Transcript - Tasmania Talks interview on 89.3 LAFM Launceston

AARON STEVENS

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, has just touched down in Tassie and with Prime Minister Scott Morrison out of the country, paying a visit to Tokyo, Minister McCormack is currently our Acting Prime Minister and joining me now. Good morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Where else would you want to be, Aaron, when you’re the Acting Prime Minister but Tassie?

AARON STEVENS

Absolutely. How was your trip?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Very good. Very good. I’m out the front of the Nunamara General Store right now and happy to be chatting to you and to your listeners about all the things that we’re doing in the infrastructure space.

AARON STEVENS

Yes, terrific and obviously some announcements to make while you’re in Tasmania.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’m down here to get an update on the Scottsdale Dam. And I’m pretty excited about this, because it actually started in October 2018 and it’s so near completion. The first delivery of water happened actually yesterday and I know Bridget Archer, the Member for Bass, is pretty excited about this, as am I. We’re catching up with Greg Howard, who’s been a big supporter of this, the Mayor of the Dorset Council and with some of the irrigators too. Because they’ve contributed, Aaron, $12 million towards this project and when you’ve got that buy-in from local farmers, it makes it obviously so worthwhile. As a Federal Government we’ve put in $25.3 million, I appreciate the State Liberal Government has put up $20 million. So it’s a big project – $57.3 million. Importantly, it’s going to increase the agricultural output of the North East region here by 50 per cent or more. So that’s pretty good.

AARON STEVENS

Very good. You’ve only been on the ground a short time. Have you had a chance to talk to anybody about the project?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Not as yet, but I know that Andrew Kneebone called it a game changer. He’s the Tasmanian Irrigation CEO. When you get people of that ilk saying these sorts of things about how it’s going to make the world of difference to their region, then you know it’s a good project. You know it’s worth investing in. I’m big on dam infrastructure, big on growing water security. And you know Tasmania’s been leading the way –16, 17 of the last 20, 21 dams have been constructed in Tasmania. So Tasmania’s got that willingness and we’re a willing partner as well. We want to partner up with any state government prepared to invest taxpayers’ money into building water security because when you invest in water security you add agricultural output, you just add so much dimension to your community and so much community capacity it’s not funny. So it’s a good thing. I’m also looking forward to having a look and a bit of an update on the Sideling Highway Upgrade. That’s going to ensure that this section of the Tasman Highway gets up to B-double standard. And when you’re growing agricultural outputs you need those trucks to be able to travel the roads in a safe way and of course, this week is Road Safety Week, as many of your listeners would know.

AARON STEVENS

Definitely. I want to talk more about that in a moment. But you’re making a trip to the south as well today to make an announcement down there?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, look, we’re catching up with Peter Gutwein just to get an update on Tasmanian infrastructure. I speak with Michael Ferguson every other day, but catching up with the Premier Peter Gutwein. Look, we’ve invested as part of the budget process under the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program $41 million into Tasmania and $44 million is part of road safety upgrades. So there’s $85 million in roads and community infrastructure that the budget has allocated to Tasmania. I know it’s going to make the world of difference to the 29 councils and the communities around this wonderful state.

AARON STEVENS

And as you’ve said, it’s Road Safety Week and there’s been quite an injection into Tasmanian roads through the budget released last week. But it’s not just about roads, is it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It’s not, it’s also about driver behaviour. It’s about drivers making sure that they don’t look at their phones whilst they’re driving, they don’t get distracted, they stick to the rules, they don’t ingest substances or drink before they drive. They belt up, of course, they put their seat belts on. It’s not just about drivers though, Aaron, it’s also about the passengers. I mean, if they see bad driver behaviour or a bit of driver fatigue setting in, say something. Say something because it’s only a matter of seconds before it can be too late and then you don’t get the opportunity to say something. So we want to obviously work towards vision zero. That’s the plan, that’s the ultimate aim. We’ve got better roads, we’ve got better cars, we also need better drivers.

AARON STEVENS

And you’ll know that we had a tragic road toll this year, which is unexplainable in a lot of areas because of the fact that we’re off the roads for months at a time during COVID.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And so often the road statistics are disproportionately high in regional areas. And people just need to know that there are other road users out there. So respect and share the road as you should. It’s actually a privilege to be on the roads. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. And people should obey the rules at all times for their sake and the sake of other road users.

