Transcript - Interview on Triple M Riverina

8:13AM

POPPY PENNY

Yesterday we saw the handing down of the Federal Budget from the Treasurer and with us this morning to unpack all things Federal Budget and how it’s going to affect us is Deputy Prime Minister and Member for the Riverina, Michael McCormack, good morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning, Poppy and Leigh and one person who was not dancing in the dark last night was Josh Frydenberg. What a Budget! Received such good reaction to it from – even from quarters that you wouldn’t expect would be backing in a Coalition Budget, but they have been this morning. It’s a very, very good Budget, not only for the nation but especially the regions.

POPPY PENNY

So run us through how it is going to impact the regions, particularly regional New South Wales.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what it’s going to do, it’s going to absolutely help local government areas such as Wagga Wagga. So, there’s going to be an additional $4 million for roads money going into that Local Roads and Community Infrastructure. So, that is going to be such a game‑changer for the council – already received a significant amount of money via that program. And for other shires within the region which have received around $27 million, well, there’s another $27 million as part of that program. So that’s going to be so good. It’s going to put bitumen down on roads that perhaps never had paving or never had any cement truck ever visit them. So that’s going to be good.

Also, there’s another $1 billion for road safety upgrades. So, whether there’s rumble strips, whether there’s those audio tactile, little things that you hit when you’re driving along and you all of a sudden realise that you’re not in your lane. I’ve been through all the Riverina and Central West lately and I’ve seen them out installing those. That’s going to be such a game‑changer.

But there’s tax breaks, of course, for the lower and middle‑income tax offset. That’s going to be maintained – it was due to expire. So, a person earning $40,000 is going to get $480 back in their tax return. People between $48,000 and $90,000 will continue to get that full rebate of $1,080 because we believe – I believe – that if you earn that money, more of it should be in your pocket, not coming to Canberra. So, we want people to be able to utilise and use more of the money they earn.

But also, I’m really pleased that there’s a good, very substantial mental health investment in the nation, $820 million that’s going to facilitate and fund an additional 57 centres – 57 Headspaces or Head to Health facilities. That will also be a great thing and particularly for regional Australia and we’re all too often see very, very sad stories of people who don’t know where to turn and you know, they’re so despairing they just don’t know where to put their cries of help. Of course, there’s always been those services, but we’re going to boost those services and we’re going to add to that vital sector.

LEIGH RYAN

Michael, there’s been some assumptions made in the Budget that – I just want to get your level of confidence as to how they’re going, in terms of having the Australian population vaccinated and internal borders remaining open and also around wage growth, which has sort of underperformed Budget expectations for about the last seven years or so. How do you reckon that we’re going to go compared to those measures to allow this Budget to flourish as it should?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve put in place conservative estimates as to when the borders will reopen and who knows when that’s going to be. We’re not certainly out of this global pandemic yet and we won’t be for some significant time. So there’s no point basing a Budget on early border re-openings, because that’s probably just not going to happen, given the situation in India, given the situation in Africa, given the situation in indeed, many of those countries which have had very, very good health systems, such as in Europe and such as in the Americas – Canada and the United States – where they are increasing taxes to pay for vaccinations, to pay for what they’re trying to get their economies back on track. But unlike those countries, Australia has actually now got more people in employment than we had pre‑pandemic. So, there’s up to 13.1 million Australians actually in a job now, whereas before it was only around 13 million Australians in work. So, that is the envy of the world.

Yes, the vaccine – we’re rolling it out. I appreciate that for some reasons and delays in getting some of the vaccines from overseas, the vaccination roll out hasn’t been as quick as some would have liked, but rest assured there’s nearly 3 million Australians, or approaching that number, who have now had their jab. And we urge and encourage Australians, when they’re eligible to get that poke in the arm, that they do it. And as more vaccinations roll out across the world and as more countries come online in that regard, we’ll do what we’ve done with New Zealand, we’ll put in place a bubble so that Australians and New Zealanders and people from Singapore or Japan or South Korea, wherever the case might be, can freely travel between the countries. But until then, we’ll keep Australians safe. We’ll do what we’ve always done right throughout the pandemic and follow the best possible medical advice to the letter and make sure that we keep Australians safe.

LEIGH RYAN

Chatting with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack this morning.

POPPY PENNY

Michael, very quickly, one of the sectors that really struggled throughout the pandemic due to the loss of international arrivals and in this case international students, are universities. There’s no specific funding in this Budget for universities. Is there a plan in place to support them? Because we’ve seen locally, CSU in Wagga have had to lay off a large number of staff, their key staff members, lecturers, support people, administration staff. What plan is in place to support universities, because they have really struggled?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, indeed I only stood with David Littleproud at Charles Sturt University there the other day and announced millions of dollars – up to $8 million for a Drought Resilience Agricultural Hub to even further boost their offerings in that regard. We’ve brought down the cost of an agricultural degree by 59 per cent, or around that figure. So, we were encouraging people to take those university places, because I want more regional people – young people – to come home. I want a lot more regional people to indeed stay and have that confidence in their own universities, in their own tertiary institutions, to be able to stay in their locations, in their home locations and not have to go to a sandstone university in a far‑off capital city. So, I’m confident that universities such as Charles Sturt, yes, of course they’ve suffered by not having international students, but we will continue to back them. We’ll continue to back them with record investment. And Charles Sturt University is very strong. I spoke to Fiona Nash, their Government Relations person, only yesterday about what we can do in the future, messaged her about where we can go in the future and I know Charles Sturt University will always have a strong future.

POPPY PENNY

For non‑agricultural degrees, obviously dropping the course fees for those is fantastic, but for students who want to study something like nursing or teaching or psychology, we’ve lost a lot of staff that actually teach those subjects. Is there a plan to support the university to re‑implement those courses so that students can study on campus again? Because at the moment so many of the enrolments are online only.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I appreciate that and look, these are difficult and challenging times. So, as I say, we will continue our record investment in the tertiary sector. We’re not going to be able to provide everything that’s going to make everybody happy, but we’ve looked at every sector of the economy, we’ve put investment into it either in the Budget that was handed down in October, or last night and we will continue to do that because – and I certainly will, because I’ve got a $110 billion infrastructure Budget and I want to make sure that of the 100,000 workers it already supports and the 30,000 additional workers that it will support going ahead from last night’s Budget, that people have the best roads on which to drive, that they have the best amenities and facilities and that they fully appreciate that they are living in the best place in all of the world and that is the Riverina and that is regional Australia and we’ll go ahead from that.

LEIGH RYAN

Very quickly before we let you go, some really pleasing stuff out of the Budget last night for women and for aged care following that royal commission. Can you just give us a couple of quick details and bullet points on that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, $17.7 billion going into the aged care sector, a significantly boosted number of home care places, 80,000 in that regard. Certainly, for women’s safety there’s a big investment, as there needs to be more of those refuges. We’re going to make sure that those women who are vulnerable, who are facing a domestic violence situation and sadly that’s about one in four across the span of their lives, that they are protected and that they do have the resources available when they need it the most.

POPPY PENNY

Member for the Riverina and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, thank you so much for your time this morning and giving us a bit of unpacking of the Budget. It can be a very overwhelming night for everybody and I imagine that you are very tired and ready to move on from the Budget. Thanks so much for your time.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, I’m not ready to move on, but we’ll keep out there, talking about it and making sure that people know that there’s something in there for them. Thank you, Poppy. Thank you, Leigh.

LEIGH RYAN

Always a pleasure.

POPPY PENNY

You can enjoy a 400th coffee for the day.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No worries at all.

LEIGH RYAN

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister, on the Riverina’s Triple M.

ENDS 8:22AM

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