Transcript - Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB - 28 March 2019

TRANSCRIPT – INTERVIEW
Ben Fordham, 2GB 28 March 2019

E&OE

Subjects: Allocation of preferences at federal election; Aviation training at regional airports.

BEN FORDHAM:

Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Pleasure Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:

Have you got a different view to Scott Morrison when it comes to One Nation?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We always determine our preferences at a local level so local Members will be able to work their preferences out seat by seat through their State executives. What I would encourage people to do, when they are actually handed a ballot paper, is put The Nationals number one and quite frankly, after that, after you’ve put The Nationals number one I’m hoping that not too may National Party Members are having their preferences distributed anyway. If they finish first or second, that’s the two party preferred and that’s what we want.

BEN FORDHAM:

I know you’re saying these will be decided on a local level but the Leader of the Party federally, the Liberal Party that is, has made a declaration today that the Liberals will preference Labor above One Nation; so when it comes to Labor and One Nation, as Leader of the National Party where would you prefer they stand?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I would prefer to put The Greens last, quite frankly, because I think they represent a greater danger to regional areas than do any other Party. I have always put The Greens last, at the bottom of my How-To-Vote cards, and certainly I would encourage people when voting to put The Nationals first, put The Greens last and quite frankly after that they can choose themselves what they would like to do.

BEN FORDHAM:

Do you want One Nation below Labor or Labor below One Nation?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Again, voters have the choice. They can determine what they like to do, but Labor wants to put a 45% emissions reduction target in – that’s going to force factories to close; that’s going to push power bills up; that’s going to affect a lot of households. Greens: They’re no different to Labor when it comes to that. The fact is, I want to make sure that small business, that families, that farmers get the very best representation. That happens with a National Party person in those National Party seats. For regional Australia, put the National Party first and you won’t go too far wrong.

BEN FORDHAM:

Do you understand why Scott Morrison has made the call that he’s made today on behalf of the Liberal Party?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I know there’s a lot of media hype about preferences but I say again, preferences are only distributed if you don’t finish first or second. And I say again, The Greens represent the greatest, the clearest and most present danger to regional areas and that’s why I’ve always put them last. I think they have the ability to change the social fabric of our nation and I don’t want to see that happen. I want to make sure that our regional communities can be the best that they can be, and the best that they can be is with a National Party representative. That’s what I’m urging, encouraging people to do.

BEN FORDHAM:

You’ve spoken about regional areas just now and to be fair to you that’s the reason I asked you on today. We know that Chinese companies and airlines are taking over regional airports and building these flight schools for Chinese pilots; China is using our airspace and our airports to train their trainee pilots. At the same time, we know that there’s a huge shortage of Australian pilots and I know that Dick Smith says there are fewer places now for Aussie pilots to train. Look, I’m going through the list here and it’s hard to get our head around it but when we talk about these Chinese training facilities at our airports, there’s one at Port Macquarie and Kempsey – I know you’ll correct me if I’m wrong – run by the Australian International Aviation College which is owned by China’s HNA Group, that’s Port Macquarie and Kempsey. You have a training facility at Moorabbin Airport in Victoria, owner China Eastern Airlines; a training facility at airports in Perth owned by China Southern Airlines; plans for one at Frogs Hollow airfield in Bega Valley; Virgin has announced a training facility at Tamworth Airport run by Australian International Aviation College which is owned by China’s HNA Group; Mareeba Flight School in Queensland, the owner Shanghai Jiao Tong University; an international flight school just opened at Mildura Airport to train Chinese pilots: Are we seeing a trend here, Minister?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Look you’ve just named four that were probably owned by Chinese interests; they would be possibly part-owned by Chinese interests. Look, despite a lot of speculation there’s no evidence of substantial foreign ownership of regional airports and aviation training facilities or indeed the training of foreign pilots. At the end of the day too, the ACCC, the Foreign Investment Review Board – they have a big say in these sorts of things. The Foreign Investment Review Board was given additional powers back in 2015 to investigate ownership by foreign state-owned enterprises, whether it’s aviation or whatever, regardless of value, to ensure that it’s in Australia’s national interest.

BEN FORDHAM:

Is it in the regional interest, of these regional areas, when you consider that these regional airports are being taken over by foreign-owned companies?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I don’t think they’re being taken over. I think a lot of the speculation is unfounded. The fact is….

BEN FORDHAM:

Is anything incorrect as far as what I just ran through there about Port Macquarie, Kempsey, Moorabbin Airport, a couple in Perth, Bega Valley, Tamworth, Mareeba, Mildura – is any of that incorrect?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The fact is if it was against the national interest, the Foreign Investment Review Board would have stopped it. The fact is they have to comply with ACCC. The fact is, there’s always going to be speculation when Chinese investment, when Chinese money comes into Australia, but at the end of the day you look at CASA – CASA has actually recorded an increase in the number of flying schools on its register from 210 in 2012 to 235 in 2014. So to actually even say that there are less and less training schools is wrong. The number currently sits at 250…

BEN FORDHAM:

…and you’re not concerned about the increasing presence of Chinese ownership of these airports?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Of those that you mentioned there were four that are currently run and either fully owned or part subsidiaries of Chinese interests.

BEN FORDHAM:

What are the four?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The ones that you mentioned; you ran through the list; it was the first three you mentioned and then the fifth of the sixth one, Mareeba. So of those, yes there is some Chinese interest in it. Foreign investment has made this country what it is, and whether that’s in agriculture, whether that’s in aviation, the fact is they see that Australia is a good place in which to invest. They are actually training pilots, some of whom may well take up residence and may well be flying in Australia. I come from Wagga Wagga where we have the Australian Airline Pilot Academy, run by Rex. It’s actually training Vietnamese pilots. Now if anyone around Wagga Wagga suggested well that’s a bad thing, the fact is it’s actually putting $1 million into the Wagga Wagga local economy through accommodation, through petrol, through…

BEN FORDHAM:

There’d have to be a point though, wouldn’t there, where because of the sensitive nature of airports there would have to be a point where you’d have to say all right, that’s probably enough financial interest for one nation to have, that is not Australia, in our regional airports, right? I mean you couldn’t keep on going where all of a sudden you’ve got Chinese companies owning all of the regional airports.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

But Ben some people are against foreign investment full stop.

BEN FORDHAM:

I’m not talking about that.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Yes I know but I am, and the fact is if we actually stopped foreign investment into Australia, well we’d also stop exports out of Australia and that would be so harmful to Australian agriculture, to Australian aged care services, to Australian services, technical services, universities: we have any number, hundreds of thousands of foreign students coming to Australia…

BEN FORDHAM:

…Sure

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

…to train, to get their degrees, and that has got to be seen to be a good thing.

BEN FORDHAM:

All right. So just lastly and briefly and overwhelmingly, you are not concerned about it and you would encourage people not to be concerned about it.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

If the Foreign Investment Review Board says that it’s all right and it ticks off on all the boxes, well that quite frankly is a good thing. CASA provides a safety network for international schools as well as local schools – the same conditions apply.

BEN FORDHAM:

Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Always a pleasure Ben.

BEN FORDHAM:

Michael McCormack, the National Party Leader, joining us, to talk about preferences, P:auline Hanson and Chinese interest in regional airports around Australia.

[ENDS]

Hannah Maguire