Transcript - Sky News First Edition

8:16AM

PETER STEFANOVIC

Let's go live to Canberra now where we are joined by the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is set to announce a $135 million boost for the bush. Good morning to you, Minister. Thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning.

PETER STEFANOVIC

So this $135 million, it's to boost regional services and connectivity programs. What will people actually see on the ground?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what they might see as part of the $100 million economic Regional Partnerships for Recovery, what they may well see is a program which looks at building up, say, an energy and waste facility. It might be infrastructure, it might be indeed, marketing to get people to that particular area, whether it's the Whitsundays, the Mackay area, which has been very hard hit and their tourism numbers have plummeted. Whether it's Kangaroo Island, it might need some infrastructure built, whether it's Gippsland, indeed, south-west region of Western Australia, it's designed to encourage people to visit those areas, it is designed to build infrastructure in those areas. Now there's $100 million there across 10 regions and we will be discussing, of course, with local councils and local leaders as to how that money should be best spent. So this is a very good program, providing very good money for very good projects.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Why do you keep using the word "might"? Why do you say "might"? If you've got this money that's been outlined, wouldn't you be using that towards actually making something happen?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It depends on what they want. It's a very a bespoke approach for these regional communities. I believe in regional Australia. I know that regional Australia's best days are ahead of it but they've been very hard hit by COVID, they've already had the bushfire season, many of those areas I mentioned went through the drought and lost big time in the drought and so they need recovery. They are in fact, in many ways, in regional Australia leading the way through COVID and this $100 million will help them do just that. Very bespoke for those particular regions, identified by a matrix of how hard hit they've been through all those natural disasters that have befallen the nation and I know that this money will be well spent in those areas. The local leaders will welcome it and already have. I know many of them have already spoken as to – and it's only been announced this morning – as to how good it will be.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Yes, so basically you're getting people around these connectivity programs, you're getting people around to talk about how they're going to spend the money?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the connectivity is $30 million for those areas outside the NBN footprint. So, Mark Coulton has worked this up to provide new connectivity arrangements for those areas outside the NBN footprint and there's another $5 million as well. So it's $135 million, $5 million to be spent on building up resilient leaders, to have voices from these local areas, voices from these regional communities speaking up and making sure that they can be their best selves. I know that Matt Linnegar in the program that he runs has done so much good for so many young people who have gone on to bigger and better things, staying in their regions, making sure their regions have a voice.

We want to grow agriculture, from the $60 billion enterprise to $100 billion. That's why we're putting in place labour work force changes. We want to make sure that food and fibre, which is the best in the world, can actually get out of our ports, get out of Sydney Port and away to the world. We want to make sure that if regional Australia can be bigger and better, then we're putting the right moves and right programs and right funding down to enable it to do just that.

PETER STEFANOVIC

What about building more phone towers to fix black spots?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We're doing that. We've done many, many rounds of the Black Spot Mobile Program and I could point to many of those towers which have made such a difference. I can remember a small business owner came up to me at Murringo when we announced a tower there not that long ago and she said, "This will not only provide connectivity for my daughter, who is doing her high school certificate, but indeed it's going to provide me with the opportunity to reach the rest of the world with my little small business that I've got in a little place in the Young district."

And speaking of Young, 3,500 jobs going there in the cherry orchards there in the next four weeks. So, if people are watching this, knowing that they're looking for work, there are many jobs out in regional Australia, Peter, 45,600 identified by the Regional Australia Institute just last week. We want to get those people off the coast, into the hinterland, into the regional areas and taking up those jobs. Those fruit growers need it, those farmers need it and it's so important to be able to enable them to have that work so that we don't see fruit rotting on the trees.

PETER STEFANOVIC

There is that announcement coming. You brought that up. So the rules are going to be changed for fruit and veggie pickers. Backpackers are able to extend their visas. What are the incentives to get them out there?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there's an incentive there already for the tax-free threshold has been moved so that they can actually pick the fruit and they don't have to pay a cent until they reach a certain threshold. So there's money to be made and the best form of welfare is –

PETER STEFANOVIC

What is that threshold? $300 a fortnight?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, that's $300 they wouldn't have had and then they can earn good money. They can stay longer with the one employer and for those backpackers who is are facing the end of their visas, well they can stay for another 12 months. So, there's good incentives. Good incentives for Australians, good incentives for those overseas holiday makers and of course we're going to step up the Pacific program too, because we want that Pacific labour force to be able to have the incentive to come here, to have a good job, get decent pay, and then provide more for their families when they go back home.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Will there be extra incentives? Will there be relocation costs? What about food and accommodation? Will that all be included or is that something that they will have to pay?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, many of the farmers, many of the producers actually put those incentives in place to get people to them already now and so they only just have to look to see what is available and there are plenty of jobs available and they're also not only doing it for themselves, to better themselves, but they're doing a mighty great job for regional Australia. Even despite the drought, even despite everything that hit regional Australia and agriculture, the industry, the sector grew by $1 billion over the last 12 months to a $61 billion enterprise. We want to make it $100 billion by 2030 but we can't do it if the fruit stays on the vines, we can't do it if the stays on the trees.

