Transcript - Interview on NewsDay, Sky News

TOM CONNELL

The Budget was handed down, of course. We’re getting all the reaction now and who better to talk to than the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack here in the studio. Thanks for your time.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No worries, Tom.

TOM CONNELL

A lot to get through, let’s start on the vaccine, because a lot of Australians want to know about the vaccine and the timeline. Let’s just clarify this, is it end of the year? What is this? A target, an ambition? What’s happening here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we absolutely certainly hope that we can do it by the end of the year. But we shouldn’t lock ourselves down to any timelines because all sorts of things that affect this – supplies, just the sheer logistics of this. Remember that Professor Brendan Murphy when he was the Chief Medical Officer – of course, he’s now the Secretary to the Department of Health – said this is the largest logistical exercise in Australia’s peacetime history. So it’s a big, big thing. I was talking to Saul Resnick this morning, they’ve already travelled 13.5 million kilometres delivering more than 24,000 consignments of the vaccine and that’s through DHL. So Australia is a very large country, of course, we’ve got the GP roll out, we’ve got the pharmacies helping and thanks to the Pharmacy Guild, they’re all on board. It’s a big exercise. So, we hope that it’s the end of the year, but don’t want to be locked into, you know, saying that it’s going to be completed by December 31 when, of course, we’ll also –

TOM CONNELL

If it goes well from here, it will be done this year? Is that what you’re saying?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, let’s absolutely hope so and bear in mind too, that we want Australians to take the opportunity to get not just the first jab but the second one as well.

TOM CONNELL

So, that’s what you’re saying? You said lots of things can happen, but as we stand right now with all the things in place, you mentioned Pharmacy Guild, GPs, mass vaccination centres and so on, if that all goes well, it will happen this year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m going to say let’s hope so. And, of course, then there’s the prospect –

TOM CONNELL

I think people want more than hope, though, don’t they?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Australians need to also get the jab when they are eligible to do so. Of course, there’s also the time taken between getting your first jab and getting your second jab, whether it’s Pfizer or whether it’s AstraZeneca and I don’t want to lock myself in to saying that if you have your first jab some time in December it may well fall into January by the time you’re able to get that second jab. So there’s a lot of factors –

TOM CONNELL

So there’s a first jab time line, not a second jab –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, all I’m saying is that there’s a lot of factors at play here.

TOM CONNELL

But we know, we’ve known for a long time, you need to have two jabs. You’re saying this is only for the first jab?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, I’m working towards making sure that every Australian gets their vaccination as soon as possible.

TOM CONNELL

What’s the success rate – the percentage of the population getting it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

A hundred would be nice, but let’s be reasonable –

TOM CONNELL

What is reasonable?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’d leave that for the best possible medical experts to actually give us that. But we will –

TOM CONNELL

We’ve got all sorts of experts –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’d obviously like 85, 90 per cent of Australians to make sure, because at the end of the day that’s going to enable Australians to be able to travel, it’s going to enable travel bubbles to be opened up with other countries where vaccination rates are very high. Let’s remember, Australia’s got a very high vaccination rate, whether it’s for children’s immunisation levels – it’s very, very high. So, Australians largely do the right thing when it comes to protecting our own.

TOM CONNELL

So it’s 85, 90 you’d see as a success?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’d see success as 100, but let’s say that we need as many Australians as possible to get the vaccination and you should direct that question to Paul Kelly or Brendan Murphy.

TOM CONNELL

All right. Well, certainly.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And I’m sure you will.

TOM CONNELL

I will, we get them on from time to time. No new money for a quarantine facility. Is this not a priority?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ll work with states who’ll bring these proposals forward. Of course, quarantine –

TOM CONNELL

But they had the proposals, though and you put down a Budget that didn’t have any money in it. Why not?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there were still a few factors to go through this and when you say they have, I’m assuming you’re talking Victoria.

TOM CONNELL

Victoria’s one of them –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There’s a couple of proposals that have been mooted, yes. There’s one in the outer suburbs, there’s one for Avalon but let’s work through this.

TOM CONNELL

It seems strange not to put the money in the Budget for it if you’re serious about doing it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, as you’ve known, Tom, the whole way through, we’ve made money available. As former Prime Minister John Howard told Josh Frydenberg the day before JobKeeper in a telephone conversation that Josh has, of course, told people about, there are no ideological constraints when it comes to a crisis such as this. We haven’t had a crisis like this since World War II or indeed, since the Spanish Flu.

TOM CONNELL

Maybe, it’s the decisions taken but not announced. Is that maybe –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we could make that decision. If we come to an agreement with a state – with Victoria. We could make that decision quickly.

TOM CONNELL

So there’d be money there?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We would find the money. We would make sure that if we are all in agreement that it’s a good thing to do, that it’s actual going to help fight the virus – because that’s what we’re doing at the moment. We are fighting the virus.

TOM CONNELL

Into your portfolio of infrastructure – payments related to the Infrastructure Investment Program cut by $3.3 billion over four years. It’s described as a re-profile of the program. What does that mean?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There’s no cuts. There’s no cuts. What you’ve got to remember –

TOM CONNELL

So $3.3 billion less –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There is a 10-year rolling infrastructure program. Look, if states and territories want to bring projects forward then I’m more than happy to talk with them. There is money available that they have for projects which work has not been completed and of course, we pay for work upon completion. We’re not like Labor who I know have been singing and dancing in question time and saying, “Well, why aren’t you meeting these milestones?” Well, it’s the states and territories which do the tendering and do the contracting and in fact, run the projects.

