Transcript - Interview with DCFM Dubbo

RICHARD MUTTON

A very good morning to the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Michael, you're in Dubbo today, what's the purpose of the visit?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we're going around having a look at a few things in the wonderful Parkes electorate, but most importantly the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It plays such a vital role in the health outcomes for rural, regional and perhaps most importantly remote Australia. Well they're going to be assisting with the COVID‑19 vaccine roll‑out.

I know Mark Coulton, for him, the Member for Parkes, the Minister for Regional Health, this is so, so important because he understands, we get the vaccine out to rural and regional communities to get it into those remote Aboriginal communities, it's going to make such a difference in the vaccine strategy, in the roll‑out and in the fight against COVID‑19. And so the RFDS is coming on board.

RICHARD MUTTON

That's great and that’s where you'll be there this morning. I understand you're also talking with Concrete World Industries. What's all that about?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well they play such an important role in our infrastructure build and we've got $110 billion of infrastructure that we're rolling out at the moment supporting 100,000 workers, it's supporting goodness knows how many small businesses, and they're also taking advantage, of course, of the lowest tax rate that small business has had since 1940. They're no doubt taking advantage of the instant asset write‑off. I hope they're taking advantage of the apprentices hiring incentives we've got in place and, you know, there's lots that we're going to see and do there.

RICHARD MUTTON

Good.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And of course Inland Rail, not to mention Inland Rail. They're going to be a big player in the roll‑out, the continued roll‑out of Inland Rail. Up to section two at the moment. Finished section one, Narromine to Parkes. That's Parkes in the Riverina electorate, not Parkes the electorate that Mark Coulton so proudly represents.

RICHARD MUTTON

Look, I'm deeply concerned about WIN Television pulling out of Dubbo, Albury, Wagga, Orange and Griffith and putting in state-wide bulletins. You, the Federal Government, spent a lot of money last year trying to shore up regional television in country areas, also commercial radio and newspapers. We now find we've got a number of newspapers not printing online, we've got WIN pulling out. Are you ever going to ask them for their money back?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, we've put tens of millions of dollars into the public interest news gathering measures, you know, and being a former newspaper editor and a journalist myself I know how important it is to have local news, local people, local events, how important it is for Mark when he makes announcements to have a camera there so that, you know, it can screen into people's homes at 6 o'clock at night.

Look, I'm obviously disappointed with the decision to just have state-wide news services. It just doesn't enable our country communities to have the sort of news service that they expect and most of all deserve. But I appreciate too these are commercial decisions and these are trying and challenging times, whether it's newspapers, whether it's television stations. I get that it is tough, and I get that, you know, costs are high and that's why we put in place JobKeeper, that's why we put in place so many measures to help keep these businesses going.

RICHARD MUTTON

I understand that but I notice in the budget that community radio right throughout the country only got $20 million, they're asking for an extra five to set up such things as news services which this radio station has done. Are you in a position where you can give community broadcasting another $5 million to help us establish news services where they've been lost by WIN Television and others?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well we can always look at these things as part of the MYEFO process, as part of ongoing budgets, and I hope we're going to have another budget before the next election. We can always look at these things and we can always support these sorts of community endeavours. But we've put a hell of a lot of money on the table to support and protect lives and livelihoods during COVID‑19.

There's a big call, there's been a massive call on Commonwealth taxpayers' money from all sectors of the community and society and we've answered most of those calls. We are –

RICHARD MUTTON

I've got to say, Michael, $5 million is not all that much.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, $5 million's better than nothing at all and whilst I appreciate that community radio plays a vital part, I thank you for your ongoing support, you know, we can look at these things in the future.

RICHARD MUTTON

All right. Getting on to China and trade at the present time. We've got China stockpiling our iron ore like fury and we're doing very well out of it with the budget and things like that. What happens when China says no more iron ore?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well let's think more positively than that. I appreciate that, you know, it's difficult with trade at the moment. That's why the new Trade Minister Dan Tehan has been over to the UK, been over to Europe, been discussing at looking at diversifying our trade so we don't have, you know, too many eggs in too few a baskets and that's why we've opened up trade arrangements with most recently Indonesia. That’s why we took our first ship load of barley to Mexico. These are important diversification measures that we're putting in place in our trade.

