Transcript - Parliament House Press Conference

1:30PM

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, another big tick of confidence in regional areas today with the investments that we are putting into programs that are going to help regional Australia through the recovery period out of COVID-19. Whilst Labor are out talking down our nation, we’re talking up the ability, certainly of regional areas, to be their best selves, to make sure that if it’s jobs, if it’s building their economies, then we’re right behind it. And the $100 million support that we are putting into programs today are going to make sure that 10 identified areas can have that economic recovery. The partnerships that we’re doing with those regions, with locals, are going to make such a difference for those areas.

And they’re in every state in Australia. And we know that they’ve been hard hit by bushfires. We know that they’ve been hard hit by drought and they’re still coming out of the effects of that, even though we’ve had good rains. Some of them have even had flooding and, of course, they’ve all had COVID-19. But we want them to be their best selves and that’s why we’ve identified 10 areas where we’re having these economic partnerships with locals, with local councils, with the State Governments as well. We’ll work in partnerships with all tiers of government to ensure that they recover from the effects of everything that’s been thrown at them.

And then of course, we’ve got the $30 million for connectivity for those areas outside the NBN footprint. We want to make sure that if there’s farmers there then they can be connected to the world as they go about their business and they look to get those high prices for their stock, for their grain. If they’re on a tractor and they’re doing work they need to be connected to the world just like anybody else, just like anybody in a capital city. And that’s what I’ve just told the Regional Australia Institute in a speech talking up regional Australia, talking up the programs that we’ve got in place.

We’ve also got $5.7 million in place to build economic resilience amongst our leaders. We’ve got so many leaders in these local communities and we want to put in place a program that’s going to help them to be the voices of regional Australia, just like we are here in the Parliament, to make sure that they can have those training programs so that they can speak up for and on behalf loudly and proudly of regional Australia.

I think the best days of regional Australia are ahead of us, I’ve always said that. And I’ve also loved the regional areas because I’ve lived in it all my life. I know that regional Australia, it’s big enough in which to get a big cup of coffee but it’s still small enough to care. So important. And I also know that there are jobs out there. The Regional Australia Institute has identified 45,600 jobs right now in regional Australia and that’s only going to increase – only going to increase – because the recent rains have brought on the prospects of a bumper harvest. So that is good news in one sense, in another it brings across challenging as well as of course, as I’ve just said, opportunities.

That’s why today we’re making those announcements and there’ll be more in the budget, about what we can do to address those labour shortages in rural and regional Australia so that we can get the crop off, so that we can get the fruit picked. And I’m glad that we’re going to be doing those programs, those initiatives, with our Pacific Islander friends, certainly to get more of those across indeed, extending the visas for those holiday workers or those who are looking at the prospect of having to go back home. We want them to stay, we want them to experience regional Australia and earn some money while they’re doing it.

So, it’s a good day for regional Australia. We want to make sure that every post is a winner. I know that the budget next Tuesday is going to have more initiatives in it. Only on Sunday we announced an extension, Round 5 of the Building Better Regions Fund, on top of a $50 million fund as well for tourism. So, it was a quarter of a billion dollars on Sunday. Of course on Monday I announced the initiative for the Regional Aviation Network Support extending to March 28 to get those planes into those a hundred or so communities, to get those flights, so that those flights could bring vital personal protection equipment, so that those planes could bring in face masks, respiratory devices and perhaps most importantly, the frontline medical personnel who’ve been such heroes during COVID-19. And, of course, today, the $135 million announcement that I’ve made in three key areas just now.

So, exciting times for regional Australia. It’s already led the way with agriculture, with resources and so much more through COVID-19 and generally has stayed COVID-19 free. Been impinged upon largely by capital decisions made for and on behalf of it even though in some areas there hadn’t been a COVID case for many months if at all. But despite that, regional Australians are resilient. Despite that, regional Australians are strong. They are helping us lead the way through the recovery efforts for COVID-19 and they will go on doing that.

