Transcript Interview with Lisa Miller, ABC News, News Breakfast
Paul Kennedy: Back to politics, and the Prime Minister, as we just mentioned, has ruled out military intervention as his Government weighs up its highly anticipated national drought strategy.
Lisa Millar: The junior Coalition partner, the Nationals, have proposed their own $1.3 billion relief package. The Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack joins us from Sydney now.
Good morning, Mr McCormack.
Michael McCormack: Good morning, Lisa.
Lisa Millar: Could I actually start by asking you whether this drought proposal from The Nationals; who did it actually come from?
Michael McCormack: Well, Barnaby Joyce took it to our policy committee. Let me just make-
Lisa Millar: [Interrupts] And to the media.
Michael McCormack: Well, whether he took it to the media or somebody else did, the fact is-
Lisa Millar: [Talks over] Well, I don’t know if he took it but we’ve all got copies of it.
Michael McCormack: Well, the fact is it did get leaked and that’s unfortunate. But Barnaby has put that proposal together. Look, Cabinet is going to consider a number of things as you would expect Cabinet to, and we do run a Cabinet government system. Obviously, people are entitled to put their views forward. And what needs to be also remembered is that last week's meeting of the National Party had all the senators missing and there were also at least one member not there due to personal reasons. And so, it wasn't a full National Party meeting as such. There was no vote taken on any proposal to take forward to Government. And I appreciate that many members have passionate views about what we should do about the drought, not just Nationals but indeed regional Liberals as well. And indeed, many members of the public. But rest assured, we will continue to support our farmers. We will continue to support our rural communities through this crippling drought. And of course, more announcements will be made. They will be constructive measures to help our drought-stricken communities.
And one thing that people could do is visit a drought-stricken community, to spend some money in that particular community, because there's plenty to see and do in rural and regional Australia. Rural and regional Australia ain't broke. It really isn’t. And there are many of these communities, yes, they’re doing it tough, but they’re also very vibrant. There’s also lots of things to see. And what I would do would be to urge and encourage people, particularly in metropolitan areas who haven't gone west, to do just that and to visit a drought-stricken community and see some of the best things that you’ll ever see in Australia, indeed, anywhere in the world.
Lisa Millar: You don't have to convince me on that. I spent a lot of time in the bush …
Michael McCormack: [Talks over] Well done.
Lisa Millar: … Unfortunately, what I spend or what others spend is not going to make a difference when it comes to this drought.
Michael McCormack: Well, it will. Well, it will because you’ll be spending money in small businesses.
Lisa Millar: [Talks over] Well, but not enough when you are talking about $1.3 billion. We’re talking about much more having to be done. What are we likely to see when Scott Morrison and yourself – can I ask, are you going to be standing beside Scott Morrison when this drought announcement is made?
Michael McCormack: Well, of course. Of course I am going to. And there’s been a bit of commentary, particularly by the national media, about people worried about the Prime Minister leading a drought response. I’d be more worried if the Prime Minister wasn't leading a drought response. The fact is when we had the Millennium Drought, John Howard of course was front and centre of the government of the day's drought response. And you would expect that. This is the Prime Minister of the nation after all. Each and every member of Cabinet, each and every member of Government, I’d like to think each and every member of Parliament, is very concerned about the drought and doing that all we can as a Parliament, as a nation, to address it.
Lisa Millar: But it’s not the national media; it’s coming from within your own Party, unfortunately for you. And can I ask you: how did you feel when the ABC's political editor Andrew Probyn wrote over the last couple of days, that your bumblingly beige leadership was an acknowledged aggravation in the Party?
