Transcript - Interview with Katie Woolf, Mix 104.9 Darwin

KATIE WOOLF

Joining me on the line to talk more about the funding announcement, it’s the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, good morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning, Katie.

KATIE WOOLF

Deputy PM, we know the 2021–22 Federal Budget’s going to include $150 million for the Northern Territory’s National Network highway upgrades with major Territory highways set to be upgraded. It’s also going to include a development study for a proposed Tennant Creek multi-modal facility and rail terminal. Firstly, which highways are set for these upgrades?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Stuart, Victoria, Barkly and it’s money that is needed. It’s money that is expected, demanded and most of all, deserved. Not only that, it is going to support 900 direct and indirect jobs. And as you’d know, Katie, it’s not just those people with the stop-go signs, it’s not just the people in the seat with a wheel in front of them on the excavator or laying bitumen or whatever – it’s actually also the little café just down the road providing the egg and bacon rolls early of a morning, the coffee, whatever. It’s also the accommodation places providing the motel beds for these people, if they come in from another region. It all flows on throughout the economy. And indeed, our Budget is about securing Australia’s recovery and the Northern Territory’s recovery.

KATIE WOOLF

Well, that’s right and no doubt, we need it just as much as plenty of other locations around Australia. When is this work going to get underway?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’d like it to get underway on Wednesday. The Treasurer is getting to his feet tomorrow night, Tuesday 7.30 and watch out for that. But I’d really like to see that work starting very soon and having spoken and messaged Eva Lawler, having gone through the process of looking at what the Gunner Government has put forward to us and I speak to Lia Finocchiaro all the time about the Northern Territory’s priorities, about the infrastructure that’s required. And as you pointed out, it is $150 million for those National Network highway upgrades throughout the NT. It’s also about the Northern Territory gas industry roads upgrade, the Beetaloo Basin we announced recently. It’s about the Tennant Creek multi-modal facility. And I know how much Steve Edgington will appreciate that. This is actually getting work done. Sam McMahon, constantly in my ear about what the Northern Territory needs and we’re certainly delivering.

KATIE WOOLF

Gee whiz – you sound like you know everybody in the Territory there Deputy PM.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It’s a good place. I come there often. I love the top end. I love the Northern Territory and why shouldn’t the Northern Territory have as good a roads, have as good a services, have as good a infrastructure as anywhere else in the nation? I mean, this has the potential to be one of the powerhouse economic jurisdictions of our nation. And that’s why Keith Pitt’s always there talking about the Beetaloo Basin. He was in North Queensland the other day talking about that very project. That’s why Sam McMahon’s constantly in my ear. That’s why I talk to Lia Finocchiaro, Sam Burke as well. You know, there are lots of people who get in my ear about the Northern Territory and I love visiting there and I know how much Australia, of course, has suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve done a hell of a lot better than anywhere else you’d like to pinpoint on the global map but we can recover from this. We can build back better. We can provide those jobs that potentially have been lost and we can pay down some of this debt – last time I looked at it was $253 billion of assistance that we’ve provided as a Commonwealth – and we need to and we will.

KATIE WOOLF

Now, I do want to ask you, obviously you’ve said that you want this work to get underway, well, on Wednesday, so as soon as possible. But when do you anticipate that all of this work and these road upgrades are going to be complete?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course, you have to put in factors like weather. You have to put in factors like staff availability, the technological know-how, throw in a few cultural and EISs, obviously things that need to be ticked off, that’s always important. But, we’ll get through that, I’m going to work in good faith with the Northern Territory Government, as I’ve done the whole way through. I have to say, the NT Government was good, just like the other states and the ACT, when we were developing that National Freight Code. We got that through in hours, not days or weeks or months, like some of the other things that did prove an obstacle. But we did it because of the good relationship that I have with the NT Government, with other governments. And let me tell you, most of them aren’t my political persuasion. And so they were either Labor or Liberal Ministers, of course, the Libs are on side with the things that I espouse, but certainly I have a good relationship – a good working relationship – with my Labor Ministers at a state and territory level. I want to continue to do that, because at the end of the day, if you want that bitumen on the road which passes your place, you want to get that safety upgrade that’s so needed. You don’t care whether it’s local, state or territory or Federal Government, you just want it done and you don’t care about their political stripe, you just want the work to be completed.

KATIE WOOLF

So, really, you’re hoping that this work will be complete as quickly as possible?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

As soon as possible, of course.

KATIE WOOLF

Now, I do want to ask, can Territorians expect much more in the Federal Budget tomorrow night specific for us? I know you’re probably not going to give us a huge heads up, but is this it or are we expecting more?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, no. There are going to be so many things and I know the Treasurer has already dropped out some of the things that are going to be in there some of the provisions for women’s health, for mental health. That’s important and I know having spoken to already a number of women who’ve contacted me in regards to the breast cancer screening, the cervical cancer tests, the endometriosis spending that we’re doing, that is good health money being spent wisely. And, you know, it’s going to provide such good health outcomes for women but overall health in general. And, of course, then we’ve got aged care and look, let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger and there’s a lot of people who are needing that in the NT, those aged care provisions, those additional beds, that additional care and support and service and I’d even say love. And we’ll be providing that through the investments that we make in that particular sector. But right across the board it is a good Budget. It is a responsible Budget, but it’s a necessary spend on the provisions that are going to make people feel better and get a better lifestyle and protect their livelihoods, because jobs are everything, of course, in this Budget – jobs and services.

KATIE WOOLF

Can I just ask, I know one of the issues that we’ve spoken about a lot on this show – and I believe you and I have potentially spoken about it previously as well – is the worker shortage being experienced in a number of industries, particularly, well, we know in farming but also in tourism and hospitality. We know over the weekend the big announcement allowing foreign students to work unlimited hours. Will this be the only announcement in this space or can we expect some other changes with those workers and with those visas so that hopefully we can get more people working?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Obviously, the Treasurer has to announce the Budget, but right the way through we have tweaked the investments that we’ve made, the programs we’ve put in place to ensure that we do as much as we can as best we can in the right places at the right time, and that’s what we’ve done. And so I appreciate that we’re 90,000 backpackers shy of where we would normally be at this point in time. And that is difficult to get those people to be working not only in the orchards and the meat processing plants but, indeed, in hospitality, in all the areas of endeavours that they do. But we will be continuing to review the situation, continuing to work with organisations such as the Regional Australia Institute, which identified 66,000 jobs going into regional Australia right now. And I’d almost put the entire Northern Territory in that regional Australia provision, because Darwin, whilst it is a capital city, to me it is very much a regional city – so close to the north, such an economic potential powerhouse and we want it to be its best self. So that’s why all of these provisions, all of these tweaks that we’ve made, always have in mind the NT.

KATIE WOOLF

Well, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, we always appreciate your time. Thank you very much for coming on the show this morning and no doubt we’ll speak again in the near future.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Very much looking forward to it. Thanks, Katie. All the best.

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