JOURNALIST

 Deputy Prime Minister, the Government has had programs before, including for Newstart recipients to get them into the regions. You wanted 7,600 people in the regions picking fruit, less than 500 signed up. What are you going to do differently to get thousands of Australians into the regions this time, not just a few hundred?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’m hopeful they’re going to go on farmhub.gov.au. I’m hopeful that they’re going to take advantage of the new initiatives. Look, the regional areas themselves – I know Tom Eastlake at Young – they’ve got incentives too. They’re going to need three and a half thousand cherry pickers just in Young in about three or four weeks’ time. There’s plenty of work. So, I say to those Australians, young or some not so young who at the moment are looking for work at the moment don’t have – they feel in their own mind – the prospects for a future, have a look. The Regional Australia Institute has identified 45,600 jobs. They’re not just in agriculture. They’re not just in resources. They’re in so many areas of endeavour and they are good jobs. They are good paying jobs.

It’s up to those people who are out of work to have a look to see what’s available. I was just asked a moment ago on the RAI webinar whether there would be transport incentives and accommodation incentives. Well, many of the areas provide just that. And we have to work in conjunction with state governments as well. It’s not just up to the Commonwealth to do all the planning, to do all the work, to do all the initiatives to get people to these jobs, to these areas of endeavour. State Governments have to play a role too. We’ve already put $314 billion on the table for COVID-19. States have to step up too.

JOURNALIST

The Auditor-General has warned that without more funding they’ll be conducting fewer and fewer audits. Does it concern you that there’ll be fewer reports to improve government processes and will you fix it in the budget?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the budget’s next Tuesday and Josh Frydenberg will be making a whole host of announcements. We’ve certainly been working very, very hard to make sure that we’ve covered off on so many areas of endeavour. I’m sure that the Auditor-General if that office needs to make the necessary investigations into whatever the case might be then those investigations will be taken and that is the proper and transparent way to do it.

JOURNALIST

[Inaudible] backpackers, the bulk of those estimated 26,000 or are you hopeful that perhaps young Australians on supports [Inaudible]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m hoping both is going to happen because even with the labour workforce from the Pacific and even with the Australians who are currently out of work, we’re still going to perhaps even need to fill some shortfalls besides those two. We’re going to need every hand on deck basically to get the fruits of the farmers’ labour off. We’re going to have a bumper harvest. Whether it’s grain, whether it’s fruit, the horticulture industry is going to need many Australians. There are incentives there for Australians to take up that challenge. And, as I’ve said previously today, have a go. Come to regional Australia. You know, bring your mobile, have that Instagram moment up a ladder picking fruit, blue sky in the background, wonderful country breeze and wonderful friends around. You’ll find more friends. You might find the love of your life out in regional Australia. It could change the way you live. And certainly, I know there are adventures out there to be had in regional Australia. There’s work to be done and there’s money to be made.

JOURNALIST

You asked the States to step up a bit more regarding sort of incentivising of people to go out to the regions. Just to be completely clear, will the Federal Government do any more in incentivising people to go out?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, you’ll have to wait until next week’s budget. We’ve already provided some incentives and we will be looking at this, as we’ve done all the way through COVID. I appreciate this isn’t just a COVID situation, but it has been exacerbated by the fact that we don’t have the workers that we previously had coming in from overseas. I appreciate that, but we will work with industries. We will work with the National Farmers’ Federation. We are doing that already. We will work with the fruit and veg, we will work with all those organisations to make sure that we’ve got as best we can the workers in the places where they’re needed.

But farmers also need to register with Farm Hub. They need to be able to put on that website and register as to how many workers they need, where they’ll need them, when they’ll need them. That’s important. We can’t leave it to the 11th hour, stroke of midnight, to do it. We need to do it now, appreciating that in a few short weeks the fruit’s going to be ripening, it’s going to need to be picked. The harvest is going to need to be done. And, like I say, there’s jobs out there. There’s money to be made.

JOURNALIST

We’ve heard horror stories of migrant workers being exploited on agricultural visas. What kind of safeguards will there be in place for this process you’ve got set up, and secondly do you really think young people are going to go out to these areas and pick fruit just for the ‘Gram. Is that a serious suggestion?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, they should. I mean at the end of the day they should. Why wouldn’t they? I mean, the best form of welfare is a job. If you don’t have a job and there’s somebody offering you a job and offering you good pay and good conditions, then pitch in. Have a go. It will transform your life and at the end of the day you’re still going to be getting well paid to do it. We need to look at the arrangements by which people are collecting welfare. There is a mutual obligation there to actually if there’s a job there to take it. There is an obligation there to pitch in, have this Team Australia moment and do what’s right for and on behalf of the nation but, more importantly perhaps, for and on behalf of yourself. There’s good money to be made. There’s opportunities out there. Why wouldn’t you want to take it?

