Transcript - Press conference: Continued support for aviation industry

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Today the Federal Government has extended the Essential Minimal Network for aviation. So what we're doing is the regional networks, those airlines flying to some regional centres which would otherwise not be serviced during the COVID-19 situation, the airlines are going to be extended, the minimal domestic network is going to be extended until September 30 and the regional network is going to be extended until December 31 and this is going to be so important, particularly regionally, particularly those towns, 138 centres being serviced by that Essential Minimum Network at the moment, 35 centres serviced by Rex which would actually otherwise not be getting any airline services at all. And this is important in the context of getting vital medical equipment, vital frontline medical personnel to those centres, many of which, as I say, particularly in rural and remote and regional Australia would not be serviced otherwise. These towns would be literally high and dry without any air services. So that's why we're extending on a demand-driven system this Minimum Essential Network for regional Australia up until December 31, the end of the year and domestically, for those trunk routes for capital cities to capital cities going until September 30.

This is part of the $1.28 billion that we've put on the table for aviation and of course, we're also extending the services by which we've lifted the waivers, lifted the waivers for fuel excise, for fuel and that sort of thing, for Air Services Australia fees and indeed, screening charges. So we're extending lifting that and that's going to be vital for those airlines.

As well, we're also going to make sure that the underwriting for regional airlines continues on a demand-driven basis. This is so important for aviation right across the nation. Aviation hit hardest, hit first by COVID-19, we're going to be making sure that as part of the responsible measures that we've provided, $260 billion of assistance right throughout, sector-wide assistance, certainly making sure that whether it's JobSeeker, whether it's JobKeeper, whether it's indeed, JobMaker – the home

building announcement that we made – and all the other measures that we're putting into place, strengthening our foreign investment rules and regimes to make sure that we put Australia first, always.

So we're looking after Australians, we're doing it as a responsible Government and we'll continue to make sure that the airlines – we want two commercially viable airlines to come out of the back end of COVID-19. We're confident that we can do that and we're making sure that with these assistance measures announced today, with the extension of the networks being announced today, that we can do just that. Any questions?

QUESTION:

I've got a couple. Okay, so just on aviation workers and support for the aviation industry, there were demonstrations at airports around the country on Thursday, mainly from airport and aviation staff who say they were not eligible for JobKeeper because though they work for an Australian airport or aviation service, that company is foreign owned. So some 5,000 workers are reportedly ineligible. Have you … has the Government thought of a response to that demonstration? Are you planning on extending financial support for those people?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well the line has to be drawn somewhere. As I say, we've made $260 billion of taxpayers' money available to help keep people, Australians, connected to their businesses. This sector-wide assistance has enabled so many people in the aviation industry to keep their jobs while the airlines have been largely grounded. When you have airlines grounded to the tune of 97 per cent and thereabouts in many airports across the country, many of those metropolitan airports, we need to obviously still try to keep as many people connected to their operations and that's why we have provided that sector-wide assistance. $1.28 billion for the aviation industry alone.

But it's also up to the shareholders, indeed, those companies that are foreign owned, it's also up to their owners to also dig deep into their pockets and support their own entities. Yes, we can support and we are supporting Australian workers. Yes, we can support and we are supporting Australian businesses. But the line has to be drawn somewhere and when it is a foreign entity, owning a company, albeit with Australian workers, they, too, have to look at their operations and they, too, have to look at their own investment going forward.

I'm confident that aviation will survive the downturn. I'm sure that aviation can bounce back and will rebound and certainly I know there's going to be opportunities for domestic tourism and for regional tourism out the back end of this because the international aviation sector will be a little slow to rebound once COVID-19, hopefully it will be over soon, but who knows? You know, there hasn't been a vaccine developed and this is an ongoing situation.

What we do need to have Australians doing is to continue to be their best selves and follow the medical advice. The Government will continue to take the advice of the medical experts and Australians also need to follow that advice as well as they have in the past.

QUESTION:

Just on foreign investment, those new restrictions mean that a review board is going to have to approve all foreign investments in quote: "a sensitive national security business". What impact do you think that this might have on the Riverina agricultural industry? Is it going to impact it and given that we have a figure that 7.5 per cent to 10 per cent of agricultural land here is foreign owned? And then secondly, how might this impact local business who are wanting to sell to foreign investors, for example, Jolly Berry Farm in Tumbarumba was slated to be bought by investors from China?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

That's fine. I'll take you back a little bit. When COVID-19 first really began to bite, what we put in was temporary measures to ensure that distressed businesses, particularly agri-businesses and farmland weren't being bought up by foreign entities. So we put those temporary measures in place. Now we're going to strengthen our foreign investment rules under the Foreign Investment Review Board, with the Treasurer's – obviously his clearance. We're going to be making sure that we strengthen, even further, our foreign investment regime.

