Transcript Sky News Agenda

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

Joining us live now is Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. Deputy Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Pleasure, Annelise.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

Just, if we could start off with that Virgin news. Are you still confident that the Government shouldn't come in with a bail-out for Virgin when we're talking about potentially breaking the company up?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, I'm sure that Paul Scurrah and the team at Virgin, I'm sure that the administrators are working through the best possible solutions for Virgin. I spoke to Paul just last night. They're confident that they can come out of this in a positive way, in a good way and of course, the Government's position has always been that we want two commercially viable airlines out the other side of COVID-19 and I'm sure that we'll get that.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

What was Virgin CEO, Paul Scurrah, asking you about on this phone call last night? Was he continuing calls for Australian Government support?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I don't divulge what's said in private conversations. I was just getting an update. I was just talking to him, as you would expect that I would. He messaged me earlier in the day. I always call people back when they want to talk. We were talking, of course, about some issues with slots and you know, we're always working through positively, as you would expect the Government would, with the aviation sector. That's why we've put $1.28 billion on the table to help the aviation sector.

It's been sector-wide assistance. It's been appreciated. It has benefitted Rex, it has benefitted Qantas, it has certainly benefitted Virgin. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, of course. We've appointed Nicholas Moore to liaise with the administrators. He's, of course, reporting back to Treasury and Treasury, of course, to us as the Government. We want to see, as I say, two commercially viable airlines coming through COVID-19 and I'm sure with what's happening at the moment, the process is in place, we'll do just that.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

Now, the Federal Government has announced this week $650 million in funding for bushfire impacted communities. Labor said it's taking too long for money to get out to communities impacted by bushfires. Are they right?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I spoke to Andrew Colvin who heads up the National Bushfire Recovery Agency just last night and he has been out to those communities. He's been talking to people on the ground, local mayors, local people who've lost indeed their livelihoods through this crisis. I know that we're forming up good, bespoke approaches with areas affected – Kangaroo Island, the Snowy Valleys area, you know, areas in Darren Chester's Gippsland electorate. We're working through these. We're doing it in the right way and we're making sure that on the ground the recovery and relief efforts are being put in place. Locals appreciate it. I know that so many have taken advantage of the business grants for up to $10,000 for businesses. Indeed, there's $75,000 grants for primary producers in bushfire and drought affected areas. And we're working through this. We're making sure that people on the ground are getting the assistance when they need it, how they need it and we're doing it in a good way.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

If I could ask you about China. This has been an ongoing issue for the last few weeks but certainly since the coronavirus pandemic started. We've seen just how volatile it has gotten, pursuing this inquiry with China. Are you concerned about the impacts this is having on regional Australia in particular when we're talking about four of the country's biggest abattoirs having their licences put on hold with China?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, of course and John Berry from JBS only told me this morning that you take a plant like Dinmore in Queensland, one of four abattoirs affected, they employ 2,000 Australians. They process 3,400 head a day. And of course, it's not just the abattoirs, it's not just those meat processing plants and their workers, it's also the barley industry. Dave McEwen from Grain Growers, he's understandably concerned because barley, particularly for those growers in Western Australia and South Australia, they want to be able to send what's generally a $1.5 billion export industry for Australia for those growers to China, of course. So we'll work through with the departments. We'll work through the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham. We'll do it methodically. We'll do it carefully and we want to make sure that we can get through this in the right and appropriate way and we will.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

So you don't think Australia should be backing off its calls for an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, I think the whole world, China included, wants to see why and how this happened and indeed, how and why it spread and I think those answers are necessary. But for Australia, of course, $149.7 billion of trade with China, I know that trade equals jobs and more trade means more jobs. And so we want to make sure, certainly while our farmers have been hard hit by drought coming out of the back of that drought, coming out of the back of recent rains and with the hopeful promise that there is a better future ahead for them, unlike the last three years, in some cases seven years.

If they've got stock on the ground, if they're sowing a crop of barley, they want to make sure that we've got the markets to be able to sell that produce. And so, of course trade with China is important. Trade with anywhere is important. So we'll be doing our utmost to make sure that we follow the proper processes, that we get through this and we get through it for and on behalf of those thousands upon thousands of Australians workers and farmers who rely on that trade.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

So when the National Farmers Federation says that they're concerned about something like a trade war, what's your message to them?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, I understand that, and I know Fiona Simson and the NFF would be concerned. Of course I know the Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, has been in constant talks not just with the NFF but with people on the ground, because it does affect people on the ground. And certainly, as you said, people in regional communities do get hurt when there are these restrictions on our trade. So we want to make sure that we've got trade relations in place not just with China but, indeed, with countries all over the world. Of course that's been affected severely by COVID-19. That's been affected by a downturn in shipping, by a downturn in aviation. But with things starting to crank back up again, we want to make sure that we've got the processes in place that enable our trade to continue and Simon Birmingham, David Littleproud, myself, we'll be working towards that.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

And just more broadly speaking, we know the regions are particularly hit hard by these coronavirus restrictions. They have already more distance to deal with than those city areas and more issues accessing essential supplies. What kind of support can you guarantee is going to come through to the regions to help them through the coronavirus pandemic?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, we've got a $1 billion relief and recovery funded. Largely, regional areas have benefitted from that by financial assistance to zoos and aquariums, by financial assistance for regional telecommunications, financial assistance for artists and events. We're making sure that through that $1 billion fund we're supporting regional communities. Of course I've been in contact with Transport Ministers from throughout the country to make sure that we can continue, you know, the transport logistics supply chain, issues that were eminent throughout the start of COVID-19 when restrictions were first put in place and States closed their borders.

So I've been working very successfully with Transport Ministers throughout the country to make sure that those wonderful heroes, not just the medical frontline people, but our truckies, they have been great heroes of this COVID-19 crisis. They've ensured that the delivery of goods has continued unfettered and you know, compliments to them. And I'll be continuing, of course, as The Nationals Leader, as a member of the Parliament from regional Australia, to make sure that regional Australia always gets not just its fair share but more than its fair share. We deserve it. We need it. And, of course, I take my hat off to those people in the resources sector, in the agriculture sector who have continued to do what they do for and on behalf of our exports and our nation through this crisis, through this downturn.

ANNELISE NIELSEN:

Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, thank you for your time.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Always a pleasure, Annelise.

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