Transcript - Parliament House doorstop

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning, I'm out talking about road safety this morning. We've got a $2 billion road safety roll-out right now. The first tranche, the first of the tranche of three over the next 18 months, because we want to make sure that we not only have the right roads, but we also advise drivers to follow those road rules when they're behind the wheel of a car. I say all the time, if you're a passenger in a car and the driver's doing the wrong thing, tell them to slow down, tell them to pull over if they're tired. It's pretty simple. But sadly, last year, again, we lost more than 1100 people on our roads. Of course, not only are the deaths very, very unfortunate, of course we've also – generally we have about 30,000 road traumas, we have injuries which affect people for the rest of their lives.

And, of course, as we work towards Vision Zero we make sure that we've got the right amount of money being spent on road safety. We can never spend enough, but this $2 billion campaign where each state identifies areas, identifies roads where they need rumble strips or guard rails or additional road safety measures, then we're backing them to put those measures in place. It's a use it or lose it, so if they don't spend it in this first six months it will go to a State or a Territory which will and can use that money to improve road safety outcomes for the people who use their roads.

That's what we're on about today. Road safety – so important. Of course it's a part of our $110 billion infrastructure roll-out which is supporting 100,000 jobs right across the nation as we come out of the back of COVID-19, it's a long road to recovery, but we will get there and we will get there thanks to Australians being their best selves. Australians have been magnificent so far. Yes, we've lost 909 people and that's very sad for those families who didn't have that loved one around the Christmas table just last year and didn't have them there for the festive season. They would have really felt that. But when you compare what we've done as a nation with COVID, with the recovery, with the health aspects, it's been the envy of the world.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, in Craig Kelly's podcast with Pete Evans he suggests health bureaucrats were giving dud advice to the Government. Has Craig Kelly become a problem for the Coalition?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Craig Kelly is supporting the vaccine strategy of the Government. That's important. That's vital and that's crucial because we want all Australians to make sure that they know that we've got the right strategy for the vaccine roll-out. We want all Australians to be calm and to be reassured that we will get this vaccine out. It's going to start later this month. We've got Pfizer, we've got AstraZeneca and we've got other eggs in other baskets as far as that's concerned. We've followed the best possible medical advice all the way through, with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, through the National Cabinet process. I say that Professor Paul Kelly is the one to listen to. That's whose advice we've taken following on from Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer. All the way through we've taken the best possible medical advice, we've followed it and that's why Australia is the envy of the world when it comes to COVID-19.

JOURNALIST

The Health Secretary says that if this vaccine roll-out is successful we could have international borders opened earlier. Is the Government open to that idea?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. Absolutely. I say again, we've followed the best possible medical advice all the way through and we want our international borders to be open as soon as possible because that means that seasonal workers can come in to do all the great jobs that they do, particularly in regional Australia. It means tourists can come back. But we'll do it in the safest and most practical way and we'll do it based on best medical advice.

JOURNALIST

Matt Canavan and George Christensen have said that Craig Kelly is being silenced, is that appropriate?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called in his Liberal colleague and he's spoken to him. And that's the right thing to do. Matt and George, well they're Nationals and whilst I appreciate that they've reached out to offer that advice, the fact remains we're following the best possible medical advice. What I will say is Craig Kelly, George Christensen and Matthew Canavan have all adopted and agreed with the strategy of the vaccine roll-out. The matter of Craig Kelly as far as being addressed by the Prime Minister, well that was the right thing to do in the party situation. Now I appreciate we're a Coalition, we're very strong Coalition and what we've focused on all the way through is making sure that we have the right health outcomes first and foremost. And then what we've done following that is made sure that we've got the right economic outcomes and we're the envy of the world when it comes to that. Yes, you're going to have people who express their views from time to time. But it's important that Craig Kelly, it is important to know that he is following and he has adopted and he has agreed with the vaccine strategy that the Federal Government, the Liberal-Nationals Government has gone into play.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, is Google bullying Australia by threatening to switch off its search engine here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, let's see if they actually do that. There are other search engines that people will be able to utilise if that happens. But we stand by what we've done as far as our media reform, as far as what we've done in this regard and we'll continue to make sure that we protect Australia's interests and that we protect Australian media companies' interests and we protect those news organisations that do a great job for and on behalf of all Australians.

