Acting Prime Minister for more than 70 days during the two years I've been Deputy Prime Minister. That job takes a bit of responsibility and of course, there's additional security. I don't ask for that, that just comes with the position. But I’m a very accessible person, whether I’m Acting Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister – have been ever since I’ve been the Member for Riverina. I love the area. I will always support and represent those people proudly and let me tell you, just last Saturday, I walked through the local IGA shopping centre and people were coming up to me, stopping me, talking about such things as, would you believe, Lake Albert Road. Now we’re funding it to the tune of $3.6 million. I think I’m pretty down to earth, people know me. They know I haven’t changed. I’m still the same old boy from Marrar that I was well before politics. Love the Riverina. Always have, always will and will always fight for and on behalf of those people who elect me and dare I say, Sally, even those who probably don’t put a one beside my name during the election period.  

SALLY BRYANT 

That's Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister and also Federal Member for Riverina speaking there about a variety of issues.

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