TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop Interview - St John Ambulance - Alice Springs

TRANSCRIPT

 

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
27 SEPTEMBER 2018

E&OE

Subjects: Opening of the new St John facility; allegations of government interference in the ABC; air fares to Alice Springs; Tony Abbott as special envoy for Indigenous Affairs; proposed National Indigenous Art Gallery.

NIGEL SCULLION, Minister for Indigenous Affairs; Senator for the Northern Territory:

I am happy to be here with Jacinta Price and Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, at St. John’s Ambulance, their new facility here in Alice Springs. It’s just fantastic to have Michael here. I’m very proud. I sit with the National Party and the National Party are the Party who are the champions for Regional and Rural Australia and for those people around the Territory. Darwin’s probably a tad bigger than Tamworth in the context of Regional and Rural Australia, so it’s just so important that we have champions like Michael here, so mate, thank you so much…not only for the funds to make sure that those who look after us are also supported by this fantastic level of amenity; the volunteers do just an absolute cracker job, so thank you very much, and welcome.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK: 

Well done, Nigel. Great. Look, it is fantastic to be here with Nigel Scullion and Jacinta Price. I know she’s doing a fantastic job here in Local Government. I hope that she’s going to be doing a fantastic job in the Lower House for Lingiari after the next election. I know how hard she works for this community; I want her to be a champion for the Northern Territory in the Federal Parliament and I know that she’s got the capabilities, the dedication, and the commitment to do just that.

Moreover, today, I’m here opening the St John Ambulance facility here, $3.15 million – it’s an investment in volunteerism; it’s an investment in Alice Springs; it’s an investment in when people get sick or injured at a concert, at an event, you’ve always got that white-coated warrior, that white-coated angel from St John there to help, there to assist, there to step up when needed. They’ve now got a facility that they can proudly call home. They’ve got a headquarters where they can do so much training - and I spoke to some of the volunteers. Some of them have been in the enterprise doing it for 40 years; others are just new kids on the block - and when I say kids, they are very much that, some of them as young as eleven. They give up nights when they could be at home watching television, they could be doing other things, but they come down here to train, to help, to learn, and that’s what it’s all about, these voluntary efforts by these young kids. You know, they do so much good. And I know that, one day, they will be future doctors, they’ll be future nurses, and they’ll be future medicos. But what they’re doing means such a difference and could well save a life.

That’s why these sorts of investments, these sorts of funding announcements are so important, and whilst the Federal Government supports these sorts of initiatives, I really support Regional Australia, just like Nigel Scullion does. We understand how important it is for these people who live in Regional Australia, who call it home, to have facilities equal to, if not better than, those in capital cities. That’s what we fight for every day as National Party members, as CLP members, and that’s what we want to see into the future.

JOURNALIST:

Deputy Prime Minister, can I just ask you: we’ve heard while this event’s been going on that the ABC chairman has stepped down from his position. Do you think that was the right call for him to go?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

He’s made that decision to step aside and certainly matters of changes within the ABC are entirely a matter for the ABC. As a Regional Member, as Leader of the National Party, I want to see the ABC continue to do the great job that it does in the regions and that’s why I’m so delighted that we’ve invested heavily into the ABC to make sure that it can continue to provide. I say continue because it always has provided great service for regional areas, and for some people in Regional Australia, that’s their go-to news source. For some, it’s their only news source, and so we want to make sure that the ABC stays strong in the regions.

You notice how good the ABC is particularly in times of crisis - whether it's a flood, whether it's a bushfire, providing those up-to-date information bulletins can mean the difference between somebody surviving and somebody not surviving…somebody leaving home when it's needed or somebody staying there and getting caught up in a fire or a flood. So I pay tribute to the ABC for doing just that and I know in my own hometown of Wagga Wagga, the ABC in the wider Riverina Region does an outstanding job and I’ll always support them doing that job.

JOURNALIST:

As a former journo and editor, what would you have done if the corporate boss told you to fire a journo because they didn’t like their reporting?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

When I was a journalist often I wrote things that people probably didn't like either, but look, I know Emma Alberici, I know Andrew Probyn, I know them both well and I know that, for them, they try and get it right all of the time, and I know any journalist worth his or her salt always tries to get it right all of the time.

But I know also from time to time, journalists don't always get it right, just like politicians don't always get it right. Sometimes we get called out to correct those things and I think that's important: when you are a journalist and you do get it wrong, to admit that you've got it wrong, to correct the error and to move forward. And I know as a politician, sometimes I've had the need to call out a journalist for getting something wrong when they hadn't actually known that they’ve got it wrong and they’ve always corrected it and that's just part and parcel of being a balanced, being a transparent journalist.

JOURNALIST:

Are you aware of any conversations within Government about the need to remove ABC journalists or any hint that that may be pushed from Government to the ABC?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No, I’m not.

JOURNALIST:

Just on another matter, if I can: Chief Minister Michael Gunner is, I understand, today going to suggest that Qantas Pilot Training Academies are being put into blue ribbon National Party seats.

