Transcript - Parliament House doorstop

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, good morning and great to be with you on the eve of what is going to be an infrastructure Budget, on the eve of what is going to be a Budget which is going to secure Australia's future and we need this Budget. We need this Budget to continue, as it will do, to invest in jobs, as we have done since 2013, to back Australians. I've got every confidence in Australia's ability, in Australians' ability indeed, to get through this recovery, to back themselves through what has been, an absolutely crippling and heartbreaking global pandemic

But we've done very well. So many Australians, tens of thousands in fact, made sure that they went to their favourite sporting event on the weekend, made sure that they went to barbecues and a great little restaurant somewhere in their local communities at the weekend. They travelled. They took advantage of those half price tickets and they went interstate. And I read the story on the front of the NT News this morning, yes, there was a crocodile story, but there was also a great story about how accommodation is booked out.

And the Budget tomorrow night, 7.30, Josh Frydenberg is going to talk about, to announce indeed 30,000 jobs supported by our more than $10 billion investment – additional investment – into infrastructure. So this is fantastic and we're absolutely securing Australia's recovery and future through this Budget – money in aged care, money in women's health, money in health generally. We're going to make sure that we support the jobs, that we support the economy and we make sure that we keep Australia, as we've done the whole way through, as largely COVID-free and safe as we can.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, $10 billion, it's a lot of money. How do you plan to hold yourselves to account to actually spend that money where it's needed most and to make sure that there are no under-spends like we have seen previously, that $6.6 billion that I spoke to you about last year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I'm delighted that last night, when I messaged the various State Ministers right throughout Australia. We have got six states, we've got two territories and I heard back from all of those State Ministers. Many of them are Labor State Ministers and they were delighted with the package that we're announcing tomorrow night. Whether it was Jacinta Allan in Victoria, whether it was Mark Bailey in Queensland, whoever it was, they were very pleased, because what we've done as part of the Budget infrastructure roll out is we've looked at and addressed state priorities. We've looked at community needs and expectations. Australians deserve the best infrastructure that they can get and that's what we're doing. And so we'll work collaboratively and cooperatively, as I've done the whole way through, with the states. We developed a National Freight Code in hours, not days or weeks but within hours, when it seemed as though supermarkets were going to be laid bare because every shopper thought they needed 10 rolls of toilet paper every time they went to the loo. And that is because of the great relationship that I have with State Ministers. It doesn't matter their political persuasion. We need to build infrastructure and tomorrow night's Budget will do just that.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, how much of that money will actually be spent in the next financial year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we've got $110 billion. What we've done is because it's a 10-year rolling pipeline – the first Government to do so – we've made sure that that money is now going to stretch out to 30-31. So, yes, it's a long way into the future but we're –

JOURNALIST

But what about next year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, next year, there's $110 billion. That money is going to support 30,000 additional workers. So, we're investing $2.03 billion into the Katoomba, Lithgow, Great Western Highway, east and west sections. We're investing money into Charters Towers freight roads. We're investing money into the Bass Highway in Tasmania. We're investing in every state and every territory. New intermodal in Melbourne. This is what the states have prioritised. This is what the community said was needed and this is what we're doing.

JOURNALIST

So, why is there no detail on timing in today's announcement? Why is all those billion dollars spend on infrastructure with no details on when –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There's only one page or two on a press release and of course, if you're going to go into details, you're going to require many more pages of engineering, specs and the like. And we'll continue to work with states as we've done so. Of course, when you announce a particular road project, of course you've got to do environmental impact statements, in some cases for projects there are business cases to be done. All that is part of the mix. But rest assured, it's supporting tens of thousands of workers. Rest assured, it's building the infrastructure that Australia needs and it's working with states cooperatively to get that infrastructure prioritised.

JOURNALIST

[Inaudible] where are you going to get the workforce from?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we're absolutely banking on Australia's ability to make sure that we provide that workforce. And when I went to upgrades in Tasmania, not that long ago, I asked that same question to the proponent of the particular road project and he said to me that, “We build from within. We create opportunities for local people, whether they've got a stop-go sign or whether they're in high engineering specification work. We make sure that we build from within because we can't always rely on the mainland to provide the work because there's so much going on there now.”

