Transcript - Sounds of the Mountains Radio Interview

7:40AM

DAVID EISENHAUER

Well, every couple of weeks we catch up with Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Nationals, Michael McCormack. And he joins us live on the line from his office this morning. Good morning, Minister. How are you this morning?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m very well, thank you, David.

DAVID EISENHAUER

On a fairly cloudy but almost clearing day. We’ve got a few breaks of blue sky across the horizon.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, similar here in Canberra.

DAVID EISENHAUER

I look across the ranges over the hills across to the ACT and yes, a bit of low cloud between here and there. But some nice rain, though, Michael, around the region.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Beautiful, soaking, drenching, steady, agricultural-producing rain. It’s great.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Well, that was one of the highlights in your speech yesterday, was talking, “Just add water”. It’s such an essential commodity, whether it’s in the dams or the rivers or the streams or it falls out of the sky, we need that for our food production. It’s such an important asset to the country, is it not?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it generally falls out of the sky, apart from when of course, when we have drought. But when we do have drought we need to have it already stored and with significant rainfalls generally across the tropical far north and you know, across our region too, but we need to store that water. We need to be able to harness it for when it is going to be dry because Australia is, as Dorothea Mackellar quite correctly pointed out, a land of droughts and flooding rains. And we need to store that water, put it in dam infrastructure and use it for when we do have droughts. And that’s why we’ve put $2 billion on the table additional to the one and a half billion we’ve already got and already spending. So it’s a significant investment in Australia’s future and particularly in our regions. Because when you do build dams you grow those regional populations. If there’s one thing we need in this nation, it’s to get people out of capital cities and into the regions.

DAVID EISENHAUER

That’s been something we’ve talked about for many months and many years. We were only talking to the Mayor of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council area, Abb McAlister, he’s a big believer in dams.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I spoke to him yesterday and he was quite pleased with some money they’re getting out of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Fund. That’s the $952,000 top up for that particular shire. But Snowy Valleys, all up with the top up they got mid-year Snowy Valley’s getting $1.8 million. So that’s a significant amount of money – $1.83 actually. So that’s a lot of money for better roads, better local roads in around Tumut and all those wonderful areas – Adelong, Batlow, Tumbarumba.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And of course, we talk budget and that has been the talk. Obviously, the Leader of the Opposition handed down his budget reply there last night, but we watched the Prime Minister and yourself and of course, our Treasurer and Finance Minister. It’s been all over the media this week. But we zone into the local areas, Minister McCormack, into our local communities. What does it mean for us?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what it means is people across the Snowy Valleys, like people across the nation, are going to be paying less tax. The low-income tax offset will provide up to $255 in tax relief, but there’s significant – and when you go up through the tax scales – people are going to be paying less tax. So it’s their money. They’re working for it. They’re earning it and they should be paying less of it and getting more so they can spend it on the things that they want. And as I’ve just mentioned, for roads, it’s very good. For overall infrastructure there’s another $200 million in the Building Better Regions Fund and I know how much that’s been such a boon not just for local communities but, indeed, local job creating and local small businesses. And speaking of small businesses – and most businesses in and around your neck of the woods would be under the $5 billion turnover – so they will be able to write down, write off, any capital investment in the year of investment. And so a local trucking company, for example, could actually just refresh their whole fleet and write it off. Now of course, you’ve got to have the cash flow, but that’s why we’ve made sure that small businesses are paying the lowest tax rate they have since 1940. And we’ll continue to make good on our promises to have small businesses and business in general paying less and less tax.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Aviation was a big winner in the budget announcements as well, particularly regional aviation.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve got upgrades to airports. And I know Tumut Airport was one of the beneficiaries of that Regional Airports Upgrade. We’ve got more money and we’ve already opened the latest round of that, the second round of upgrading airports for taxiways and runways. And of course, we’ve got the money coming in for the Regional Airline Network Support, so I’ve extended that until 28 March so that those communities which are so well serviced by our regional airlines can continue to do that through COVID when there are so many restrictions such as border closures brought about by State Premiers et cetera. So, those communities which would otherwise not see an aeroplane and therefore not see frontline medical personnel who need to fly there or getting that personal protection equipment – face masks, respiratory devices, whatever the case might be – not delivered by air, you know, that extension will enable them to do just that. So we’re putting significant support into aviation through COVID because it was hit first and hit hardest when the virus struck.