The first one’s been announced in Toowoomba and it’s suggested that the second one will be announced at Tamworth and not Alice Springs. Do you have any response to the Chief Minister on that?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

For a start, that Toowoomba is not a blue ribbon National Party seat, more is the pity. Secondly, the location of the other pilot academy is not yet known. If that goes to Tamworth, all well and good - that is a matter for Qantas. I know that they have gone right around the countryside, they even looked in my hometown of Wagga Wagga and indeed in West Wyalong, which is also in the Riverina electorate, to see whether those two sites were suitable. The Pilot Academy, the Regional Pilot Academy, is an entirely a matter for Qantas. And I’ve got every faith in Qantas for being able to choose the location that best suits their needs and purposes.

JOURNALIST:

So, no political pressure from the Federal Government at all on this?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

None whatsoever. As I say, Wagga Wagga was one of the sites that they looked at. Wagga Wagga has not been chosen as the first and primary site; no political interference whatsoever. This is a decision entirely for Qantas. I know that Regional Express has a Regional Pilot Academy, indeed an Australian Pilot Academy at Wagga Wagga, and it does a fantastic job training the pilots. We need more pilots; we need more pilots not only in the bigger airlines, but indeed right throughout general aviation and I certainly work hard to help that cause.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just turn to Tennant Creek for a moment? You’re now the Minister for Regional Development; what’s your, where’s the Tennant Regional Deal up to, and will you be visiting the town to see the problems first hand.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I’m so glad you asked. I’m very much looking forward in an hour or so to landing in Tennant Creek to talk to the Barkly Regional Council, to meeting the Mayor Steve Edgington, to meeting with the people from the Cultural Council, and we’ll be seeing how we can further develop that regional deal promised by Malcolm Turnbull. I want to make sure that it’s continuing, and I want to make sure that it’s delivered. And that’s why I’m going to Tennant Creek, at the urgings and encouragings of Nigel Scullion. We met yesterday and decided that we’d go there today. So, it’s a very hastily arranged visit, but it’s important for Federal Government. I know how much it meant to Malcolm Turnbull, I know how much it means to Scott Morrison. We know that this is an important regional deal. Nigel Scullion has been fully briefing me on this. I am now the Minister for Regional Development, as well as my other portfolio areas of Infrastructure and Transport. It’s important for Tennant Creek, it’s important for the wider Barkly Regional Council and it’s important for the Northern Territory. It’s important, indeed, for Australia.

JOURNALIST:    

How is it actually going to improve the lives for people in Tennant Creek?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

What it’s going to look to is to developing amenities, developing facilities, developing that community connectivity, and making sure that Canberra is well aware of the challenges, but also the opportunities that Tennant Creek offers. We want to make sure that wherever we do these regional or city deals, that we build up community capacity. That’s what they’re all about, and that’s what I’m all about too.

JOURNALIST:

The Nationals took a proposal to Cabinet for a new sort of visa for temporary farm workers, which didn’t get through Cabinet. Obviously, that’s an important issue for our mango industry in the Northern Territory. What does this mean that the Nationals couldn’t get this through Cabinet, does it show that your party doesn’t have an awful lot of sway over the Liberal Party in the Coalition?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, there’s been one discussion had so far, but we’re working in conjunction with the Liberal Party to make sure, but in conjunction, in an overall Coalition Government, to make sure that we get the right number of workers. It’s very difficult, whether they’re mango pickers, processors, whoever they might be in the Northern Territory, or indeed picking grapes in the Riverina area where I belong, where I come from, whether they’re working in meat processing plants right around our nation, whether they’re helping harvest crops for this coming summer. Whatever they are, whatever they’re doing, we need about 100,000 of them.

Now, the Pacific Islanders, they comprise 6,061 in the last half. So, obviously there’s a big difference there. We will be working hard to make sure that the visa arrangements, the necessary and the right correct visa arrangements are in place to ensure that we are able to get, whether they’re mangoes picked, whether they’re crops harvested, whether they’re cattle processed; whatever the case might be, we’re going to be working hard to ensure that we get those workers. And whether you call that an Ag visa, or a Regional Visa or whatever type of visa it is, the Liberals know full well just how important this is to our nation, and so do the Nationals. And that’s why we’re working hard together to get the problem solved.

JOURNALIST:

The Nationals have already failed to get this through Cabinet once, what’s going to change?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No we haven’t. We haven’t failed at all to do anything. In fact, we’re working. These sorts of things just can’t go through at a whim. We’re working very, very hard to make sure that we get the right processes and protocols in place, to get the right submissions up, and we’re working hard to achieve that.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve been in town talking about the Outback Way. Are there any developments in that front, and do we have a timeframe for the project?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The Outback Way group would like to see the full 2,720 kilometres sealed and paved by 2025. That would be a good outcome. In the last budget delivered in May this year, we dedicated a further $160 million, total Federal funding to $330 million, and that’s just in recent years.