We've got a record spend in infrastructure and if you look at just New South Wales, their figure is around about the same as ours. So when you combine the Federal money that we're investing in infrastructure, generally on an 80:20 split in regional areas and 50:50 in metropolitan and working with states and you look at the states' money that they're also investing with us, you know, it's a big spend. And we want to make sure that that unemployment rate comes down. It's the envy of the world when you consider some of the jobless queues in other countries in the OECD. We're making sure that we provide that impetus, provide that infrastructure stimulus and provide the delivery on the ground, which is supporting workers.

JOURNALIST

What's the policy on international borders? Because we're hearing “Fortress Australia” from some corners and then the Treasurer is saying he wants the border open as soon as possible for migrants, so quite a confusing message.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Not a confused message at all, we are following the best possible medical advice. That's what we've done the whole way through. We've taken that advice from Professor Brendan Murphy. We've taken that advice from Professor Paul Kelly. We've worked with state public health officials and that's why yesterday there were no locally acquired cases. That's why we've kept our deaths, albeit very, very unfortunate for the 910 families who've lost a loved one. But when you compare our case rates and our death rates to any other country in the world, we've done very, very well by following that medical advice. By taking heed of what has been advised to us and following it to the letter, we've kept Australia largely COVID-free and safe.

JOURNALIST

The Budget is based on the assumption that international borders will reopen next year. Can you give us a clear idea of when it's assumed that they'll be opened?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I'm not going to project a timeline. We'll do that when the best possible medical advice says that it's right to do so, as we've done the whole way through. But as more Australians are vaccinated and hopefully by next year most Australians will be, if not all Australians will be – and, you know, that will provide us with the opportunity to have travel bubbles with other countries where vaccination rates are also very high and we'll, of course, again listen to that medical advice and follow it to the letter.

JOURNALIST

Do you personally want migrants coming back to Australia? Do you believe in, in a bigger Australia? Do you want to welcome migrants back in here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Of course I do. I mean, migrants have made our country the great modern nation it is today. Most of us have a story somewhere in our family line of migration where we've had grandparents, or indeed in many, many cases, parents who've come from overseas and made a great future in the best possible country in all of the world to do that – Australia.

JOURNALIST

Hospitality and tourism businesses in the regions are crying out for migrants to fill staff shortages. Is there a case for Australia to bring in these workforces and quarantine them the same way that Pacific workers have come in to help the agricultural sector?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

They are. Look, that's a possibility but when it's safe to do so, we'll do and look at those sorts of things. I mean, the Regional Australia Institute has identified 66,000 workers needed to fill positions at the moment in Australia. They could well be and are indeed, in hospitality. They are indeed in law firms and accountancy practices, education, health. Yes, they are also in orchards. Yes, they are also in meat processing plants. There are jobs – good-paying jobs – in regional Australia right now and a lifestyle like no other to be had in regional Australia right now – big backyards, affordable homes, congestion-free traffic. Why wouldn't you want to go to the regions where you can smell clean air and go to a town where it's big enough in which to get a good cup of coffee and small enough to still care.

JOURNALIST

A quick question on roads. You're funding the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains. John Barilaro wants to build a tunnel through those mountains and the cost may be $8 billion. Will you contribute funds for that tunnel, not just a road alongside of that tunnel?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Certainly looking forward to chatting with John, as I so often do in a very convivial way, to see what we can do to realise that dream. Getting that road through or over that mountain range has been so important for so many for so long and more than happy to have those discussions. This could be a transformational game-changer for the Central West, for that area in regional New South Wales, which is so beckoning, so inviting and so needing of people to make that journey and if they can do it in a quicker time. I mean, you look at a similar situation in Adelaide, it opened up those areas away from the capital city there in South Australia, which made such a difference for regional South Australia. I want to promote the regions and doing this is one of those ways you can.

JOURNALIST

So that would have to be several billion dollars of Federal money in another Budget, not this one, specifically for the tunnel.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed. Absolutely correct. The figure has been put at around $8 billion. But who knows, I think that's just the back of a coaster figure at the moment but there wouldn't be much change out of it.

JOURNALIST

When international borders do reopen, are you expecting hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of COVID here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, we will open the borders when it is absolutely safe to do so, based on the best possible medical advice. We don't want to open Australia up to thousands, as you've described, of coronavirus cases. We do not. We want to make sure that we've got the vaccination rolled out, that Australia is safe in which to open up those international borders. That's when we'll do it and we'll do it based on what the Chief Medical Officer has to say. Thank you very much.

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