TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Kieran Gilbert Sky News Live, AM Agenda

Subjects: Flight MH370; Steve Martin joining The Nationals; Ausgrid; company tax cuts; Barnaby Joyce.

 E&OE

 KIERAN GILBERT:

Also this morning I caught up with the Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Michael McCormack, and began by asking him about the fact that MH370, the search for that missing aircraft, it wraps up today, and I asked him: do we have to accept that this mystery simply won’t ever be solved?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

It’s very sad for the families and relatives of the 239 people on board, particularly the seven Australians, closer to home, particularly the seven Australians. There’s been a search that’s cost more than $200 million. It’s been going for four years. Sadly, they haven’t been able to find MH370, and that is a tragedy.

Of course, I suppose it may be that, like a lot of those ships which go down, ultimately they find them and new technologies come on board and new searches are mounted, but it looks as though this will remain a mystery for the time being.

KIERAN GILBERT:

There’s been some criticism of the Transport Safety Bureau, including from pilots who say that the search area should start again, and one in particular in The Australian quoted today as saying that it is 70 to 100 nautical miles south of where the Transport Safety Bureau search ended. Are you open to that sort of criticism?

 MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, the search area was massive, and with the information they had at the time, which was scant information, whilst appreciating no one knows exactly where the actual plane… there was so much misinformation, there were so many allegations and claims. And with the information they had at the time, albeit scant, they did their very best efforts and more than $200 million was spent trying to find the missing aircraft.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So, no new search? Australia won’t be part of a new one?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We’ve got to remember… well, not at this stage. We’ve got to remember that the actual plane is about 60 metres long. That’s about four times less than the Titanic, which they took more than 70 years to find and they knew exactly where the coordinates, exactly where it went down. So this is a very deep ocean. This is a large aircraft, admittedly, but not that large that it was obviously easily detectable, and in the circumstances …

KIERAN GILBERT:

And one of the questions is whether or not the pilot flew it to the end or it was on autopilot, if he was unconscious. That’s one of the key questions, isn’t it?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

And there’s a lot of conjecture about that, and of course, without the black box flight recorders and all those other things, it’s so difficult to know exactly what happened in the cockpit towards the end.

Of course, if they had the black box flight recorders, they’d have the plane. But look, this will remain a mystery. It’s a very, very sad story, and of course, all Australians are very much feeling for those people and the passengers on board.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Deputy Prime Minister, on a brighter note for you and The Nationals, you’ve got a new Senator in Tasmania, the Tasmanian tiger, as you labelled him, Steve Martin. But apparently, the Liberals not going to cooperate in terms of having a joint Coalition ticket in Tasmania. Does that annoy you?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, that’s a matter for the party organisation, whether joint tickets are held or not, and indeed, the National Party’s very much a state-based organisation.

We’ve now got a new State in our family – Tasmania – and we’re delighted that Steve Martin, who is very well equipped to serve the needs of Tasmanians, particularly regional Tasmanians, has joined us. A former mayor of Devonport, a small businessman with news agencies and restaurants that he’s run. He’s very attuned with the interests of regional Tasmanians, indeed, all Tasmanians. He’ll be a fine representative for the National Party.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So you’re not looking at the Liberals to cooperate in terms of a joint ticket?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Oh, it’s early days yet. He hasn’t even been in The Nationals …

KIERAN GILBERT:

So it’s still possible, a joint ticket?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, anything’s possible in politics.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So the Liberals, apparently, in Tasmania aren’t happy about the fact that there’s now ...

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

They should be delighted. It’s another voice …

KIERAN GILBERT:

Competitive force there.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, it’s another voice for Tasmania in government. It’s another voice for Tasmania in the Coalition. And they should be delighted; everybody should be delighted in the Coalition. This is a good outcome for Tasmania mainly, but it’s a good outcome for the Coalition generally, and certainly a good outcome for the National Party.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you think he can win again?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Absolutely. Look, he’s an outstanding representative, and with a lower quota required in Tasmania… you know he is a very, very good member of Parliament, but he’s really in tune with the sort of things that all National Party, indeed, all regional members of the Coalition are in tune with, and that is the grassroots representation that they need to have.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The big Productivity Commission report into the superannuation industry, some encouraging findings in it, but also some concerning ones. A third of funds are duplicates. A lot of waste here, isn’t there?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, there is, and what the report, the 571-page report, did show is that the members’ interests aren’t always best served, and I know we’ve made a lot of good reforms in the space of financial services in recent years.