And so the draft legislation will be put out for public consultation for the next six weeks. We want to make sure that we've got the parameters right, we want to make sure that Australians have a buy into this and we want to make sure that whatever we do is in the national interest. And so if there are foreign entities looking to invest in Australia and let's face it, foreign investment has made Australia the great country it is today, make no mistake, it has and there are many businesses across the Riverina, across regional Australia, across, indeed, the entire nation which are foreign owned and we welcome foreign investment but it has to be in the national interest. It has to be in the national interest with all of those tick-offs provided, with the necessary regime in place so that we can make sure that it is in the national interest.

We make no apologies for that. We've, indeed, Australian farm land, much of it, much of it is Australian owned and we want to continue to provide the opportunities for Australian farmers, young people, to be able to buy their own farms and to take part in that great endeavour which provides the world's best food and fibre and we'll continue to do that. We'll continue to provide opportunities for young farmers and for Australians to own their own farms, but at the same time, we want to make sure our foreign investment rules are correct, we want to make sure that in this time of crisis, that we, indeed, strengthen them and we'll do just that.

QUESTION:

Are these restrictions going to involve water and foreign ownership of water?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, as I say, it is out for draft exposure. We will look at whatever key stakeholders and indeed, others say about this process and at the moment we're making sure that when it comes to technology, when it comes to those sorts of things that we have a strength in telecommunications, all of those sorts of things, we have and we are strengthening our foreign investment laws.

Of course, as The Nationals Leader and as the leader of the party that looks after regional Australia, I want to make sure that anything is done in the national interest, whether it's farm land, agribusiness or indeed, water.

QUESTION:

Yep and then just lastly, what would you say to some of the push back that the HomeBuilder scheme has received given that, you know, it caters for quite a specific demographic of people? What would you say to push back that, you know, it doesn't really support low income earners? And then, secondly, that perhaps the money could have, in some people's opinion, been better spent on strengthening social housing?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We are providing considerable assistance, both for new home builds. We announced this late last week. We are providing considerable assistance for those people who want to build a new home. Indeed, for those people who want to renovate. Yes, we could have just left it at new homes and perhaps there might not have been those people who think that the renovation is too high, but rest assured, when you are looking at renovating say a 1980s home, you can. Whether it's a kitchen, whether it's a bathroom, whether it's doing a total reno, you can rack up, indeed, even in regional Australia, quite high expenses.

And this is going to provide jobs for tradies. This is going to provide jobs for small business people. Whether they're in regional Australia, whether they're in the suburbs, indeed, whether they're in metropolitan Australia. What we're going to be doing with this program, with this initiative, is have a tradie-led recovery out of COVID-19. And when a person like Wayne Carter, who runs a home building operation here in Wagga, when he says that builders and tradies will be dancing in the streets because of this announcement, made late last week, well, I believe him and I know that for so many of those tradies, who have had to put their tools down, who haven't had the engagement that they had with the industry in recent months because of COVID-19, I know this is going to re-engage them. I know this is going to get them back on the tools, back in their hi-vis and back building and that's what we want.

QUESTION:

It's important to, you know, look after tradies but what about people who have been severely impacted financially by COVID-19 and now don't have $150,000 to spend on …

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We're not asking … it's an opportunity for them to take advantage if they want to. We're not forcing people to do a renovation, we're not forcing people to do that. What we're doing is providing the opportunity and so for many people who are going to build a new home, for many people who do have a renovation that is going to cost between $150,000 and upwards, the assistance is there for them. We're not asking people to do it but the opportunity is there as a responsible Government for them if they want to avail themselves of that opportunity over the next seven months. I know it is going to create jobs, I know it's going to create opportunities and the $25,000 grants for those people who are eligible and who do take that assistance, are going to be very, very welcomed.

If it's not for everybody, well, that's fine. There are other assistance measures that State Governments provide and the like that they can avail themselves of, but this is what the Federal Government is doing to get tradies back to work and to provide opportunities for those people who are seeking that sort of assistance.

I know, here in Wagga Wagga, in regional Australia, indeed, right across the nation, it is and has been, very, very welcomed and it's going to put tradies back into work and that's the important thing and give people, couples, individuals, the opportunity to have a $25,000 grant that they would otherwise not have had.

QUESTION:

Deputy Prime Minister, Jonathan Kearsley.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Hello, Jono.

QUESTION:

Thanks very much for your time, Deputy Prime Minister. Can I just ask you, can you agree with Senator and financial Minister Mathias Cormann this morning when he described protestors at yesterday's protests across the country as incredibly selfish and incredibly self-indulgent?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I know what Mathias Cormann was stating and when you talk to a lot of people about the fact that they haven't been able to attend the funerals of loved ones, funerals of family friends who have passed away, attend family weddings, attend Anzac Day marches, attend such things as the footy and then you have a group of people who want to protest about something that is happening in America and whilst I appreciate that they are concerned about matters more closer to home, I can understand why many Australians are upset about the fact that one group has marched and against the social distancing rules, against the rules of numbers en masse, in public areas, I do understand that people are upset about what happened yesterday.

