TRANSCRIPT: Podcast interview with Outback Highway Development Council Inc’s General Manager, Helen Lewis

TRANSCRIPT 

Podcast interview with Outback Highway Development Council Inc’s General Manager, Helen Lewis.

27 September 2018

E&OE

Subjects: Outback Way sealing; infrastructure spending

HELEN LEWIS:

 It is my pleasure to be chatting to the Minister for Infrastructure, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

Welcome Minister and thank you for joining us for our AGM here in Alice Springs.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

That’s a pleasure Helen, no drama at all. Very interesting meeting.

HELEN LEWIS:

Excellent. So your route through the Riverina, from journalism into politics now with eight years under your belt in Parliament, why politics?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well it was actually from paddocks to Parliament really. I come off the land. Dad had a farm, only a thousand acres between Wagga Wagga and Junee, and before that in Marrar. His father was a farmer, his father before him was a farmer, so I was actually the first white collar worker in the family and I became a journalist initially. I liked to campaign. At school I'd always liked to debate and I always had politics sort of in the back of my mind but entering Parliament, putting your hand up for Parliament, it's a long way between putting your hand up for Parliament and actually getting there. It requires a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and you just need people to, I suppose, share your vision. And I was lucky enough to win Nationals preselection for Riverina back in 2010 and then lucky enough to get elected at that general election in August 2010.

And I've really enjoyed my time in Parliament. It's a challenge but it's also a great opportunity to talk about Regional Australia and certainly the area which I love the most and that's the Riverina.

HELEN LEWIS:

Yep, that’s good. And so what life moments and experiences really influenced you to put your hand up do you think? Were there any moments or particular issues that you wanted to campaign on, or you got the taste of what it would be …

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well I suppose my life moments: I spent a lot of time under the header, under Dad’s harvester in long hot Riverina summers with shifting spanners and repairing the old International Harvester and I thought oh gee, I don't really want to do this my entire life. Whilst I love farming and I do, and I respect the job they do, I just had something different in mind I suppose. Dad always said your word is your bond. Your reputation is everything. Your integrity - if you haven't got integrity then you've got nothing. And so that hard work ethic - and Mum was always very adamant that if you’re going to say something, if you're going to do something then do it to the very best of your ability…growing up in traditional sort of family values like that, that set me in good stead.

Look, I put my hand up, I was lucky enough to get elected and I suppose since being in Parliament I've always maintained that reputation as well. If I say I'm going to do something I do it. I don't promise something I can't deliver. I never have. Politics is about hope. It's also about making sure that you stick to your word.

HELEN LEWIS:

Mm, that’s excellent. So the Regional Australia: what gives you the fire in the belly? I mean you’ve touched on it lightly but is there anything more you want to add to that, of the value?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Regional Australians are the most resilient people in all of the nation. When our regions are strong, so too is our nation. Our regional people, they don't take a backward step. They talk straight. They live their lives and sometimes they have that tyranny of distance and we're in Alice Springs and whilst it’s remote, it’s now connected with good roads. We want to get better roads. We want to get that Outback Way properly sealed, fully sealed.

The world is getting smaller but those traditional country values are still maintained and the regional people, I just love them. They’re such doers. And I always want to protect and uphold those values and make sure that those traditional Australian customs continue.

HELEN LEWIS:

Great. And what experiences, well you’ve had various experiences as a Minister, what would be your proudest moments?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Certainly and it came before my Ministry actually: I helped the Government form a policy whereby we stopped buying water ad hoc from irrigators. Our irrigators are the best farmers, the best irrigation environmentalists. They grow food and fibre to feed our nation and many others besides. There was a time when I think the Government of the day really wanted to take their water away from those communities. Sure the Government was paying for it, but what they did, those people who sold their water were then leaving the communities and leaving those communities literally high and dry and we had to stop that ad hoc process and so I did. I put a stop to that by crossing the floor on the Murray Darling Basin Plan initially. We were then in Opposition but I got Tony Abbott to make that positional change, that priority policy change and when we got into Government we made that change. So that was probably a proud moment.

