Transcript - Perth Live with Oliver Peterson, 6PR Perth

OLIVER PETERSON

Joining me from Parliament House in Canberra on this Friday afternoon is the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Michael McCormack, good afternoon.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Good afternoon, Ollie.

OLIVER PETERSON

A little bit of an embarrassing bungle isn't it, a $60 billion windfall now with the JobKeeper programme being revised down from $130 billion dollars to $70 billion dollars? Will any Australian businesses or workers be forced to pay any of this money back?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

No one will miss out. And when you say a windfall it's money that we don't have to then borrow and taxpayers in the future pay back. What JobKeeper has done is keep many businesses afloat and many workers connected to businesses and it's provided a lifeline to so many business people and indeed workers have told me for their futures. And so, look, these things happen from time to time. I don't think there should be any great red faces around Treasury and Finance. These things are sent to try us at times, but the bottom line is we've been able to cushion our economy and the fallout from what has been a global health pandemic and perhaps even more importantly than just the economic outcomes we've achieved. The numbers of people who've actually got coronavirus and worse, died from coronavirus, have been exceedingly low compared to those rates experienced overseas and for that, I think most Australians are very, very grateful.

OLIVER PETERSON

Yes, they certainly are for that, we've still got the border issue in place at the moment. Do you think where we are here in Western Australia, we should be dropping the border, Deputy Prime Minister, should we open that up and be connected once again to the rest of the country?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

The sooner that happens the sooner our domestic airlines can get back in the sky but it is a matter for WA and I appreciate that competitive federalism has been taking place since 1901, acknowledging the comments that were exchanged between the WA Premier and the New South Wales Premier earlier but you know, it is up to WA. They have worked well within the National Cabinet framework but when you have the Chief Medical Officer of the country, Professor Brendan Murphy saying that it should be all right to look at and revisit these restrictions now and ease them where is thought necessary, I'll take his advice any day of the week whilst appreciating that for WA and other states and territories, ultimately it is their decision to take and make.

OLIVER PETERSON

Yes, the economic impacts as well you've been very strong, your Government about this being about lives and livelihoods. If there are tourism operators particularly in the north of our state that won't be able to experience any of the high season over the coming months and we've just got a handful of cases, if the federal medical advice is to open up and we stay closed. Well, they're going to be pretty cranky.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I empathise with them too. And that's why when I visited Geraldton and spoke to the lobster fishermen and women up there, they had lost their market for the crayfish in China, the Chinese Lunar New Year because of COVID-19 and that's one of the prompters for me to set in place that international air freight mechanism, with the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, $110 million dollars to get those lobsters, the world's best, into markets that perhaps at times, that perhaps they otherwise would not have received following the downturn in the Chinese economy and the shutdown of their markets due to the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

OLIVER PETERSON

Are you worried though with this so called trade war between Australia and China at the moment that some of those Geraldton lobster fishermen might miss out altogether if we keep going down the way it seems to be heading?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

We'll work through it and I had a long, long chat, in fact a two hour telepresence with Western Australians this morning and they were on the telepresence where everybody from the resource sector, agriculture, you name it, they are on it. It was a very good catch up with some of those people and yes, they are concerned, they want of course these things to be resolved as soon as they can and that's why I've got every confidence in Senator Birmingham indeed Keith Pitt the Resources Minister, the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to work with their counterparts in China, it's $149.7 billion trade relationship we have with that country and indeed, our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials will work with the diplomats in China and Beijing to bring about hopefully a very quick resolution to this.

OLIVER PETERSON

Obviously barley farmers, particularly over this side of the country have been affected by China's decision this week. Were you able to alleviate any of their fears about losing out?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well it's WA and South Australia, most affected. And you know, for those barley growers who are making decisions, whether they're in the west or the east of the country at the moment as to what they'll plant this winter, you know, it's a big decision to take. They've obviously, got a lot at stake in this and they're spending a lot of money on fertiliser and making sure everything is as it ought to be and whether they grow barley or indeed, if the situation goes on for much longer, whether they might even contemplate growing something else is going to be something they'll have to decide. But, you know, if it goes on for much longer well what we want to do is get as much an amicable response from Beijing as we can and get on with selling the world's best barley, indeed into Chinese markets because they need us as much as we need them, I've said that all the way through. It is a big market and we've got the world's best produce. Whether it is WA resources or indeed, WA agriculture.

OLIVER PETERSON

And do you worry, though, about the wine industry next? The beef industry, even our iron ore industry could be under threat?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, what we want to do is we want to have a good relationship with China. But at the same time, we said what we said about the start and the spread of Coronavirus to the proper agency, the World Health Organisation and that through the World Health Forum that was held just this week. We said we’d call for an inquiry. It was co-sponsored by Australia. Of course, there are others who participated in that as well. And it was, you know, general consensus, unanimous verdict that that should happen, that an enquiry should be held and you know that's the right responsible thing to do and Australia, you know, we need to protect our own sovereignty. We need to protect our own inheritance, our own legacy and we're doing just that.

OLIVER PETERSON

You've announced today along with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Local Government, almost $2 billion worth of Infrastructure and Local Government grants to be made available for Australian councils. What are these going to provide and can any council over this side of the country in WA apply for them?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Absolutely! I mean you couldn't wipe the smile off Mia Davies, the WA Nationals Leader's, face today when I spoke to her at length. 139 councils indeed and certainly many of those – well all those indeed – in her Wheatbelt region and right across WA are going to benefit from this. And whether it's, you name a shire, you name a city. The City of Stirling, Subiaco, Swan, all those metropolitan councils as well, they're all going to benefit from the proceeds of this $1.8 billion. Now there's $500 million to be spread amongst the 537 councils, so roughly that's about a million dollars each, give or take. And what it is, it's the Roads to Recovery funding formula used for each council. So they're able to spend that from July 1, on approved projects, on roads, on community infrastructure, you know, town halls and the like, whatever floats their boat. And so they can do that working through the Infrastructure Department. And then, of course, we're bringing forward the $1.3 billion dollars of Financial Assistance Grants. So there's quite a windfall for those councils. Quite a bit of money to be spent. But importantly, it will mean local jobs and perhaps even more importantly, Oliver, it will mean local procurement which will be written into the criteria for this programme, for the $500 million. So that will be great for the smaller medium enterprises, whether they're in Karratha or Kalgoorlie or wherever.

OLIVER PETERSON

The Deputy Prime Minister, I appreciate your time on Perth Live this afternoon. You have a good weekend.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

You too, Oliver, thanks so much.

OLIVER PETERSON

My pleasure, Michael McCormack, the Leader of The Nationals, Deputy Prime Minister, fair bit in that interview.

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