Transcript - Interview on Sounds of the Mountains radio

DAVID EISENHAUER

We’re very fortunate each fortnight to catch up and have a chat with the Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Nationals. Michael McCormack joins us. Minister McCormack, thank you very much for your time today.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Not a problem at all, Dave.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Well, of course, well, last night a big last few months for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, of course, presenting and handing down the Federal Budget last night and we were talking offline there, we always get lots of press releases through media monitors, all people, Medianet and everyone else, but no less than about 40 different press releases, Michael. And most of them are coming through with fairly positive stories, which is a really – you don’t see that very often.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s tremendous, yes, I know people are acknowledging the fact that it is a very good Budget. It’s a Budget for today and into the future. It’s a Budget that is necessary, very timely given the shocks that the economy has taken, because of coronavirus. And of course, that came on the back of drought, bushfires, in some areas flooding. It’s been a trying and testing and challenging time for our nation and particularly our regional areas, but they have responded very well and last night’s Budget rewards small business, rewards families, rewards all sectors of the economy and continues to make sure that we have put those investments in place so that we can recover from coronavirus and secure that recovery.

DAVID EISENHAUER

The deficit is something that has quite amazed a lot of the media in the sense that it is not as large as we thought it was going to be last night, which is a really good news story.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That is a good news story and even more importantly, perhaps as a result of that and you know, helping that exact process along is the fact that there are more people in work now, up to 13.1 million, than there were pre-pandemic and that is quite astonishing. That is the envy of the world, quite frankly, the fact that more people have a job now than they did prior to this virus reaching our shores.

DAVID EISENHAUER

If you look at people watching the Budget on ABC last night and the live telecast out of Parliament House, the lady that goes down and pops to Inside Out to buy a candle or whatever it might be, goes up, rides the Tumba-trail, they’re saying to us, “What’s in it for me?” We hear the media talking about all these different things to do with the Budget and we talk about jobs and security and everything else, but when I go shopping today – and one of the big questions people ask to keep them obviously focused on what it is in full, what is it for the man on the street? What happens there, Michael? What is the story?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The man and woman on the street, they’re going to get tax breaks. So, a person earning $40,000 will receive $480 back in their tax return. People on, say, $48,000 to $90,000 – and that’s a lot of people – will continue to get the full low and middle-income tax offset, that rebate is $1,080. That’s money in their pocket because we believe that people should keep more of what they earn. Now, if that person has a bit of a problem, aren’t faring well mentally, we are putting a staggering $820 million into the mental health space. I say staggering because that is a big, big number but it is necessary. It is warranted. Only yesterday I read a tragic story, locally, of a young girl – very, very young – who was bullied on social media, felt there was no other way other than to sadly take her own life and we’re seeing these stories all too often, Dave. Everybody gets touched by someone they know or someone they love or someone they work with who, for them, they’ve reached that despairing situation where they just don’t know where to turn. So, what we’re putting in place is more than 50 Head to Health and Headspace centres around the country and they make such a difference. I know from the Headspaces and the likes that are in my electorate – I know the one that I fought very hard for when I represented Griffith and I know what a difference it made to the Murrumbidgee irrigation area. That’s a very, very good initiative. It’s a personal crusade of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg delivered for that last night.

DAVID EISENHAUER

One of the big issues that have come out of that obviously is – and, as you mentioned, it’s a personal issue there too with our Prime Minister, could tell that with Minister Frydenberg’s delivery of that particular part of the Budget speech, but one section, Minister, that’s very much interested in what you do is our roads and our funding and our infrastructure. There’s a huge amount, $110 billion heading all over the country.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There certainly is and for your local listeners, they’ll be particularly pleased to know that Snowy Valleys Council will get an additional $1.74 million as part of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program. Towong Shire, because I know there’s many people in the Upper Murray who listen, they’re getting as part of this Budget, $2.3 million. And you and I know, because we travel on those roads regularly and so do your listeners, that those country roads, some of them just needing bitumen for the first time, many of them needing shoulder widening, they’re going to get that money. It’s going to be allocated by their councils, but perhaps just as importantly there’s another $1 billion in the Road Safety Upgrade Program. There’s going to be rumble strips and separations as far as median strips and all those sorts of things. They’re only little, but you’ve seen them being rolled out in recent weeks and months and I tell you what, they save lives.