In the Ministry, certainly as Small Business Minister, the fact that we lowered the tax rate to the lowest level it has been in 77 years I think was a good thing - and extending the instant asset write-off. They're important for businesses. When you're in Regional Australia and running a business you've got plenty of challenges. You've also got plenty of opportunities but to get that little bit of extra money means that you can reinvest in your business; reinvest in the people in your business. So that's been important.

And since I've become the Deputy Prime Minister, the Murray Darling Rural Medical School Network throughout Victoria, throughout New South Wales: I appreciate that's a long way from where we are at the moment, but I believe if you train doctors in the bush then you keep them in the bush. You retain them. And I think that model once successful -  and it will be - should be replicated right around our nation.

HELEN LEWIS:

Yep, excellent. So the sealing of the Outback Way, it actually has a similar social benefit and that is that - it sounds Irish - but if you can leave a place, you'll stay. And so by sealing this road it means that our education and health services actually have that continuity you're talking about in regards to keeping those professionals there because they’ve built relationships and because they can leave 24/7, they'll stay. Which means we have relationships built, we have better school attendance, we have better health outcomes because there is trust developed in these communities. So yes, there's no underestimating the value of sealing roads and as you talk about, just that regional focus and getting people to work and live in these areas.

So over 20 years, Outback Way has been worked on by the combined effort of five Local Governments that span the nation and the Northern Territory Government and Queensland and WA. As Minister for Infrastructure, what is your grand plan for Australia? What are the key enabling factors which enable-  and what policies are delivering this?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Look decentralisation is something which is front and centre of the Nationals’ policy agenda. And Bridget McKenzie has just taken over a new portfolio of Regional Services including Rural Health and Regional Communications which are so important, as well as Local Government and Sport - she had that portfolio before, but also decentralisation. And it’s not necessarily just Government jobs coming out of Canberra or capital cities and moving into regional capitals but also other jobs coming into smaller country towns and also pushing and promoting and promulgating business to see the opportunities in Regional Australia and to diversify their interests or indeed pick their whole factories or industries up and move them to Regional Australia.

There are so many opportunities out here with better connectivity, better roads, better communications. We can make that happen and that's so important. We also need obviously the services there; we need health services, particularly mental health services. It's a big issue. We need to make sure that we continue to push the barrow on that issue and to make sure that people who are struggling a bit know that they've got that help there in regional areas to be able to get them through those tough times.

Better roads, better rail linkages, the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail for example is really, really important and when you talk about the Outback Way from Winton to Laverton, it is so important. It’s 2720 kilometres; it's a tourism way; it's a destination; it's a corridor of commerce; it's got so many things that could happen as a result of making sure that’s paid from one end to the other. And that's something that we've just spent $160 million on. That's going to provide another few hundred kilometres of bitumen, but we need to get the whole thing paved and with that rolling infrastructure spend that we’ve got - $75 billion at the moment over the next decade - I know you want it done by 2025. Let's work towards that.

HELEN LEWIS:

Terrific. Good. That's good news. So no doubt we’ve got some travellers who are big cricket fans and so how's the season looking for St Michael’s cricket?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

St Michael’s Cricket Club? Well earlier this year I achieved a lifelong ambition, it took me 41 years to finally play in a cricket premiership, albeit a fourth grade premiership. I did it with my two sons Alexander and Nicholas. Nick and I actually batted together and Alex was there at the finish when we won by one run having a last wicket, 50 run miracle to get us over the line. But I love cricket and whether it's Wagga Wagga or the MCG, it's a sport which binds the whole nation. It brings us all together. And look, good luck to our cricketers this year. We've hopefully overcome the turmoil of the ball tampering episode. And I know a few players have been punished for what they did. But look, let's get behind the new team, the new team captaincy, the leadership group and the players who will take us forward this summer and let's hope it's a good summer.

HELEN LEWIS:

Terrific. Thank you very much for your time. Great chatting to you and all the best for your travels.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Thanks Helen. All the very best.

HELEN LEWIS:

Thank you. Thanks very much. Thank you very much everyone for listening. Enjoy your journey through the heart of Australia on Australia’s Longest Shortcut – the Outback Way.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well done.

[ENDS]

 

 

Hannah Maguire