China, of course, is a massive, massive exporter and importer and trading partner with Australia, $149.6 billion of trade with China. Look, you know, we'll continue to work through these, as people would expect, in a diplomatic and pragmatic fashion.

RICHARD MUTTON

It was stated today that the $600 million gas plant for the Muswellbrook area in New South Wales was like kings burying bank notes so that unemployed can dig them up and stay productive. Do you see the gas plant that way?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I see the gas as being a vital part of our energy mix in the future. I know Keith Pitt has been working, whether it's been the Narrabri project, whether it's been working with the Northern Territory Government with the Beetaloo Basin, he's working with the States, he's working with the Territories. Gas is a big part of our future plan. It's a great job creator and we'll go on making sure, whether it's gas or any other energy component, that it's part of our diversified mix going into the future.

RICHARD MUTTON

How's Your Future, Your Super going at this stage? It looks as though it's going to have a rough trot through the Senate.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well again it's always a challenge. Politics is never easy. If it was everybody would be doing it. I know Josh, I know the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister, you know, are making sure that crossbench and other people who have a big say in these sorts of things know full well the benefits of what we've put in place, what we want to legislate and what the budget entails.

RICHARD MUTTON

Finally, Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister, the Upper Hunter election and the win for the Nationals, what implications do you see federally for the Nationals and federally overall?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What it shows is that country folk aren't going to be dictated to by city people who come in, blow in, make silly statements on Twitter, support people who shouldn't be supported and make a big fuss and then leave just as quickly. Country people like country champions. They like people who have been in their patch working hard, whether it's in school, constructions, Rotary, all those sorts of things. That's why the Nationals will always support local champions.

David Layzell has proven himself to be just that, and he will be a great Member for Upper Hunter, and the Nationals will always go on supporting, you know, like Mark Coulton, what a great representative he was when he first got into politics. Still is, of course. But, you know, Mayor of Gwydir Shire, farmer, well‑respected. His wife Robin, you know, a schoolteacher who was very highly respected in the community in Gravesend and elsewhere, Warialda. And they're the sort of people that we want in politics. They're the sort of people with real life experience that the Nationals bring to the table and when they get positions around the big ministerial table and the Cabinet table, they continue to make the right decisions for and on behalf of regional people.

RICHARD MUTTON

Michael McCormack, I've got to agree with that last point 100 per cent. Thanks so much for talking with us this morning. Enjoy your short stay in Dubbo. I believe you're only here for a few hours and hopefully we'll catch up with you in this studio one day very, very soon.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

In the not-too-distant future, thanks so much.

RICHARD MUTTON

Thanks Michael.

Federal Member Mark Coulton. Mark, I've got to congratulate you, first of all, you've been pre‑selected again to stand for the next Federal election for the Federal seat of Parkes, how do you feel about that?

MARK COULTON

Look it's a great honour. I never take these things for granted, Richard, and to have the support, you know, this is the sixth time I've gone to the membership of the National Party in the Parkes electorate and asked for them to support me and endorse me as their candidate for the next election. So I'm pleased that they've done that, you know, I believe that I've got more to give and there's a few things that are, you know, not finished that, you know, I talked about 14 years ago when I first turned up that I'd like to see through to, if not completed to a much more final stage.

RICHARD MUTTON

One of those few things of course is the Inland Rail. The Narromine to Narrabri section, how much further down the track, no pun intended, are we?

MARK COULTON

Yeah so at the moment the EIS, the environmental impact statement, has been released. There were about 150 submissions that came in in response to that. So at the moment the Inland Rail are going through all those responses and there's questions in there about the flow of water.

There's questions in there about access, all of those things. They all need to be responded to and taken into account and acted on if that's the case. But we will see, you know, it's narrowed down now to the 40 to 60 metres wide.

