Transcript - Interview on Sounds of the Mountains Radio

7:40AM

DAVID EISENHAUER

But right now, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of The Nationals joins us as a regular guest. Michael McCormack, a very good morning to you, Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Hello, Dave.

DAVID EISENHAUER

How are you this morning?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Very well thanks, actually, yes, really good.

DAVID EISENHAUER

We were just talking off-air, nice morning this morning. I mean, it's not cold. We've had those minus threes and fours around the region, as you're well aware if you're based in Canberra at certain times of the year, it's certainly one of the colder towns in the country, but we copped a bit of the Canberra weather there at the start of the week. But these days are nice, particularly on farms, a good top‑up for our crops around the region.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, the cold weather is not too bad this year and most farmers are welcoming it because it actually either prevents or perhaps eliminates – reduces – the number of mice ravaging the countryside. If you go to Central West or North West New South Wales, they are still in plague proportions and that is a big worry. So, the cooler weather, those frosts, we'll start seeing the mice cannibalising themselves and reducing greatly in number and that’s what we want because the only good mouse is a dead mouse, apart from perhaps Mickey or Minnie Mouse.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Exactly right and when we see a lot of – talking to a lot of the farmers from out in those Central West districts, completely demolishing haystacks in a matter of time, like, it's alarming what a mice plague can do. And we hear the stories from the history books of years gone by when they've had mice plagues, but you sort of think that's in the past but it’s not. A lot of these things come back to get us and of course, we've only just come out of drought – we've had floods. What a season over the last few years we have had, Michael McCormack.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that's one of the reasons why we have got more mice and they breed every 21 days and they have about a litter of 10, they do that for about 12 months, so if you do the maths, it's a lot of mice. But you're right, look, it has been a very good season and farmers are taking advantage of that instant asset write‑off. They're buying new equipment. They're investing in themselves. They're great risk-takers, our food and fibre producers, but they have had a great season and with every prospect of another bumper harvest coming.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Now, we spoke a couple of days back with the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese and one of the things we were talking about there, Minister McCormack, was COVID. Now, as you're very much aware, like the rest of the whole district is, Gundagai was under the spotlight and again today with the testing clinic. We just spoke with Matt Lucas, one of the business operators that had that deep clean notice issued. There is a journey ahead, we are certainly not out of the woods by far and wide.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I said that in Parliament just yesterday. We are a long way from being out of this and that's why we've continued with many of the assistance measures. That's why we're continuing to monitor that situation. That's why the National Cabinet is indeed, sitting again today to address the latest issues around COVID and they're going to put in place that national pandemic leave disaster payment fund and that will help for those areas which go into lockdown and have that identified Commonwealth hotspot status put on them. But this is a situation where we need to get out and get vaccinated. Everybody should take advantage, when they are eligible to do so, to get that vaccine, because it means such a difference, a world of difference, to their communities, their own families and indeed, people they don't even know, they'll never meet. But we just need to get that vaccine and get that jab and get it again, get that second dose and we'll all be better together.

DAVID EISENHAUER

One in three people over 50 have received their first dose, statistics tell us, 700,000‑plus doses administered in the past seven days. They're good numbers and numbers we can talk about, but one of the messages and one of the things we were talking about with Mr Albanese was these recovery centres, if you want to call them something different, what we keep hearing about, these isolation places, taking people out of the cities and putting them somewhere else, the disruption to business in Victoria, for example, it's a tough road.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No question. There’s no question it is and that's why that pandemic leave disaster payment has been put into place. That's why we are urging Australians to get vaccinated. That's why I think the alarm bells sort of rang for quite a few people when they realised – we don't want people to panic – but when they realised that there was a bit of a sense of complacency after we had not had a lockdown for a while in Victoria and other parts and when it happened last week, the alarm bells started ringing, a lot of people rushed to those centres to get vaccinated. So, in one sense we've been a victim of our own success. We only have to look at the overseas experience. We've had 910 deaths in Australia and that's very sad and unfortunate, of course, for those people and their families and we've had only one last year, but the United States yesterday 598 more deaths, up now to 595,000, France, 110,000 deaths, UK, 128,000, Germany, 88,000, Canada, 25,500, Sweden, 14,500. You know, these are big numbers. They are deaths. They are deaths and they are leading countries with good health systems and they've put in place measures to try to protect their communities. I mean, Egypt is 15,000. They are the deaths. So, Australia, we've been very, very lucky and that's because Australians have done the right thing. That's because they have self‑isolated and worn masks and etcetera, etcetera and we urge and encourage them to go on listening to that advice.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And it's a great place to live. That's one of the messages we're hearing from just the general sounds of the community talking is that we're so very, very fortunate to live where we do, we've got – 