In answer to your first question, well we applaud anybody who does the right thing by young people, backpackers, whatever the case might be as far as conditions of living, as far as paying the right wages, as far as doing the right thing and they should be dobbed in. There are mechanisms by which they can be dobbed in, and those people who are doing the wrong thing should be nabbed for it and should be fined heavily or whatever the case might be. Because we can’t have people being exploited. That is abhorrent, that is un-Australian and it needs to be stamped out.

JOURNALIST

I just want to clarify something, these extensions you’ve announced today, are these the ones that were announced earlier in the year, and –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, it’s on top of that. So, we’re extending it by another 12 months. We’re doing the right thing. We’re making sure that where we can possibly – and there are more announcements to be made, I appreciate we’ve got a budget next Tuesday – we want to make sure that if those backpackers are now facing the prospect of having to leave Australia they can apply for an extension to that for the harvest trail, for those areas where we’ve identified that there is horticulture, there is fruit to be picked, there is jobs to be had. We want to make sure that they can go to those areas. They can also stay and work longer for the one employer. There are several provisions of these measures that we’ve announced today. Of course, as of last Friday, they can also earn up to $300 on top of their other payments without that affecting their other payments.

So, there’s money to be made. As I say, there’s incentives there and the farmers of Australia need you right now. So please, apply. Go. Have a great time. Earn some money. You may find the love of your life. Regional Australia is a great place in which to work, in which to love, in which to invest and in which to get a job.

JOURNALIST

And could I just ask, for the age limit of 30 on the working holiday maker visa, will that be scrapped?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’re looking at all those sorts of things. We’re monitoring it day by day, week by week. We’re working closely in conjunction with the NFF. We want to make sure that if people are in the country they can’t leave because of either restrictions over international travel or they’re having difficulty getting out or indeed, their visas are due to end, then we will be extending them because we want them to stay. We want them to go to those harvest trail areas and we want them to be able to work in conjunction with Australian farmers – the best farmers in the world – so that we can get the fruit off.

JOURNALIST

Earlier today your colleagues, the Federal Resources Minister and Energy Minister, they welcomed New South Wales Government’s approval of the Santos Narrabri gas project. Is that something you support?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed, they did. Absolutely. This is going to provide $3.6 billion – that’s 3.6 thousand million dollars – most of which is going to go in and around that Narrabri region. So this is fantastic. The Pilliga region, its scrub country some of this area at best. It is there for a resource to be tapped, to be used, to bring gas prices down, to bring energy prices down and to get that area realising its full potential. This could unlock so much potential. I congratulate the New South Wales Government. I congratulate what Keith Pitt and Angus Taylor have said about this endeavour. This is going to create jobs. It’s going to create opportunities and it’s going to unlock the potential of that Narrabri region.

JOURNALIST

Do you have concerns that, you know, some in the [Inaudible] sector – some, not all – are concerned about the [Inaudible] impacts? You seem –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What the National Party has always done is make sure that if farmers’ land use is being impacted then there is compensation for that. There are provisions for those farmers to ensure that they’re not left out high and dry either. We want to make sure that if there’s a resource there we can use it. If there’s a resource there that we can bring lower gas prices to the forefront for households and for business then we will explore it and make sure it’s realised. That’s what our Government’s all about. It’s about jobs. It’s about investment and it’s about regional Australia. And today there’s been some important initiatives announced and that is just one of them.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, … what message does that send to cherry farmers in New South Wales, the mango farmers in Queensland and who are within weeks of picking their fruit with no certainty or clarity around what they’re actually going to get.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s a measure of hope. It’s an announcement of hope. I know we can’t force people to take these jobs. We can’t actually herd people on to buses and transport them there. But we jolly well will make sure that there are incentives for them to do so. And for many of those backpackers, they’re actually frantic with their prospects for the future. They’re actually worried about the fact that their visas are about to end. They’re worried about if they do stay in Australia, if they have an extension of their visa what they might do. Well, there’s work out there for them and there’s work out there for Australians – young, some not so young.