We’re committed to the Outback Way. We’re committed to that Laverton to Winton stretch of road which is used by so many people, whether they’re beef producers, whether they’re tourists, or whether they’re just locals. It’s Australia’s longest shortcut. We want to make sure that it gets delivered, along with our $75 billion record infrastructure spend. It’s an important byway, it’s an important highway. I appreciate the fact that a lot of it, at the moment, 1,235 kilometres, even after the current allocation will still be unsealed. It’s great to spend time with Patrick Hill and his dedicated committee to see what further we can do. And I look forward to those continuing discussions and I look forward to continuing to phase in the sorts of funding outcomes that the Outback Way committee, and indeed Western Australia, Northern Territory, and the Queensland Governments also need, want and expect.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Two more questions, sorry, to Michael.

QUESTION:

In Alice Springs, flights to Alice Springs are prohibitively expensive. As the Minister for Regional Development, does the Federal Government have a role in trying to bring down the price of air fares to make it more enticing for people to come to this town?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We’ve had a Senate committee looking into this very topic. I know that Barry O'Sullivan, a colleague of Nigel and mine, is sitting on that committee and making sure that they ask the right people the right questions to see what we can do. But of course it’s also something that is determined by supply and demand. It’s also something that is determined by private companies. Now, the Federal Government doesn’t set for prices for all manner of things. We let the market determine the sorts of things, prices on goods, on services, and that’s the right and proper process. But of course, I have discussions with people from Qantas, Rex and other providers of airline services and the Federal Government has, for a long time, helped supplement those services and those routes as well. And we’ll continue to have those sorts of discussions and provide that sort of assistance into the future.

QUESTION:

One for Minister Scullion, if I can. Your colleague Kenny Vowles has lashed out at Tony Abbott, saying he doesn’t know anything about Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and that he should have consulted with him as Indigenous Affairs Minister in the Territory on his visit to the NT. Does this sort of highlight some of the problems with the envoy position and I guess what your response to Mr Vowles?

NIGEL SCULLION:

I understand Ken Vowles actually said: why didn't he come and see me? And what he should have finished off – why did he actually meet with the Minister for Education? Well, he is the envoy for remote education and so he met with Selena in Nhulunbuy and talked about all those things within his portfolio. Now, Kenny Vowles wants Tony Abbott to meet with him on the fifth floor in Darwin. Let me tell you, there’s not many Indigenous kids on the fifth floor in Darwin, although they could teach him a thing or two.

I don't understand. Kenny’s just had a bit of a gap in his thought, his normal rational thinking, and he's just lashed out because he's been told to lash out. This is just more politicisation of an area that he should know better on. Tony Abbott is a person who brings a wealth of knowledge in Indigenous Affairs. He was a Minister that spent a fair bit of time in communities, as I have, and I welcome him as part of my team. He's been speaking to me this morning. I spoke to him last night. I can't be in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Galiwinku and Borroloola at the same time, and I think it's fantastic that we have someone of his calibre assisting me in this particularly intractable area.

QUESTION:

Does it create confusion, though? Who does the Northern Territory Government talk to? Do we talk to Mr Abbott or do they talk to you, or? Can you understand that there is ambiguity about this?

NIGEL SCULLION:

No, not at all. There’s only two of us. If they can't get stuff out between the two of us they really don't have a chance. Look, he's the envoy on a particular issue. He’s reporting to Parliament. And if the Territory Government are getting all terribly confused, they can ring me and I can give them Tony's number. We're both doing principally the same job. I'm still responsible for all manner of things, everything in Indigenous Affairs. Now, Tony is assisting us with an area that has become a very intractable area and he will be engaging with the Northern Territory Government. And Ken, since you're the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, it’d really useful if you would encourage the Northern Territory Government. When we pay on enrolment, maybe you should send those funds to that school. That would really be helpful instead of setting the funds to the school on the basis of attendance. So, that would be something you can actually do instead of just being a bonehead talking about why Tony Abbott isn’t visiting the fifth floor. That would be useful as a clear signal moment.

QUESTION:

Michael, can I ask you a question just quickly, there’s a big project in town that’s quite divisive at the moment: the National Indigenous Art Gallery. Currently, the NT Government's only funded $50 million, only put aside $50 million of what would be about $150 million project. Do you see and it could you know, it has the potential to change the face of Alice Springs and draw people to this part of the country from all over the world. Do you see the Federal Government chipping in and helping get that project off the ground, helping bridge that gap?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Oh look, I’m happy to look at any proposal put forward to me. I know that the Arts Minister, I know Nigel Scullion are certainly happy to look at any of those sorts of proposals. I mean, we really want to encourage and entice tourists to areas such as Alice Springs. I’m a regional man myself and I know what a difference tourism can make and I know how many grey nomads, for instance, are out there trekking around Australia at the moment. They want a reason to go somewhere. We want to get them there sooner and safer, that's part of my infrastructure budget. I’m also the Minister for Regional Development, I want to make sure that we build these sorts of things. I’d be happy to look at any proposal.

Thank you very much.

Hannah Maguire