AARON STEVENS

Lucky you weren’t coming in from South Australia. Was it the right choice and is it the right choice for states to start closing borders to South Australia?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It is and it’s a tough call to make, but it’s the Premiers’ call to take that move. But that said, let’s see how it goes. I’ve just been on the phone to Steven Marshall, the South Australian Premier, and whilst I appreciate that the states are going to tighten the borders now to South Australia for a little while, South Australia is on top of it. There’s 18 cases. Their contact tracking and tracing has been, as you’d expect with Steven Marshall doing everything he needs to do with the health authorities. They’ve jumped out early, they’ve jumped out hard and hopefully they’ve nipped it in the bud and got the cases and now, of course, those people are in isolation. And hopefully that will be certainly something that in a few weeks’ time we can get back to some sort of normality, because we need those borders open. We have to get tourism back to where it needs to be. We have to get the planes flying interstate more often than just what they are at the moment. And we have to be able to get those Australians home from abroad. Of course, South Australia and their quarantine arrangements getting people in Adelaide as part of that.

AARON STEVENS

The Prime Minister has stressed all along that there was no advice initially to close borders. You’d hate to see all states going backwards on just a handful of cases?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, you would, absolutely. And I appreciate that the states are going to make these calls and that is their jurisdictional right to be able to do that. We’ve always said that we’ll take the best possible medical advice and that best possible medical advice hasn’t been to shut internal borders. Australia wasn’t set up to do that. But I appreciate the Premiers’ reasons to keep the virus under control have done that. And I appreciate Tasmania made its call, harsh and hard border rules, early. And you look at Tasmania’s record with COVID and the mainland too, it’s been second to none in the world. And you know, we should be very proud of those efforts and thankful to Australians for doing largely the right thing. When they’ve been asked to isolate, self-quarantine and do all those sorts of things and they have. To stay at home and work from there, they have done that and that’s why we’ve had very, very few cases and you compare it to America the other day, the United States, where they had 200,000 cases in one day, a day in which there was the biggest mortality rate in the world. Yet Australia on the same day had no deaths and no cases. So we can be thankful of that, but we can’t be complacent, Aaron.

AARON STEVENS

Which is part of my point. I mean, 200,000 cases and they’re still in the air, they’re still at work. I mean, it’s a balancing act, isn’t it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It is and all the way through we’ve taken the best possible medical advice. Hopefully a vaccine – and we’ve made arrangements, of course, with a number of companies, to get that vaccine as soon as it becomes available. And we will get that vaccine out to all Australians and it hopefully is something that we can this time next year be looking behind us, fingers crossed and say, well that was a terrible experience but we got through it because Australians were their best selves. We got through it because of the arrangements the Commonwealth put in place with JobKeeper and JobSeeker and hopefully the worst will be behind us this time next year.

AARON STEVENS

There’s a call to extend the HomeBuilder grant due to the fact that it’s tough to even get a builder in Tasmania at the moment let alone fulfil the requirements of the HomeBuilder scheme. Is government hearing that call from Tasmanians to extend that grant?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Very much so and I’ve had discussions with Michael Sukkar, the Assistant Treasurer, who is running that program, just last week. Of course, we’ve discussed that at the highest level. We are looking at that. Of course, I know from my own regional community I’ve spoken to a home builder owner-operator and a large regional company manager just yesterday about that very thing. And of course, they’re very anxious to see that it gets extended so that more people can take advantage of it and they can fill the orders that have been very good. And I have to say, it has saved many of those apprentices, because they were back on the tools and whilst they did also receive JobKeeper there was such a downturn in the building industry and we know that when the construction industry is going well, the economy is generally ticking along pretty nicely, too. So we’ve had those discussions at the highest level and it’s important that we look after our building and construction industry and particularly in the new home field.

AARON STEVENS

That is very good to hear. Keep us updated on that. Look forward to a positive response.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. Now I’m going to enjoy Tasmania. It’s a beautiful day and looking very much forward to looking at these roads and looking at these dam infrastructure projects.

AARON STEVENS

We turned it on for you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

All the best.

AARON STEVENS

Well done, talk soon. Acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack and of course, Deputy Prime Minister also, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, joining us this morning on Tasmania Talks.

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