Transcript - Interview on First Edition, Sky News

PETER STEFANOVIC

Well, joining us live now is the Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister, Michael McCormack. Michael, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Peter.

PETER STEFANOVIC

So, the announcement came after Anthony Albanese applied the squeeze the other day asking you to fire up the government jets. Were you feeling the pressure?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s not how it happened at all, Peter. This has been discussed at the National Cabinet level for weeks and weeks and weeks. This has been discussed by myself with the Transport Ministers from around the country at weekly meetings for many weeks. And this has come about as a result of those discussions and it needs to happen. The states need to take on board more.

We thank Sydney, we thank New South Wales. They’ve had a limit of 350-passenger arrivals per day, but when you look at the other states – and they’ve borne the brunt of the incoming arrivals and the quarantine arrangements – but Western Australia, they’ve only had 525 passenger arrivals per week, Brisbane a limit of 500 per week, Adelaide a limit of 500 per week. I spoke to Steven Marshall yesterday and he’s very keen, not only to get planes in for the passengers to return but, indeed, to get that great South Australian freight out. As he said, passengers in and freight out, this is a win-win.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Had you spoken to Annastacia Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I spoke to Annastacia Palaszczuk. I’ve certainly discussed this with the West Australian Minister, Rita Saffioti. We need to get Australians home and Australians want to come home. You mentioned at the top there that 26,000 Australians had registered their interest with our embassies, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We did encourage and implore and urge Australians, of course, to come home back in March and many availed themselves of the opportunity to do just that. And for various circumstances, I understand some Australians stayed abroad. But there are, Peter, many, many heart-wrenching cases, many heart-breaking cases of Australians who are struggling to get home. The only way we can get them home is to lift those quarantine caps. That’s what we’re doing. We want more Australians home, certainly in time to be reunited with their loved ones at Christmas.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Well, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan said yesterday that they weren’t told.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’ve spoken to Annastacia Palaszczuk. I spoke to her last week. Mark McGowan, he sits in on that National Cabinet. It was discussed at the last National Cabinet meeting that we were going to be looking at these caps, that we were necessarily going to have to increase these caps. This has to happen. It has to happen for Australia. This isn’t about West Australians or Queenslanders or any state rights, this is about getting Australians home, Peter, and that’s what we’re doing.

PETER STEFANOVIC

But are they lying?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m not saying anybody’s lying. All I’m saying is that certainly I’ve spoken to the Queensland Premier, spoken to the West Australian Transport Minister, as I’ve spoken to every Transport Minister. I speak to Premiers and Transport Ministers all the time, Peter. That’s what we do and certainly, the National Cabinet process, it has been discussed ad nauseam at that particular level of government between our Chief Ministers, our Premiers and the Prime Minister, of course. I know he’s been out this morning talking up this initiative. It’s necessary, it’s welcomed. And certainly, I think Australians who are stranded overseas would be very much enjoying the fact that there are going to be the opportunity for them to come home sooner.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Well, the Queensland Premier said that she would be open to the idea anyway as long as federal help is provided. Would you be willing to provide extra assistance, particularly when it comes to security around the hotels that quarantine returned travellers?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ll always look at that. Everything’s always on the table. But we’ve already provided $314 billion of assistance. The states and territories combined, their total is $48 billion. So, there’s the onus on them too. Queenslanders want to come home. Queenslanders want to come home to Queensland. They want to necessarily make sure they quarantine in Brisbane. You know, Annastacia Palaszczuk, she understands full well that Queenslanders want to come home. We need to open our hearts and open our doors and open our hotels to them. And I tell you what, the tourism industry, the hotels have welcomed this move too.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Okay, so you’re open to sending ADF support. Obviously, a lot of debate around ADF and support relating to states at the moment, so you’re happy to say –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the ADF have provided enormous support in Victoria. We’ll always take on board considerations and requests from the states. I know the Prime Minister reached out to Daniel Andrews over and over, when the situation in Victoria went astray. And we’ve always, as a good Federal Government would, provided that assistance when asked by the states. We’ve provided it and we’ve done that very well. I’ve got to say the Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, has constant contact with the states as well.

PETER STEFANOVIC

I know Victoria – we all know Victoria can’t take returned travellers at the moment for obvious reasons.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Not at the moment.

PETER STEFANOVIC

When would you like to see Victoria to start taking returned overseas travellers again?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

As soon as it’s healthy enough to do so. I mean, we’ve always taken the best expert advice from the medical authorities, from the health experts, Professor Brendan Murphy and Professor Paul Kelly who’ve headed up the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, who have a daily meeting with the Prime Minister and myself. We discuss these things, of course. We will make sure that we follow that best advice. Yes, Victoria’s still in that lockdown situation, but the sooner they get the case rates to a level where we can take passengers into Melbourne, the sooner we’ll do so.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Have you had a conversation with Alan Joyce recently, and have you asked him if he’ll be able to fly Australians, who are stranded, home?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there’s more than 20 international airlines flying into Australia at the moment. Qantas always stands ready to help. Qantas and Virgin, of course, took part in those repatriation flights for Australians. We were flying people out of London and LA and Hong Kong and Auckland earlier in the year. We did that. And I’m sure that the airlines – yes, I have had a discussion with Alan Joyce about what they can do and when they can do it. But, of course, it does take a little while to get airline crews established and set up again. But they’re not flying internationally at the moment, but what we want to see them is flying more interstate and that’s why these border restrictions need to be eased, because planes in the air means jobs on the ground. We want to see as many people in the aviation industry back in work.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Just a couple of quick ones before we go. First of all, jobs figures are coming out later on today. Are you braced for impact here? What sort of news are we going to get?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there’s 40,000 jobs in regional Australia at the moment asking for people to come to the regions to take up those jobs. And they are very well-paying jobs. They’re right from one end of the scale to the other, Peter. I encourage Australians who want work, who have the capacity to be able to move regionally to do just that. The Regional Australia Institute identified 40,000 jobs available in regional Australia right now. Everything from fruit picking to office jobs to everything in between. Many, many good jobs.

PETER STEFANOVIC

But the figures are going to be bad though today, aren’t they?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There’s no question. But we have made sure through the JobKeeper and JobSeeker arrangements that we’ve back ended the economy. We’ve put the conditions and the parameters in place so that we did keep as many Australians engaged with their employer as possible. And for those Australians, many of whom found themselves on welfare for the very first time, we provided that additional assistance that they needed.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Okay, big tech announcement later on today, there’s a focus on hydrogen and so-called green steel rather than wind and solar. Is that something you agree with?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We need a balanced mix of energy in our economy. That’s what we’re doing. I’m not frightened to use the word coal. The Prime Minister hasn’t been frightened to use the word coal this week. Whether its gas, hydrogen, whatever the case might be, Australia’s blessed with natural resources. We will use them to create jobs. We will use them to create manufacturing opportunities. We’re a trading nation. We’ll use them to provide exports.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Are electric cars the future?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course. I mean, that’s something that of course, is not far around the corner and we’ll also make sure that we have that as part of our transport mix.

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