But, look, the marches have taken place. We are a very respectful nation. We do understand that more needs to be done to ensure for equity, for Aboriginal people and I understand that. I do understand that. And certainly here in Wagga Wagga there was a march and it was well held. I know the organiser, Joe Williams, I understand that he's been an advocate for justice and for equity for many, many years and he will go on being and I commend him for what he's doing.

But when people have been forced to stay at home while Anzac Day services have been postponed, indeed cancelled, when people haven't been able to attend weddings and funerals and those important family gatherings and then, while we're still not out of the woods as far as COVID-19 is concerned, you have tens of thousands of people marching in protest at what something which largely has occurred in America, you know, I do understand many Australians are concerned about that.

QUESTION:

They've been selfish and self-indulgent then?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, the fact is that if you read the rules, as they've been requested by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy and other health experts, those marches should not have been held in those numbers and I'm sure that each and every person at that march would have downloaded the COVIDSafe app. If they haven't, well, they were being irresponsible and they shouldn't have marched in those numbers, they should not. But the fact is they have. Let's just hope that we don't get an outbreak from the activities that took place yesterday.

Let's just hope that we don't get a second wave of attacks, of outbreaks of COVID-19 because so many Australians, most Australians, have been following the rules, have been going without, have been isolating at home, have been doing everything that they've been asked for and asked to do, indeed many have lost their jobs, many have lost their businesses and for those, yesterday, continuing to do the right thing, having downloaded the COVIDSafe app, they must have just looked at their television screens in sheer wonderment and wondered why is it okay for them to do what they're doing and for me, who’ve lost my job and lost my business, or indeed, stayed at home on Anzac Day, not attended my daughter's wedding, not attended my pop's funeral, why is that fair? It's not fair.

But, look, let's just draw a line under it. The marches have taken place. Let's just hope that everybody who did march, who weren't practising social distancing, not on the images that I saw, let's just hope they had downloaded the COVIDSafe app and let's just hope, let's just hope for goodness sake that there are no outbreaks as a result of this.

QUESTION:

Thanks, Deputy Prime Minister.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Thanks, Jono.

QUESTION:

Deputy Prime Minister, Sarah from the West Australian. Regarding those protests, if there are more going on in the next week or so, we know they will probably go on in the US, they might well go on in Australia, what would be your response to any ongoing event of the mass gathering?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, do the right thing. Download the COVIDSafe app, make sure you exercise social distancing. I mean the rules at the moment state that you shouldn't be gathering in numbers of more than 10. So if they can't have crowds at the football, if people can't attend funerals or weddings, or those sorts of events, or parties, why is it right that they should be able to protest?

I appreciate that they were peaceful, I appreciate they were largely peaceful, but people just need to do the right thing. We've got here so far. We've only had 102 or so deaths. We've kept the cases to a minimum. For God's sake, don't lose all that hard work that we've done so far by just your actions in wanting to protest about something that largely is American based. For goodness sake, think of Australia, think of others, think of those loved ones, think of those people you don't even know. Download the COVIDSafe app and just think twice about why you actually are demonstrating, why you actually are protesting.

We live in a very peaceful country. Yes, we've got more work to do on the issues that people are protesting about. But this isn't the right time to protest. This is not the right time to demonstrate. The time for that, indeed, will be later when COVID-19 is but a memory. When it's just an unfortunate blip in the history books and when we have a vaccine. The time for that sort of thing is not now.

QUESTION:

That could be years away. You're saying the time for protests might not be for years?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, what I'm saying is that – and that's rather hypothetical – we will get back to some sort of normality. We will get back to mass gatherings in public. We will get back to crowds at sporting events and people will be able to attend funerals and weddings and family functions. We will be able to attend, hopefully, Armistice Day activities on November 11 this year. But at the moment, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, who heads up the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and his cohorts right throughout the States and in both Territories, are asking people to do the right thing, asking people to continue to maintain social distancing, asking people to download the COVIDSafe app, asking people to help each other and to help themselves by not spreading this incredibly dangerous virus.

And so if people have largely done that and we thank Australians, again, for doing that. We thank Australians for making the sacrifices that they've done so far. So we don't need to risk all that by protesting about something which is largely American. By protesting against something which largely overseas is anti-capitalism, it's even gone beyond the George Floyd tragedy.

And I appreciate that people have a right to demonstrate. I've always said that in Australia. They've got the right to protest. But let's be responsible for the health pandemic that is besetting the nation at the moment. Let's think of each other and let's think of other people and let's do the right thing, each and every one of us.