DAVID EISENHAUER

They do. One of the big things you and I have talked about quite often is people moving from the cities to the regional areas, but across the whole board, whether it’s metro or regional areas, is job security and that was one of the features there that Josh Frydenberg was mentioning in there. What are we doing for job security, Michael? In this process moving forward and we talk about the benefits and so forth, we look at employment, housing’s gone up there were some great graphs. ABC, last night they went for hours after the Budget and did some wonderful reporting, as they do and one of those big graphs, they showed that as some of the prices go up and rental and property values, wage increases haven’t been coming up very often.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we believe that the best form of welfare is a job and that’s why we’ve put in the measures to make sure that people are in jobs. As we know, there are 66,000 jobs in regional Australia right now and I promote that every day. Every time I get into a national media interview, I promote it. We are putting $124.7 million into the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement as part of the Budget. We are making sure that small business, which is the driver and engine room of so much in our economy, that they are able to have that instant asset write-off extended by another 12 months. That will apply to just about every one of the businesses across the nation apart from about 60, which have a turnover of $5 billion, but for every other business, they can buy capital equipment and write it off in the year of purchase. Whether that’s a ute, whether that’s a truck, whether that’s a header, a harvester, whatever the case might be, right down to small equipment within an office situation, that is a game-changer for those small businesses and it’s small business that actually employs it’s the private sector which employs eight of 10 workers in the Australian economy. So that is going to keep people in jobs and that is going to make job security even stronger into the future.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And of course, we talked Michael, from your portfolio our airports are receiving a fair bit of money, we’re talking about international borders and a lot of discussion there. We won’t see huge improvement until those borders open. What’s your thoughts there with that? There’s a lot of money being poured into it.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’ve taken a conservative estimate as to when the international borders will open. Of course, we’re rolling out the vaccine, as other countries do the same, we’ll get those border bubbles, those travel free bubbles set up. We’ll establish them with perhaps Singapore, South Korea, Japan, some islands in the Pacific, but we’ll do it based on the best possible medical advice. That’s what we’ve done the whole way through. That’s what we’ll continue to do. But we’ve also put on another 120 or so repatriation flights, government-facilitated flights, so that 17,000 Australians can return over the next 12 months. We’ve made sure that we have done that the whole way through ever since the Prime Minister urged and encouraged Australians on March 13 last year to find their way home, to get home. Of course, there are commercial options available too, but in cases where there are vulnerable Australians, in cases where it is difficult for commercial airlines to fly into various centres, we will make sure that the Government helps and supports those stranded Aussies who are overseas.

DAVID EISENHAUER

From a regional level with airports, Minister?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there’s those ongoing programs as far as airport upgrades and I know how pleased that Tumut, the Mayor there, James Hayes, was for the upgrade that we gave to that particular facility. John Larter in particular was very happy because he knew, being an emergency worker, a first responder, what a difference that would make for when you do have situations when you do have bushfires, when you do need to get an emergency medivac in and I know how pleased those residents of Tumut were about that, but not just Tumut, but the entire Snowy Valleys Council.

DAVID EISENHAUER

A big problem there, as we talked a lot about during the bushfires, was the fact that we were taking off and landing planes with just a bit of their capacity on board with retardant and that was because the planes were too heavy. Part of this upgrade will be to make sure that that can happen, a bit like out at Temora when they upgraded the airport. That is a museum, but it is also if there is a big fire out at Temora, we know we can put big planes down out there and the same will eventually happen from a regional point of view. It’s not just Tumut, the airport may be based there, but it’s not just in that area. They’re a very crucial piece of infrastructure, aren’t they?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

They are and towns the size of Tumut and Temora, they need good airports. It’s the gateway for tourism, but it’s also very, very important when you do have a crisis and you need to get people in, to get freight in. Indeed, during coronavirus, it’s very important that you need to get face masks, respiratory devices and front-line medical personnel in and that’s why the aviation assistance continues. We’ve provided $2.1 billion of additional assistance. That takes the amount of money we’ve put into aviation for all sorts of measures up to $4.5 billion. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to monitor the situation because aviation was hit first, hit hardest, but I tell you what, our country communities rely on those services and for many of those particularly, remote country towns and even some that are rural, but a long way from anywhere, but for that assistance, they would not have seen a plane for probably the past 15 months.