If we look at the unemployment figures – and they are worrying and we are concerned about them and we’re doing everything we can to make sure we cushion the effects of COVID-19 with the economic measures we’ve put in place – $314 billion of it – that if there are Australians out there and they are looking for a tree change, they are looking for a prospect of work – and yes, it’s not easy work, I appreciate that but there are jobs out there. And whether it’s in the horticulture industry or whatever else in regional Australia. As I said, 45,600 jobs out there. They’re not just in fruit picking. There are many, many jobs in regional Australia available right now. Regional Australia has done very well through COVID. It’s largely COVID-free so you can go out there in a relatively healthy and safe environment and earn good money, perhaps even, make provisions that could transform your life for a better life for the future.

JOURNALIST

The Federal Court last week said Alan Tudge engaged in what it called criminal conduct. Do you believe he’s fit to continue as Minister?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I very much support the job that Alan Tudge is doing in urban infrastructure, in busting through that urban congestion, in making sure that Western Sydney Airport is what it needs to be, in making sure that all of those initiatives that we’re doing in capital cities, the infrastructure that we’re spending $100 billion, a record amount of money, on infrastructure over the next decade. Certainly, I believe – I know more initiatives will be announced even in next week’s budget to build on the infrastructure program that we’ve already rolled out. And Alan Tudge and I are leading and heading up those infrastructure initiatives. So, I’ve got every faith in him to continue as a minister and to continue to do the fine job that he’s done.

JOURNALIST

Should he continue though?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, Alan Tudge should continue as Minister. I just said that.

JOURNALIST

Why? [Inaudible] the court ruling?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

He’s doing a good job.

JOURNALIST

Just on the logistics of getting job seekers out into the regions, transport out into the regions is long and expensive. People might have to pay rent in the city as well as when they get out there. Why aren’t you getting people on buses or having Commonwealth-funded buses to get people out there?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Country living is far more affordable than city living. That’s a given.

JOURNALIST

You think people should  [Inaudible] –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What I’m saying is States also need to step up. Public transport has always been the domain, long been the domain of State Governments. And they need to play a part. But I know not only that, areas themselves, individual bespoke areas themselves and indeed, even farms are looking at ways and means of getting people out from the cities. If they can identify that, if they can talk to the RAI, go through that Farm Hub website, go through the NFF, go through indeed, local councils or local horticulture groups and cooperatives, they’ll find a way to get there.

There’s money to be made. There are incentives there for those young people and some, as I say, not so young to be able to get to those country areas. Yes, some might have to afford a bus ticket. Some may well have to do that. But the rewards that they reap from doing the work, both for their own mental state but also for their own hip pocket is going to be well worth it.

JOURNALIST

Yesterday the Prime Minister said he was disappointed by the Infrastructure Department’s handling of the Leppington Triangle sale and he agreed with the Auditor-General’s report. Do you agree that fewer audits on matters of public importance like that is a bad thing?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I don’t believe there will be fewer audits and those sorts of audits should be held. And I too, was disappointed in the fact that the Leppington Triangle was well over the odds of what it should have been. And there is an inquiry and a review going into that at the moment by an independent arbiter to make sure that that sort of thing does not happen again. So we don’t want lesser audits, we just want everybody to do the right thing and certainly know that that is what’s happening.

JOURNALIST

How many thousands of Australians do you want in the regions by March next year when the shortfall is meant to be 26,000?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, indeed, if we could get the full quota, that would be the desirable outcome because it’s what we need.

JOURNALIST

Is that realistic, though – 26,000 Australians in the country?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, country areas are waiting with open arms to welcome more people. And I know even my own community of Wagga Wagga when there was the prospect of getting Yazidi refugees from the war-torn Middle East, they opened their arms. They found accommodation. They found the support mechanisms by which to get those Yazidis into Wagga Wagga and now they haven’t looked back. They’re involved in the community. They’re involved in sport, involved in schools and working. And that’s so important.

And whether it’s Australians who are unemployed who are living in congested capital cities who want to take that tree or coastal change, I say make the quantum leap, take the leap of faith. For those who want to make a better life for themselves, more affordable life, we see that it is very affordable to live in regional Australia. There are high unemployment numbers, I appreciate that. There are jobs in regional Australia. Let’s try and connect the two.

JOURNALIST

On that point about Leppington, what steps have you taken to, you know, assure yourself that this doesn’t happen again. So, there’s a review going on, obviously –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well let’s see what the inquiry finds. Let’s see what that review, the outcomes of that review. And we’ll put in place those measures that are suggested to ensure that better transparency and better accountability happens in the future.

Thank you very much.

ENDS 1:52PM

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