Those discussions are happening now with landholders, with the Inland Rail people, talking about things that really have been on their minds for some time. What's the compensation? How can I access the line? You know, will it be fenced? Can I have an underpass for my stock? All those sorts of things.

RICHARD MUTTON

How much longer are these consultations going to take?

MARK COULTON

I believe that we'll probably see, you know, yellow machines pushing up dirt probably about the second half of 2022 on the Narromine to Narrabri section.

RICHARD MUTTON

Shortly after that we might have a railway line travelling all the way from Brisbane to Melbourne, which would be wonderful.

MARK COULTON

Well we've got a few issues up in Queensland we've got to overcome, but that's one of the reasons that I'm staying around because, you know, these sort of projects, as beneficial as they will be, they are very difficult. They do cause a lot of upset and grief and heartache for the people that are impacted by it and I just want to make sure that, you know, I can keep an eye on that process as we get to the final stages of construction.

RICHARD MUTTON

Are you pleased with the COVID roll‑out in your electorate?

MARK COULTON

Yeah, look I think our electorate, Richard, is probably batting above the rest of the country with what we are seeing and, you know, I've been speaking to GPs in Dubbo and Gunnedah, Moree and up at the Aboriginal Medical Service at Walgett and Moree and those places. So country people realise that as safe as it's been we are still very vulnerable, so they are fronting up because they know that if we do get an outbreak of COVID in Walgett or Wilcannia or Trangie it's going to be difficult to get the level of intensive care that we need. So they understand that and when they get the opportunity to have the vaccine that's what they're doing.

RICHARD MUTTON

Mark, I've got to say though that the respiratory clinic in Dubbo, I made an appointment to get a shot and basically, I have to wait until 15 June and they're only operating Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and doing 40 a day. I understand the hospital has taken over a little bit of that but most of the GPs in Dubbo are only vaccinating their particular patients on their books and it seems to me in Dubbo it's a bit hard to get a shot if you want one quickly.

MARK COULTON

Well those numbers, Richard, are ramping up as more product comes available and we'll start to see a change in behaviour. I know some of the clinics will start to, I'm not sure about Dubbo, I haven't spoken to them individually, but I know some of the clinics in my electorate are starting to do, you know, Saturday clinics, evening clinics, understanding that they need to actually extend the hours to get the people covered.

RICHARD MUTTON

The cost of the injection though to these clinics, say the respiratory clinic, is it a full GP consultation or every time someone gets an injection?

MARK COULTON

A GP clinic should not be a cost to the person at all. There's an arrangement that we have with the Commonwealth paying GPs and we'll start to see, I think probably within the next few weeks, pharmacy coming on board as well in New South Wales. They've already signed up to start that in Queensland. So as more product, more vaccine becomes available, whether it's AstraZeneca or Pfizer or towards the end of the year Moderna, there'll be more opportunities to have it.

RICHARD MUTTON

Let’s hope so because I remember at school when we had to have injections, they sort of line you all up on a year basis and bang through 150 kids between lunchtime and go home time. It seems to me with the COVID, certainly in Dubbo with the respiratory clinic, 40 a day, they could do a hell of a lot more.               

MARK COULTON

They might. I can't comment personally but what we have found, why it's taking a bit longer is because there has been a degree of uncertainty in the population and the GPs are telling me that rather than people just coming and rolling up their sleeves, many people actually want to have a discussion with the doctor, they want to know what the risks are and that's an issue. But the other thing is rather than you and I would be of an age where we had the polio vaccine, Richard, which is much more straightforward, but they also have to observe people for 15 minutes after, so that sort of slows the process down as well.

RICHARD MUTTON

Yes, I suppose so. All right, look, Mark, good talking with you. Again, congratulations on standing yet again for us as your Federal Member. As far as I'm concerned, you've done a terrific job and I hope you continue with it.

MARK COULTON

I look forward to it. Thanks Richard, thanks for your time.

RICHARD MUTTON

Mark Coulton.

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