DAVID EISENHAUER

That was going to be my next question, the ongoing costs involved in the upkeep. We’re seeing that at a state level. A lot of discussion about that with mergers and so forth that are on at the moment. Minister, the ongoing costs are the one thing that is going to be affecting from a local government point of view as well. That will be something that the Federal Government will be keeping a very close eye on, no doubt.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed and I’ve got every confidence that Australia will make sure that we grow the economy. Agriculture will play a part indeed, as the resources sector will. Both those sectors mentioned have actually grown over the past two years, despite coming off the back of a crippling drought, despite the fact that there is an uncertain overseas market at the moment for, not just resources, but for all goods. But let me tell you, Australia’s food and fibre, Australia’s resources, are the best in the world and the rest of the world wants and needs our goods. And we all know that trade equals jobs and more trade equals more jobs and that’s why I know my good mate Dan Tehan is out there selling Australia at the moment, indeed our good wares, he was in the UK just recently doing that.

DAVID EISENHAUER

How does a small local government area pay though, Michael? How does that work when you look at the issues facing again it’s a state issue when we talk about the merged council areas, but there’s those ongoing costs and huge costs in there. The more infrastructure we see in the regional areas, the more we have to find in the Budget, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the track.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I appreciate it is very difficult for councils such as Towong Council, such as Snowy Valleys, with a small rate base to pay for the things such as roads and other services, amenities that they need to, and that’s why I’ve made sure that – well, in Snowy Valleys’ case, I say again, $1.7 million, that’s on top of the Phase 1 money. They got $871,000, they get another $961,000 top-up. That brings their total to $3.5 million. That’s the Snowy Valleys and Towong is doing very nicely too. They’ve got $4.4 million as part of that Local Roads and Community Infrastructure and they get to decide where they are going to spend that. On top of that of course, there’s another round of the Building Better Regions Fund but this time I’ve extended it to a $250 million. Round 5 at the moment, the applications are in and they’re being sorted at the moment. That was worth $200 million with a $100 million tourism component, but the next round, $250 million and I would invite very much those applications from Towong, Snowy Valleys and other councils to get involved and to get the community infrastructure and indeed all the things that their community is looking to brighten up their places. And of course, then you’ve got so many more people holidaying at home because they can’t go to overseas destinations and so that will help places like Tumut and others, which have a lot to offer.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Minister, we’re out of time, I know you’re on a strict time. It’s going to be a very busy day as Deputy Prime Minister today and of course, not even 24 hours after the Budget announcement. Anything you would like to add while we’re chatting before we head off?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Just a final word. Thank you to everybody listening for being your best self during coronavirus. It’s been difficult and people have had to wear masks. It’s been very difficult because we understand that coronavirus for some of the country communities that you and I get involved in, they haven’t had a coronavirus case for many months, if at all and yet they’ve still been required to wear the masks and do all the social distancing, so that’s been very difficult. But they’ve kept their community safe. They’ve done the right thing. We’ve all listened to the best possible medical advice and we need to continue to do that and to be patient, but let me tell you, we have put our faith, our stock, in people’s resilience and people’s ability to get on with their lives under challenging circumstances and there’s plenty of opportunities and investment in this Budget to ensure that Australia gets its way out of this and continues to be the best country in the whole world in which to live and of course, regional Australia is no better place in which to live.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Isn’t that the truth? Minister McCormack, thank you very much for taking your time out of an already very busy morning for you this morning with lots of media commitments. Really appreciate your time. We’ll catch up in a couple of weeks, yes?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Any time at all. Thanks, Dave. For sure.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Of course, talking with Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Nationals, Michael McCormack there joining us and of course, a regular guest who will be back in a couple of weeks.

Media contacts:

Caitlin Donaldson, 0428 389 880

Dean Shachar, 0418 202 860