Transcript - Interview Sky News with Peter Gleeson

PETER GLEESON

Now, a new report has revealed more Australians are escaping to the country, with regional centres providing affordable housing, a better work-life balance and great investment opportunities. The pandemic has forced thousands to work from home proving that you can work anywhere. Now, talk is emerging around whether businesses should be looking to invest more in flexible working arrangements and decentralisation. Joining me now is the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack. Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Gleeso, they're not escaping to the country, they're flocking to the country. They're absolutely flocking in droves, 65,000 of them have decided that a tree change is the lifestyle change that they want and good luck to them. Well done, I say.

PETER GLEESON

Well, I was going to say, Michael that they've finally cottoned onto the fact that what you and I have known for many, many years and that is that regional and rural and country Australia is God's gift, it's God's gift.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed. Absolutely and I've been banging on about it. I've heard you say it time and again on this wonderful show that there are so many lifestyle options in regional Australia, whether it's country, coastal, rural or indeed remote. There are so many opportunities and Gleeso, you know as well as I do that COVID-19, if it's taught us one thing, it's the fact that you can do any job just about anywhere in Australia and with telecommunications being what they are, particularly in rural and regional Australia, you know you can get on those teleconferences, those video conferences and you can do it from your own lounge room. Indeed and you can be in touch. You can have the productivity, but you can also have the lifestyle. If you are working in an office situation in a regional centre, you can be five, seven minutes from work. No traffic lights, no congestion, no hustle, no bustle. No getting frustrated going to work and I always say about these regional centres, they are big enough in which to get a good cup of coffee, but they're still small enough to care. So that is something, you know, it does happen or go wrong, you know, there are people who can wrap their arms around you and provide that care and support that, you know, people from time to time need.

PETER GLEESON

Are you worried about the spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria, particularly as we've seen a number of State Premiers and Territory leaders really looking to lift those restrictions? And I think, you know, I was just speaking to your colleague Senator Amanda Stoker and we're a little bit concerned that Annastacia Palaszczuk, who's never been very quick off the mark when it comes to suggesting the borders will be lifted anytime soon, she's now sort of back tracking on that July 10 date.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I think what we need to do in this situation is make sure that we've got the necessary resources available in the necessary places. And I say to those Victorians, if they're in one of those hotspot areas, stay at home. Practise what the Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has said all the way through and that’s you need to be your best self. If they haven't already downloaded the COVIDSafe app, they've got to do that, that's first and foremost. But they should stay at home if they're in one of those Victorian hotspots. Yes, of course, Premier Daniel Andrews in Victoria has asked the Commonwealth for Defence assistance and we will readily supply and provide that for the necessary quarantine and etc. This is one in all in, all Australians need to assist one another, it's not a matter of Victoria versus Queensland or Victoria versus New South Wales. We as the Commonwealth stand ready to help wherever and however necessary and we're doing just that, Peter.

PETER GLEESON

Now, I only learned tonight that China is Australia's biggest foreign investor in water. But I want to have a chat to you, Deputy PM, about water. We now see that two States and the ACT are jeopardising the Murray-Darling Basin plan, which is now at risk. I mean, this must be a real concern for you, as the guy that basically represents your constituency of farmers who rely so heavily on proper irrigation and access to water. How do we solve this? Because we're now talking that this 2024 deadline for the Murray Darling Basin plan could be at risk.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there are many who'd like to see the plan blown up and it's been so hard fought to get where we are now. And I know that Keith Pitt is working closely with those groups, with irrigation groups, with key stakeholders. Yes, the issue of water rights is a vexed one. And, of course, it was the farmers themselves who also, back some years ago, wanted land and water separated so that they could, if they wanted to, retire on their farms and be able to sell their water and I understand that. I get that, it's a valuable commodity. There's no more valuable resource in all of Australia than water because it helps us grow the food and fibre that we need to support 25 million Australians and 50 million others besides. That's how much food we grow in Australia. We support 75 million mouth and that's a really important issue. But of course, I also, as the Minister responsible for water infrastructure, am very pleased that we've put in place the National Water Grid. We need to build the dams with State co-operation. I'm glad that we're getting co-operation on that very aspect. So we build the water infrastructure. We can store it when it falls, we can then harness and harvest it for when we have dry periods but it is a vexed issue. I know the Water Minister, Keith Pitt is working very closely, he's got a number of reviews about to land on his desk and he's also looking at some others at the moment. And we'll work closely with key stakeholders to make sure we get the right balance. It's also always about getting the right balance, Peter.

