TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Greg Jennett Capital Hill, ABC24

Subjects: Steve Martin joins The Nationals; China; superannuation; Barnaby Joyce

 E&OE

 GREG JENNETT:

Michael McCormack, I’m not sure we’ve had you in our studio since you became Deputy Prime Minister, so welcome back and congratulations.

You’ve expanded your party room, with the addition yesterday of Steve Martin. What do we know about the National Party in Tasmania that he steps into? Do you even have a branch structure? Are there members down there? What is happening to The Nationals?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, there’s certainly been a lot of enthusiasm shown with Steve’s coming across to the National Party. It’s the first time we’ve had Federal representation from the Apple Isle since the 1920s. And look, it’s going to be a great fit for us. He’s very much a regional Australian.

It’s a great thing for Tasmania to have another voice in Government. He’s been the Mayor of Devonport for seven years, he’s been a small business owner and operator, he’s into aquaculture, he’s into agriculture. He understands the issues that are alive and well for regional Australia, and he’ll bring a great… that Tasmanian voice to our party that hasn’t been there for over 90 years.

But we don’t have a party structure, but we’ll certainly … we’ve tried in the last few years to build up our numbers, but we certainly will now with a representative in the Parliament, I’m sure. Build it and they will come.

GREG JENNETT:

So, he faces an uphill battle, I guess you would acknowledge, in trying to clinch that sixth or fifth seat, if he should be so fortunate. There are no group voting tickets anymore for the Senate, but will there nevertheless be some sort of preferencing arrangement with the Liberal Party in Tasmania?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, we’ll see what the party organisation says about that, but I think people will judge Steve Martin on his delivery, on what sort of voice he brings to our party room and to the Parliament on behalf of Tasmanians, and I know he’ll deliver.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright. Now, moving to some other matters of the day, there are reports that China has been attempting to influence political parties in Australia, possibly for up to a decade. Does that come as a shock to you, or a surprise?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, of course it’s a concern. China is our biggest trading partner. The diplomacy, the relations with China have always been robust. The thing I’m most enthusiastic is the fact that, through the ChAFTA, through the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, that the farmers I represent, the farmers right around regional Australia, have that big trading partner there willing to take our food and fibre.

We need to be export-focused when it comes to China. Sure, we’re certainly not parking the diplomatic concerns. That is an issue for Government. We’ll deal with that, and I know Julie Bishop is doing a fantastic job as the Foreign Affairs Minister.

GREG JENNETT:

Obviously, The Nationals wouldn’t be as involved with Chinese donations or sources of funds perhaps to the extent of the Labor and Liberal Parties, but has there been any… or too much, in your view, flowing to political parties?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, there shouldn’t be undue influence from any country, let alone China or any other country. There shouldn’t be undue influence, and certainly, that is always a concern for Governments and Governments of all political persuasions. So look, we’ll deal with that, as the days and weeks roll on, but what I’m focused on is making sure that we continue that great trading relationship we have with China, our biggest trading partner.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright. Well, superannuation is as big an issue in the bush as it is in the cities, and we have this report out today from the Productivity Commission that is calling for an overhaul, generally, across the board in this system that was set up decades ago now.

Industry funds, what do you think their standing should be? They seem to be ranked ahead of a lot of the retail funds in this assessment by the Productivity Commission. Traditionally, though, the Coalition hasn’t regarded them as the leading lights in the industry. Does this change the view about industry super funds?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, the Productivity Commission’s report is quite a tome, and I know that’s why the Government got the Productivity Commission to look into this. They’ve produced their report. They’ve made a series of recommendations, and I know Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, has had a bit to say about this this morning, as she should. The fact is we need to make sure that the members’ interests, and particularly those low-income and medium income earners’ interests are best served by the superannuation packages that they have.

GREG JENNETT:

And they’re not at the moment? Would that be the conclusion?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well obviously that’s what the PC report has actually suggested. So we will always stand by the members’ interests as a Government. We will always make sure that their best interests are well served, and certainly we’ll be having more to say on the recommendations in the PC report in the future.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright. Now, it’s often said that former Leaders who stick around in Parliament can be a problem. Have you found, in your time, since becoming Leader, the relatively high profile of Barnaby Joyce to be an issue for your authority?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, I’m just out there getting out about as much of regional Australia as I can.

I’ve visited so many nooks and crannies of this nation in the past three months, making sure that we continue to sell the Budget, making sure that we continue to talk about the infrastructure needs and wants and expectations of regional Australians. It’s not so much a talking exercise, it’s a listening exercise.

And certainly the feedback I’ve been getting is that the Government is tracking well, making sure that that Ten-Year Enterprise Tax Plan, which we will take to the next election, is important, and people understand that.

They recognise the fact that when regional Australia is strong, so too is our nation, and I just want to build on that. I’m not going to worry too much about what’s happened in the past or what’s even happened in the recent past. Barnaby is playing a role in the National Party. That’s good. We need to also make sure that we continue to put the best interests of regional Australians first and foremost.

GREG JENNETT:

More broadly, though, do you think there is a trust deficit for politicians and politics generally?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, there’s so much media out and about these days, and we were talking off air about the fact that we used to both work in the media in Wagga Wagga, back in the day when there was radio, TV and the newspaper which set the agenda.

These days, there’s so much media. There’s 24-hour news channels, there’s Twitter, there’s Facebook. Everybody with an iPhone is a potential Channel 9 camera crew, and so you need to understand and recognise that.

And there is a general cynicism about politicians, but the fact is we are getting on with doing the job for and on behalf of Australians as a Government. Our infrastructure roll-out, the Budget was very good. And I know Australians generally trust the Coalition to get the job done.

GREG JENNETT:

And is that cynicism aided in any way or enhanced by the act that Barnaby Joyce is apparently engaged in, which is the acceptance of money over and above his public remuneration as an MP?

You’re hearing colleagues in the Government – Kelly O’Dwyer, for one – saying: I think most Australians are pretty disgusted by this. That’s probably the strongest remark we’ve heard, but do you share Kelly O’Dwyer’s view?

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Well, the court of public opinion will always judge politicians on their behaviour and what they do and how they do it, and so, for mine, I’m focused on making sure that we get out, sell the message about the Budget; the Ten-Year Enterprise Tax Plan, which we’re taking to the next election; making sure that people know that the infrastructure is being rolled out over a ten-year investment pipeline.

They’re the sorts of things I’m talking about, but mainly talking to people, listening to people, about the dedication we have to making sure there are jobs for them and their children going forward.

GREG JENNETT:

And just finally, Darren Chester has suggested maybe it should be time for a conversation around the Parliament about external income coming to MPs.

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Not such a bad idea.

GREG JENNETT:

You’d be open for at least …

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Not such a bad idea, let’s have a discussion.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright. Michael McCormack, thanks for your time.

MICHAEL McCORMACK:

Thank you. Pleasure.

Shane Manning