We need those workers. There's good incentive for them to do so. So I would say if you're on your surfboard, you're unemployed, you're on the coast and you really want to improve yourself and help your nation besides, have a look what's available for you. There are plenty of jobs and plenty of good paying jobs. You will meet a lot of new friends and you will get adventures that you will remember for the rest of your life by going into regional Australia and helping yourself out.

PETER STEFANOVIC

No, I do agree with you. I come from regional Australia and love it like you do. But the problem has been getting people out there to pick fruit and to pick vegetables. You've seen the figures today, there's a 26,000 shortfall the number of workers out in the farming areas. $300 doesn't seem like a lot of money though, it doesn't seem like a lot of money?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There's plenty of these farmers and communities, there’s areas that actually put on buses to get people into their regions. There are plenty of incentives. It's not just the Government who is providing the incentives, it's the farmers themselves. They know that they're facing the prospect of a bumper harvest. They know that for the first time for a long time they can make good money. They just need the labour force to do it. There are people out there who probably don't have jobs and there are plenty of people collecting a welfare cheque who could better themselves, who could improve themselves, give them new skills, meet new friends and as I say, get those adventures for life. A great Instagram story up on a fruit tree, up on a ladder picking fruit, sun shining in the background, meeting new friends, who knows, they might even meet their future partner. There are plenty of opportunities in regional Australia.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Alright, I hope people do that then and take your word for that. We'll see what happens. I just want two quick issues before you go, Minister. The Prime Minister mentioned yesterday that he was disappointed that that land out in Western Sydney went for $30 million, way above the valuation price of $3 million.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

As I am, as am I.

PETER STEFANOVIC

You mentioned it was a bargain. Do you regret saying that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, not at all. What I said was that in time, in future, they would look back on it and say well, at least it was purchased back in 2018, it was a process, but it was done at a time when the land was available. Who knows in 10, 20, 30 years’ time when the Western Sydney Airport, which is by the way, actually employing 11,000 people during the construction phase and 28,000 indirect jobs after it's finished – 

PETER STEFANOVIC

Did the Prime Minister have a word to you after you made that comment?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, not at all. Not at all. Because we know that it is going to expand and if there's one letter that I get probably more often than most its people complaining about the encroachment of residential areas onto air strips and we know that if that land has been set aside for the future, well, we won't have that concern.

Yes, it was way paid over the odds and I've identified that. Anybody who read the transcript would know that it was paid way beyond and that's what I said, that's what I indicated and there's an inquiry into that to ensure it doesn't happen again. But given that it has happened, given the money, the cheque has been written, in time, at least we've got that land and at least, in the future, when they look back on it they will probably say, well, at least it was done then, yes, it was paid over the odds, but yes, we've avoided all those hassles in the future of having to pay probably even over the odds for what is relative in 2030 or 2050 or whatever a new runway or more infrastructure is built for Western Sydney Airport.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Just finally Minister, it looks like the MUA have backed down and rolled over on the EBA for another year. What's your reaction to that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Anthony Albanese didn't roll over, he didn't come out and criticise, he didn't say that this should have been resolved ages ago. He didn't call the MUA out for holding up those 38 ships and those 100,000 containers. Good Labor leaders in the past did. They intervened. They criticised. They said this should not happen. Anthony Albanese, I know he's doing a bit of a speech today, talking down Australia again. We're here to talk up Australia. I've got $135 million on the table for regional Australia again today backing up the money that we spent on regional aviation announced just on Monday. We're talking up Australia. This is a global pandemic. This is a recession brought about by global conditions. Here we've got Anthony Albanese and his Labor crew talking down our nation and I say shame on them.

PETER STEFANOVIC

Okay. Michael McCormack, as always, good to chat. Thank you for joining us this morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Great. Thanks so much, Peter.

Ends. 

8:27AM

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