PETER GLEESON

Now, I know you've been keeping a very close eye on this deal to save Virgin as Transport and Infrastructure Minister. It now appears almost certain that they will take up the offer from the Queensland Government and maintain their headquarters here in Brisbane. What's the latest on that from your perspective and are we getting to the pointy end? Pardon the pun.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We're getting very close to the pointy end and you know, the next week will be telling as far as this voluntary administration process goes. We want a market-led solution. We've said that all the way through, we want as many jobs and as many of those services retained in whatever that the new structure is. Importantly I’m pleased that both final bidders have also said that they will honour all the frequent flyer and all the other ticketing arrangements that were done prior to the voluntary administration process beginning and that's really important Peter, because people need to have that comfort and knowledge that the money they have shelled out will be honoured with either a ticket or indeed with those flights that are part of a frequent flyer process. So we will work through that process through Nicholas Moore, who's the Government person who's liaising closely with Deloitte who's running this process and I'm sure that Deloitte is spending, I know they are, they're burning the midnight oil as far as working through the two final bids. We'll get there, it's going to be a very interesting process over the next week. But the important thing is that we have two commercially viable airlines coming out of this whole voluntary administration process. That's why every aspect of our $1.3 billion dollars of assistance has been sector wide, Peter.

PETER GLEESON

Now, I know you love a good feed of crab, a good feed of prawns. You've announced today $4 million dollars to market Australia's seafood into foreign destinations. I bet you that's been very well received by fishermen around the country – professional fishermen?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed, it has and I know how hard David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister and Jonathon Duniam who looks after Fisheries have, have fought to make sure that this has become a reality. Australian seafood is the best in the world Peter, you know that, I know that and so do many Australians and we want to share that experience with so many people overseas. And of course, with trading relations somewhat a little bit difficult at the moment we need to make sure that we diversify our markets and we need to make sure that whether it's Geraldton lobsters or whether it's the wonderful salmon coming out of Tasmania or whatever the case might be that it's got a market to go to because whilst it's important that we have a domestic supply to satisfy our palate, fact is we get those taste sensations going overseas as well.

PETER GLEESON

Now, I know your Government is incredibly supportive of the tourism industry here in Australia, which of course, has really struggled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and I know that you've got plenty of seats there on the Gold Coast, in fact the LNP dominates the number of seats there. But today I thought it was pretty poor policy for your Government to come out and pull the rug from the theme parks and withdraw that loan funding availability and suggest that these theme parks are now on their own. They're really doing it tough Deputy PM, surely it would be incumbent upon a Government that's so supportive of tourism in this country to have another look at that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And it is also incumbent on the Queensland Government too. I mean we've so far provided $260 billion dollars of assistance to so many sectors, to so many industries. We've put in place JobKeeper, which has supported and kept engaged so many workers with their operations, with their businesses. We can't do it all, Peter. We need to draw the line somewhere.

[Technical Issues]

Sorry, Peter, just missed that last comment of yours. Now, I've just got you back.

I’ve always got your back Peter and we've also got the tourism industry’s back and you know, we will of course support arts. We will support the entertainment industries. I know as well as anybody just how important the Gold Coast is. Those theme parks, I've taken the kids there for holidays, to Movie World and all those theme parks, many, many times. But it’s also not just the theme parks, it's also Cairns, it's the Whitsundays. And we have provided assistance in the form of JobKeeper and other measures. It's also up to the Palaszczuk Government to look at their borders and to ease those restrictions. It's up to the Queensland Government to come on board and provide some assistance as well. It can't be just left up to the Commonwealth to do all the heavy lifting, Peter.

PETER GLEESON

Michael McCormack it's always great to see you. Great to have you on the show again tonight, thank
you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Any time at all. Thanks, Peter.

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