JOURNALIST

Would you be happy to use Bing instead of Google?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We will use what's available and we'll use what people find the most convenient. But what we won't be doing is something that's right for someone else but not right for Australians. We always act in the national interest. Whether it's the vaccine strategy, whether it's the economic outcomes that we're putting in place for Australians or whether it's indeed what's happening with Google.

JOURNALIST

The Reserve Bank Governor says that the JobSeeker rate shouldn't revert to the pre-pandemic levels for both macroeconomic and fairness reasons. Do you agree with him? Is it time that that was lifted?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I went to school with Philip Lowe and I know he's a good Australian, he's doing a great job as the Reserve Bank Governor. We will of course, always listen to advice given us to by experts such as Dr Lowe. But we've got to make sure that Australians get back to work and that's our main focus, jobs, jobs and more jobs. And there are jobs out there at the moment. So for those people who are unemployed and are looking for a job, I say the Regional Australia Institute has identified there are 54,000 jobs in regional Australia right now. 54,000 jobs. And not just in fruit picking or meat processing plants but right across the board from offices, from health, in all sorts of areas of endeavour, there are jobs in Australia. Tens of thousands of them there at the moment and unfortunately, they're going begging because they don't have people to fill them. They just do not have the number of people. So for those who have the capacity, who have the means to take up one of those jobs I encourage them to do so.

JOURNALIST

Given the COVID cases we've seen coming out of hotel quarantine most recently in Perth and now Melbourne again, is it time for the Commonwealth to take over the quarantine system?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Jane Halton did a review of the quarantine system and found that it was sufficiently adequate to do the job that it was supposed to do. Of course, we've followed all the best advice from the health officials all the way through. Whether it's been quarantining, whether it's been social distancing, mask wearing, all the way through – we as a Federal Government, as the Liberal Nationals Government have followed the best medical advice. I think that's what Australians would expect us to do and I know that that's kept Australia as largely COVID-free as possibly we could be.

Now we've had a case overnight of course in Victoria and that is so unfortunate, but I know that the officials there will be doing the tracking and tracing and they've identified the locations this quarantine worker, the hotel that this person went to. And I know that those people who've actually also frequented or visited those places will be encouraged, indeed we implore them, to go and get a test today to ensure that they don't have the virus.

But all the way through we've followed the best medical advice. We'll continue to do that. There will be chinks in the armour. There's no perfect system to stop what is a global pandemic. But when you consider that we had days of no cases, yes, we've got one yesterday and hopefully there'll only be that one, we'll nip it in the bud. When you compare to that overseas where there's half a million cases every day on average, Australia's doing magnificently well. I say to Australians thank you for doing what you've done so far, keep up the good work. Keep up making sure that you follow that advice. We're getting the vaccine out at the end of the month and of course we've got that strategy, we've got that roll-out in place and we'll keep Australia as COVID-free as we can.