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Particularly in regional Australia, though, particularly in the Snowy Valley and the Snowy Mountains. Sometimes we take for granted that we do live in these great areas of Australia. We don't realise how lucky and fortunate we've got it, but we're also pretty smart because we do live in regional Australia and it's the safest place in all of the world at the moment.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And we are moving ahead in leaps and bounds. If we move on from COVID, a few days back you announced what was called the National Freight Data Hub. Mr McCormack, what is that? For people who don't know – this is a big investment, $16.5 million into this. What does this involve? What does this mean for –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it's a network system where transport operators, large and small, can actually just tap into an internet-based system and they'll also have it on their office computer systems whereby they'll be able to see where the truck stops are and see how many trucks are there. They will be to be able see where the congestion points, where the hold-ups are going to be and it's going to actually, hopefully, revolutionise the way the transport industry operates, just similarly to what we've done in the rail system. We've put a similar sort of system in place not that long ago. Australian‑designed technology to enable more trains to be on those freight lines closer together, which actually frees up a lot of the traffic because what we then see is people not being held up with the intersecting roads. What we do see with this National Freight Data Hub with transport, is it's not just for obviously the trucks, it's also for seaports. It's also in the rest of the freight tasks that we are addressing, because the freight task is actually going to increase by 35 per cent over the next two decades, so what we're trying to do is we're trying to have less congestion. What we're trying to do is make it easier and safer for truckies and that, along with the Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds initiative that we put in place for mental health and for truckies' wellbeing just the other day in Wagga Wagga. They're all good systems, they're all good datasets and they're going to make sure truckies can get where they need to be sooner and safer.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Of course, we talked the rail lines in our country too, we've got that massive, big line being built out through in the Central West and South West districts. How's that travelling along?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Very well. We're on Stage 2, it is underway at the moment. Stage 1 – just for a little snapshot of Stage 1, Narromine to Parkes, only about 100 kilometres – 99 small local businesses benefited to the tune of $110 million of local procurement, 1,762 people worked on that line and that is just but one small section of 13 sections of the Inland Rail, and you can replicate that another 12 times to get the sort of statistics that are going to benefit from just the construction phase and when it is completed in the mid-2020s, what we're going to see is product being moved for the first time in less than 24 hours, all that food and fibre and indeed whitegoods and the like. This is a real boon for Australia and a real boon, particularly for local businesses along the line.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Will we see improvements like that happening in other parts of the country, Minister?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We're spending $110 billion on infrastructure at the moment. That's supporting 100,000 workers. That was before the Budget and in the Budget there's another $15.2 billion going into projects, large and small, across regional and metropolitan Australia, supporting an additional 30,000 workers. So, there's lots happening and I know that Snowy Valleys and other shires around that your listeners are in, they're benefiting from the $3 billion Road Safety Program and indeed the Local Roads And Community Infrastructure program and I know James Hayes, the Mayor of Tumut there, was pretty happy about the funding that Tumut, Tumbarumba and Batlow and other parts in between are receiving because that means better roads, that means better infrastructure and that's better for the community.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Talking of infrastructure and rail and so forth, to wrap up today, we remembered Tim Fischer, was it last week there with a fantastic statue being unveiled out there –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Boree Creek.

DAVID EISENHAUER

– at Boree Creek and it was a fantastic – everyone remembers Tim. He was such a terrific bloke to talk to and an absolute rail buff. I mean, you couldn't have found a bloke more addicted to rail technology and history than Tim but also in the Prime Minister's shoes, an amazing bloke to talk to and that would have been a fantastic day to attend, Michael.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It was and Andrew Whitehead has actually, from farm implements, from little nuts and screws and bolts and all sorts of little things, has made this magnificent statue and he's placed it on a little caboose. It is Tim Fischer. You look at the face made out of these farm implements and you can actually see Tim. Certainly, the spirit of Tim is in that little community of Boree Creek and I urge and encourage anybody who's rattling along the Sturt Highway, just take a bit of a detour, not far, just go to Boree Creek, have a drink at the pub. They've got great publicans there and a great little community. That little park, that Tim Fischer Park, is something to be seen, put it on your bucket list.

DAVID EISENHAUER

We have to mention that because the whole region was very much aware of the work that Tim did not just as a parliamentarian and somebody in politics, but also in the rural areas and regional areas and we had that passion for – I remember sitting there at Lockhart many, many years ago, Yvonne sending us out there, and we had a thing called the cargo freighter or something like that it was this little blue train that was brought up from Melbourne. It was sitting out there on one of the branch lines. It was in the days of the branch lines were being discussed about being closed down and Tim brought this little cargo carrier and I've kept the info on it. Beautiful little set‑up. Always looking at options and different ways of moving freight around. We look at this big Inland Rail line, we look at the old XPT wrapping around. Minister, passenger services, will we see changes to those coming up in the not‑too‑distant future, do you think?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there's always work being done with passenger services and of course, people being moved about on rail is mainly a state issue, but I'm working very much with state Ministers, Andrew Constance, Paul Toole and indeed Jacinta Allan in Victoria because I know your listeners are in Victoria too, to get those programs up to make sure that we get more rail investment and we get passengers better and safer railway lines. You've mentioned Tim, his famous Akubra, his trademark grin, but also the work that he did with John Howard after the Port Arthur massacre to ensure that we had better and safer gun laws has saved so many people's lives – that's his greatest legacy.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Isn't that true? Minister McCormack, we are running very quickly out of time. Thank you very much for joining us for a chat. Every couple of weeks we'd like to have a chat, if that's all right with you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Pleasure. No drama at all.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And I appreciate you taking time out on this Friday morning. All the best for the day.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

You have a great day, too. Thanks, Dave.

DAVID EISENHAUER

There you go, Michael McCormack, of course, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of The Nationals joining us each fortnight on the station there.

ENDS 7:53AM

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