I’m sure Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, will be having more to say about the Productivity Commission’s report into superannuation. But it’s important, of course, as we have an ageing population, that the interests of the members are number one, and that will be a focus of, I’m sure, the Government’s response to this inquiry.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Another area where you’ve got a focus on, obviously, infrastructure. A report today in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Ausgrid bid by a Chinese-dominated partnership two years ago was blocked because it hosts a critical piece of infrastructure supportive of Pine Gap.

Now, this story in the Sydney Morning Herald today suggests that this opened up a real vulnerability within the Government in terms of critical infrastructure. Can you reassure our viewers this morning that that gap, that that vulnerability’s been closed? Because this sale came pretty close to happening.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, it did, but at the end of the day it didn’t. So, it didn’t happen. And of course, critical infrastructure and making sure that Australia’s best interest is served will always be the Government’s priority and focus.

But certainly our relations with China are focused on trade. We will always have a robust discussion with China as our largest trading partner. But diplomatic relations are good; Julie Bishop’s doing an outstanding job as the Foreign Affairs Minister.

But my job obviously is to get out that critical infrastructure to make sure that we can take advantage of the ChAFTA – the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Any number of farmers in the Riverina and Central West, indeed anywhere I go throughout regional Australia, they’re focussed on making sure that we’ve got more food and fibre going into our trade relationship...

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah, there’s a lot of scope for growth but in terms of national security and critical infrastructure, you can reassure our audience that that is now being protected? Because that looked like it was a close run thing.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Those interests for Australians will always be protected by Government.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah. So, that was a wakeup call was it, that episode?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, look, these things are always- the Government’s always monitoring these sorts of things. And whether it’s State or whether it’s Federal governments, we need to make sure that critical infrastructure, and out of the best interest for Australians, national security is always best served.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And in terms of the China relationship, do you feel that things are getting back on an even keel? We’ve seen a report today that one Labor Senator was encouraged by Bob Carr to ask questions in the Senate committee in relation to one of the Prime Minister’s staff members on Chinese interference. What’s your take on all of that?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Relations with China are good, the ChAFTA’s going well. Julie Bishop’s doing an outstanding job as far as diplomacy is concerned. And we’ll always have a good relationship with China; it’s our largest trading partner.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Company tax, it looks like the Prime Minister wants a vote on this before the by-elections. If they don’t go through, would you be supportive of shelving them and sort of putting the revenue elsewhere?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, let’s ... We’ve got a couple of months; let’s see where it takes us. Bill Shorten, the pressure is on him as to show whether he is actually pro-business, and of course Mathias will have more discussions with the crossbenchers to see what we can do. At the end of the day, we’ve got a 10 year Enterprise Tax plan which is…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Are you committed to it to the next election, The Nationals?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, we’ll see what happens over the next couple of months. Again, I say the pressure is on Bill Shorten to see whether he’s going to be pro-business, to see whether he’s going to be pro-jobs because that’s what the 10 year Enterprise Tax Plan is all about; growing the economy, growing the number of jobs…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Mathias Cormann says he’s definitely going to take it to the next election, you’re not so convinced.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, we’ll see what happens. And Mathias Cormann and the leadership team will be discussing that. We won’t be sort of telegraphing our punches in the media. We need to make sure that we have those discussions with the crossbenchers.

But the pressure is on Bill Shorten to see whether he is pro-economy, to see whether he is pro-jobs, at the moment he’s shown he’s not.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, thanks so much.

KIERAN GILBERT:

That’s the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack there.

Shane Manning