DAVID EISENHAUER

We talked the budget and of course, as you mentioned yesterday in your speech, jobs and infrastructure, it’s a jobs and infrastructure regional budget, $36 billion directly building regional infrastructure. I mean, we’re talking big dollars into the regional areas all through the budget.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Significant sums and then significant job creation. A hundred thousand workers have already been supported by the investments that we were putting in infrastructure. Well, this is going to support up to 40,000 more on the tools, on the roads. But it’s not just the investment in roads and rail et cetera, it’s also the little coffee shop just down the road which is going to be making more egg and bacon rolls for those workers on site. It’s the motels which are going to accommodate those workers if they’re visitors to town. And it’s the local small businesses which are going to benefit largely from our infrastructure investment. There is such significant investment. When I look at Inland Rail and I see that 99 local businesses were benefitted to the tune of more than $110 million just in the first section, the Parkes to Narromine. You replicate that across the country, whether it’s roads, whether it’s airports, whether it’s rail, whatever the case is and you can see how it flows throughout the economy. And of course, with people not being able to fly internationally at the moment of course, people with Christmas and the warmer weather coming up, they’re going to be holidaying at home. And they’re going to be seeing the best country in the world, they haven’t already done so. But they’re going to be spending their dollars at home. So, that money will flow necessarily through the entire community and particularly regional communities.

DAVID EISENHAUER

One big thing that’s talked about for many years, Mr McCormack, is our mobile phone blackspots. You’ve got 850 base stations already activated, but an investment coming up of four and a half billion dollars into the National Broadband Network. I mean, that’s a significant investment and a significant boost again to regional communications and across the country.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Connectivity is key, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s particularly digital data downloading, uploading, getting that call made from one of those fire-prone areas in times of emergency or just being able to have the convenience of making a call when you’re driving along – of course using hands free but it just makes the world of difference. And particularly for our farmers who might be doing circles and doing laps in their tractors and header harvesters, they’re able to be connected to the world. They’re able to then sell their produce to the world and they’re able to get those spot prices when they come on. They’re able to talk to their stock and station agents. They’re able to do all those sorts of things that otherwise they’d have to get down out of the cabin and traipse back up to the farmhouse to be able to do it. So, we understand and recognise the importance of digital connectivity and mobile blackspots and that’s why we’ve invested so heavily in it.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And of course, that translates into that concept of decentralisation, Michael. When you look at the agenda of getting people to move out of the cities into the regional areas, one of the big keys there is communications infrastructure. So we will see improvements in not just our local region but across the country.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, decentralisation and actually regionalisation, as I talked about in my speech yesterday – the inaugural regional and rural outcomes assessment of the budget – is such a winner. And I know just in that AgriFutures, which moved from Canberra to Wagga – I mean, I don’t see much wheat being grown in the suburbs of Barton or Deakin – but that move there – and I know there was a bit of push back at the time, but I tell you what, you wouldn’t be able to prise them out of Wagga Wagga with a pitchfork right now. And John Harvey who heads up that organisation chaired by Kay Hull, my predecessor in the seat of Riverina, that has made such a significant difference to not just those people but indeed, to those, you know, that wonderful business. I do need to mention with Snowy Valley with the Regional Recovery Partnerships, it’s going to be one of the beneficiaries of the $10 million – or thereabouts, it’s a $100 million program, there’s 10 regions identified. So that is going to be of significant benefit. And I communicated with James Hayes yesterday, in fact, about not just that but about the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure. But that money will go to helping the bushfire recovery, the COVID recovery, the drought recovery in your region. It is going to be a significant investment in what we need to do to build back better and I know running that program what a difference it will make.

DAVID EISENHAUER

There’s some terrific things in the budget. It’s very positive. Michael, time is of the essence for yourself and we’re heading up towards the news and sport. But anything you’d like to add while we chat. Because we catch up every couple of weeks, which is very much appreciated. People have been commenting a lot lately, the accessibility of the Deputy PM, particularly this week. There’s been a lot talk and it’s budget this week, but for the community point of view, anything you’d like to add this morning?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s a jobs budget, we don’t want to leave anybody behind. We want to make sure that people, if they have a job, not only retain that job but they pay less tax in that job. And if they don’t have a job, we want to help business create a job for them and give them that dignity of work and give them the future they need. We’ll get through COVID. We’ll get out of it. When the vaccine becomes available we’ll make it freely accessible to each and every Australian. And the budget was there to ensure that people knew that the Government had their back.

DAVID EISENHAUER

And they sure do, Michael. It’s interesting, we’re going to be talking more about budget and the effects around the region of course, what the opposition said in their response last night. But thank you very much for taking some time out in Canberra to chat to us today. It really is appreciated.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

All the very best. Thank you, David.

DAVID EISENHAUER

Of course, Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack joining us there. Of course, Leader of the Nationals, and it’s a very big budget as far as the regions are concerned, which is great to see. And there’s a lot of positive stories coming out and of course, we appreciate the time that our Deputy Prime Minister takes chatting to us each and every fortnight on the local station.

ENDS 7:52AM

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