QUESTION:

It’s Robyn Ironside speaking. I was hoping to ask you about the domestic network that you've extended. You'd be aware that Qantas announced a significant increase in its flights starting from June 22. Why then is it necessary to extend this minimum network? Is that a responsible use of taxpayers' money?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, yes, it is, because otherwise, indeed, some of these flights will not take place. Of course, it's a demand-driven system. We don't want airlines to be flying to various destinations and losing money and so what we want to make sure is that if we need to ferry around personal protection equipment, face masks and perhaps even most importantly vital medical personnel, then there's the opportunity to do so. And whether that's between capital cities, major regional hubs or, indeed, to outback regional towns and rural and remote towns, then there's the opportunity to do so and I think this is a very wise use of taxpayers' money and what we're also doing is making sure that the airlines have the capacity to be able to do it, keeping jobs in those airlines and giving them the hope that coming out the back of COVID-19, that there will be a viable aviation industry.

What we're doing is we're not – we're making sure that we're protecting regional communities and indeed, all Australians. That's what we're doing. We're not just necessarily propping up airlines, but we're doing that at the same time but we are actually protecting regional communities and Australians by this minimum network extension, domestically and regionally.

QUESTION:

Regarding those [inaudible].

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Sorry, what was that?

QUESTION:

Would you consider a further extension?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We'll play it by ear and so far we've certainly monitored the situation. I've been monitoring aviation – the aviation sector on almost an hourly basis, not a daily basis. It's been something that has occupied much of my waking hours over recent months. So far so good on the aviation front. Appreciating that Virgin is in the difficult position of being in voluntary administration but we have two firm bidders in Cyrus and Bain. I'm confident that we can come out of this with two commercially viable airlines and I'm certainly confident that our regional airways will be as good as they can be coming out of the back of COVID-19.

Without this assistance, without the $1.2 billion or more of assistance, many of those aviation routes would not have been serviced and many of the people who work in aviation, in fact 250,000 of them, would have been out of work and with the potential not to ever go back to the aviation industry they so love and are so adept at servicing.

QUESTION:

Regarding those regional communities, there will be domestic travel is starting back up, a lot of them still rely and will feel the sting of international travel not being on par for some time. Is an extra tourism package being considered after the September cut off of the JobKeeper/JobSeeker packages?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, indeed everything's on the table and I know the Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has been at great pains to impress upon all Australians to, as the restrictions are eased, to look at regional and domestic aviation holiday places to go to, jump in the car, go out and do all those sorts of things that you used to and take advantage of now that the restrictions are being eased. We want to make sure that people can fly to some of those wonderful holiday places around Australia.

So many people, so many young Australians go and see the world before they go and see our own nation and what one positive, if you could call it that, out of COVID-19, may well be that those young Australians do go and see their own country, do go and see Uluru, do go and see the Daintree, and all the wonderful things, the Great Barrier Reef, indeed, many places in regional Australia that they would otherwise not have contemplated visiting before going off to Europe or Asia or America or wherever else. We want to see regional tourism boosted and this is one way that it will be.

QUESTION:

Do you hear from regional communities that that's going to be enough or are they still concerned about, especially those who are very tourism aligned, that with the lack of international visitors they're just going to – a lot of businesses are going to go under, towns are going to really struggle?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Of course there are – every sector at the moment has its hand out and I get that because every sector, whether it's tourism, whether it's agriculture, whether it's – whatever the case might be, has been hard hit by COVID-19. This has been a pandemic that nobody was ready for, nobody was prepared for but rest assured the Government has done very well to ensure that we've provided the sort of assistance that we've needed to keep as many people in work, to provide the safety net for those people who have dropped through the cracks and to make sure that, as best we can, we are providing opportunities for aviation, opportunities for the transport sector, opportunities for regional Australia that would otherwise not have been there but for the fact that we went into this COVID-19 with a reasonably strong economy.

We were working back in towards surplus. I know for a fact Josh Frydenberg was very much looking forward to delivering that May budget where we were going to be back in the black for the first time in a dozen years. And that was so unfortunate that, of course, on the back of prolonged drought, on the back of the bushfire season from hell that we had and then, of course, the COVID-19 crisis, that put all that hard work that we had done to build the economy back up after six disastrous years of Labor, we've built the economy back and just when we looked like getting back in the black, all of this happened all at once. So it was a triple whammy affect.

But, rest assured, we will, as responsible Liberals and Nationals Government always do, we will get the economy back on track, we will do it with sector-wide support and we will do it with the support of Australians and we thank them again for what they've done. Australians have made great sacrifices during these months of the COVID-19 crisis. I urge Australians, again, download that app, be your best selves and continue to do the right thing.

QUESTION:

Thank you.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Thank you so much. Is that all?

QUESTION:

Yes.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Great, thank you. All the best.

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