TOM CONNELL

So payments related to the Infrastructure Investment Program are reduced by $3.3 billion, is that not right?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

$110 billion of infrastructure –

TOM CONNELL

But this reduction, $3.3 billion over four years, page 84 of Budget Paper 1, it’s a re-profile of the program. What does that mean?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m happy if states want to bring projects forward and if they say, “We’re in a position to bring works forward on the Bruce Highway” – in Queensland’s case. I’m happy if the New South Wales Government says, “We want to bring Dungowan Dam forward,” in the Tamworth area – the Peel area. I’m happy if South Australia says a particular project they’ve got in mind, they want to bring it forward, then I’m more than happy to provide money right there and then upon completion of milestones. That’s what we do.

TOM CONNELL

Well, what’s that 3.3 billion re-profiling though?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s all part of the overall infrastructure mix. We’ve got –

TOM CONNELL

But there must be –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’ve got a budget of $110 billion – $110 billion. That’s supporting 100,000 workers and let me tell you, when you’re out on those work sites, when you are, as I was the other day, at Rookwood Weir and you see 120 of the 250 people going to build that 200-metre wide weir which is going to be five storeys high and you see 50 dozers pushing around dirt – more than happy to have that project up and out of the ground and it’s taken a bit of time. It’s taken a bit of argy-bargy with the states. So there’s always that argy-bargy, but I’m very bipartisan when it comes to building infrastructure.

TOM CONNELL

But I’m just trying to – $3.3 billion, again, re-profiling. This is less money over this four years for re-profiling the program.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We work on states’ priorities. We listen to the states. What they’ve called for –

TOM CONNELL

So are these specific projects that the states are not ready to roll out in that four years?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That is very much happening but if they want to bring them forward – more than happy, to put that money up, to bring that money forward and to indeed, get those projects happening. I’m quite particularly proud of the Scottsdale Dam in North East Tasmania. Started in October 2018, now finished and benefitting the farmers in that area.

TOM CONNELL

Childcare, so big changes, but not until July next year. Why not?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It’s a matter of priorities and of course, we’ve put a lot of money out the door in the last 12 –

TOM CONNELL

So it is priorities, the Minister said it was an IT systems issue.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve got to work through those issues too, of course, the Minister would know the exact areas in their own Department where they need to be able to –

TOM CONNELL

But the low-income tax offset was backdated. You could backdate this. You could say it starts now and the payment will flow next year.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, potentially we are. We can look at all these things. But in the context of the Budget people out there are not looking at really the semantics. They are saying this is a good Budget –

TOM CONNELL

This is not semantics. This about is money –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

This is a good Budget, I’m talking right across the board. They are looking at the Budget, they’re saying there’s tax cuts, there’s infrastructure builds, there’s a quarter of a billion dollars for Building Better Regions and I tell you what, out in the regions they are welcoming, they are very heartened by this Budget.

TOM CONNELL

Flights for tourism. There was some confusion over this. You recently said it was capped and demand driven. What is it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

If the 800,000 tickets are snapped up – and I know 663,000 of them have already been – well, when those 800,000 tickets are gone, very happy to look at what we can do in the future. So very happy –

TOM CONNELL

So they’ll be extended?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, quite potentially.

TOM CONNELL

Is there money in the Budget for it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ll make sure that there’s the right amount of money, because that’s what we’ve done the whole way through. We’ve tweaked our programs, we’ve made sure that the projects, if the states and territories want to bring them forward, we will do that too.

TOM CONNELL

So this program, originally 800,000, there could be more? More cheap tickets?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Potentially so. So we’ll look at Cairns and we’ll look at places like Darwin or we’ll look at Kangaroo Island. We’ll see if the program has worked as successfully as we’ve wanted it to and we’ll also see the economics of those regions – how has it helped, how has it not just helped the tourism operators, those great travel agents, how has it helped the coffee shops, the restaurants. It’s also a matter of finding the workers. I was in Cairns the other day and a restaurateur said to me, “We’re only open two days a week. We’ve now extended it to five because of the great program. I could be open seven days but I can’t find the workers.” 66,000 jobs in regional Australia, going right now.

TOM CONNELL

Just finally, you said the India travel ban went too far. What should not happen next time? Should the prison sentence not be threatened next time?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that is part of the Act. That is part of the Biosecurity Act –

TOM CONNELL

You could change the Act.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, you could change the Act. You’ve got to put it back through Parliament but nobody is going to be jailed for that situation.

TOM CONNELL

Should we change the Act?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, potentially but we’ve got other priorities on at the moment. We’ve got other priorities and that is fighting the virus.

TOM CONNELL

But maybe we should change the Act and no longer have a prison sentence.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I think you have to have those provisions in that Act to ensure that Australia’s biosecurity is safe.

TOM CONNELL

So don’t change the Act?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I think you’ve got to have those priorities to ensure –

TOM CONNELL

So don’t change the Act?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s a big thing to actually then go putting the whole Act back through the Parliament for this situation which hopefully and we know will ease in the not-too-distant future.

TOM CONNELL

So, you’re saying don’t change the Act?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’m not going to say change the Biosecurity Act just because of the threat that was placed there. It was always there to stop potentially people coming in and doing damage to Australia’s great security for agriculture and indeed, for viruses.

TOM CONNELL

Appreciate your time, busy week. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Always great, Tom. Thank you so much.

Media contact:

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