Michael McCormack: Well, I’m not too sure bumbling beige means dressing up as Elvis, dressing up in pink to help the McGrath Foundation, those sorts of things. That’s certainly not beige. I’m out and about. I’m visiting drought communities. Andrew Probyn can make any commentary he likes. He should stick to the news, and he should also stick to the facts. He talked about Anne Webster, for instance, in Mallee getting across the line because of Scott Morrison's leadership. And as I pointed out to Andrew yesterday- and I know him very well and I kind of like Andrew Probyn. But the fact is that was a three– cornered contest. Like I ran in 2010, the National Party ran against the Liberal Party in that rural Victorian seat and the National Party won. So I don't think that is an endorsement of just Scott Morrison's leadership. Scott Morris- L
Lisa Millar: [Interrupts] But have you got people destabilising your own leadership?
Michael McCormack: Look, you’re always going to have people who want to be at the top of the tree, and that’s good.
Lisa Millar: So you do have destabilisers within your Party?
Michael McCormack: Well, you’re always going to have people who want to be at the top of the tree, and that’s great. It’s all – but the main point here –
Lisa Millar: [Interrupts] Not great for you.
Michael McCormack: No, no, no. But what I want to tell you is that the main point here is delivery on the ground. The important thing is we look after our farmers, we look after our regional small businesses. Those people who are feeding sheep, those people who are wondering when their next customer is going to come through the door of their hairdressing salon or their coffee shop in outback, remote, rural Australia, which is doing it very tough in the drought. They don't want to see politicians in Canberra fighting about who gets credit. It’s not about who gets credit, it’s about making sure that the delivery, the right and proper and constructive delivery, is there on the ground. And that’s what I’m in there fighting for and that’s what each and every member of the National Party, the Liberal Party and any other party should be concerned about. That’s the important thing and that’s what I’m concentrating on.
Lisa Millar: Point taken. But we had Pauline Hanson on the program yesterday. It’s not in your interest for parties like Shooters and Fishers and Pauline Hanson's One Nation to be claiming credit for work that you say The Nationals are doing.
Michael McCormack: Well, I’ll leave Pauline Hanson to make comments about whatever she feels like she makes comments about. But let's not play the populous politics here. Let’s play the proper politics. Let's do what is right for our farmers, for our regional communities. That’s what I'm concentrating on. That’s what the National Party is concentrating on. That’s what the Liberals are concentrating on. And that’s what the Government is concentrating on. And we will continue to do that. Let the commentary play out for the Joel Fitzgibbons and the Pauline Hansons of the world. They can play the populist. We’re the Government, we’re running the show and we’ll be making sure that we do the right thing by our drought-stricken farmers. They’re doing it very tough at the moment. The last thing they want is for Canberra to be fighting amongst themselves. What they want is real delivery, real action and that’s what we’re going to be delivering.
Lisa Millar: Mr McCormack, we’ve been hearing from Maryanne Slattery this morning from the Australia Institute, who has said that the government, current government, past governments, have exasperated the drought situation. Do you believe your government has contributed to the situation we are in right now?
Michael McCormack: We have been there side-by-side with our farmers, with our rural communities. We’ve already put more than $7 billion on the table. We’ve got a national Drought Future Fund to make sure that we protect those farmers. We’re spending $1.5 billion on dams so that we get the right water infrastructure in the right catchments, in the right places, to ensure that the drought that follows after this one – and we all know Australia is a country of flooding rains and droughts. It will rain again, rest assured, and when it comes, it’ll be so hard and heavy that we will think: why aren't we storing this water? Well, we’ve got a plan to do just that – to make sure that we store this water to use for the next drought.
Lisa Millar: Mr McCormack, just briefly and finally, we’ve seen shots of the protesters outside this mining conference this morning.
Michael McCormack: [Talks over] Disgraceful.
Lisa Millar: They don’t have a point?
Michael McCormack: Absolutely disgraceful. And here’s a tip for the national media: don't give them so much publicity. I mean, that’s what they crave. They absolutely want to have their Facebook and social media statuses updated by this sort of thing. I mean, mining and resources provides a lot of money, particularly for the welfare payments that a lot of those people are no doubt on. Don't give them the publicity. There’s a tip.
Lisa Millar: Michael McCormack, thanks for joining us.
Michael McCormack: Thank you very much.