JOURNALIST

Just quickly on the Australian Open, given the headache that it's caused, was it a mistake for Daniel Andrews' Government to allow that event to go ahead and to plan for it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well they've put in all the measures that they thought was going to be necessary to ensure that they could have an, albeit delayed, Australian Open. This is an important event, not just for sport, not just for Victoria but for our nation. It's a great economic driver. I know that, yes, when you've got WA bushfires and you've got other matters that are of course also important for Australians generally, probably a tennis tournament isn't number one on their hit list at the moment. But this will be a matter for Tennis Australia. This will be a matter for the Victorian Government. Let's see what happens in the days to come as far as this one case and you know, the Australian Open as I understand is due to start next Monday. Let's see what happens in the next few days. I'm sure that if they can get the Australian Open under way then, you know, that'll be a good thing for Victoria and lots of people will be watching it on television. It is a great sporting event. It's one of those big events right up there with the AFL and NRL Grand Finals, Melbourne Cup and cricket and other big events that we put on. But of course the health of Victorians, the health of Australians is first and foremost and I'm sure that if things go wrong as far as this one case is concerned, then Victorian officials and Tennis Australia will make the right decision as far as the actual tournament.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, how would you feel about John Barilaro entering Federal Parliament?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

John Barilaro has said that he's not running for the Senate.

JOURNALIST

If he did though?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, if he puts his hand up, he's got to be selected by the National Party, the Central Executive, they make those decisions on the New South Wales representative to be put on that ballot paper. We've got the number two spot so it's very, very winnable. The person who wins that preselection ballot for the Senate for the Nationals for the next Federal election, I won't say they're always guaranteed because there are no guarantees in politics. But it's a plum position, the person who wins that ballot will potentially take the place in the Senate in the next Parliament. And whoever it is, is going to be a great representative, whether it's John Barilaro – although he's said that he's not going to run – but no matter who it is, it's going to be a great representative for regional New South Wales, following on and continuing with the great work that Perin Davey is doing as a Senator at the moment. I mean Perin Davey is out there right across New South Wales. She's out there with the fires. She's talking water. She's talking infrastructure. She's talking about the things that matter most to people who live in regional New South Wales. She's got a big picture in mind about how she wants to see the future of New South Wales and the future of the regions progressing. That's what we want and that's what we will get no matter who is on that ballot paper for the Nationals in the Senate for the next election, they will be a great representative for regional New South Wales.

JOURNALIST

How are things between you and Mr Barilaro?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good, we had dinner together just prior to Christmas and we talk regularly. We've got a passion for the regions. I get on with everybody. I get on with everybody. It doesn't matter, I don't care what their political persuasion is or what they might have said in the past, it doesn't worry me. I don't hold grudges, I just get on and I'm a very friendly person, as you know.

JOURNALIST

Given the failures in hotel quarantine is it time to reconsider moving those facilities out to remote areas out of urban areas?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I know that Annastacia Palaszczuk had a plan to have a particular quarantine place in Gladstone which was rejected, not only by the local community but also the Labor Mayor Matt Burnett. These are issues for the states. But if we are going to move them into the regions, we want to make sure very, very much that the state health services and provisions and personnel are in place to ensure that if there is any breakout of COVID-19 that they can quickly stamp it out, that they can quickly address it. So Matt Burnett, the Labor Mayor, wasn't satisfied nor was the local community. I know Ken O'Dowd, the Member for Flynn, had a lot to say about this and there were quite valid concerns about there being quarantine. Now Howard Springs has worked very, very well in the Northern Territory. We want to make sure that we've got the right quarantining, because when we've got the right quarantining, we can bring more Australians home. There are 37,000 registered at the moment with DFAT to do just that. We want to bring more Australians home, but we can't do it if there aren't the quarantine places there for them to be able to come into that 14 days of quarantine when they get here.

JOURNALIST

Getting quarantine right though, wouldn't it have been better if it was just in the hands of the Commonwealth rather than the states, that way you'd have that oversight?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, all the way through we've worked through the National Cabinet process, taken the best possible advice from the AHPPC. But this is also very much the remit of states as well. Yes, we've provided the assistance we have and we've got 1500 Australian Defence Force personnel assisting the states and territories with what they needed to do. So we'll continue to work with the states. Australians again have been magnificent. They've been magnificent to keep our country – and certainly our regions – largely COVID-free. Our regions have led the way with the economic recovery through agriculture, through mining and they will continue to do that.

Thank you very much.

ENDS 7:53AM

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