Transcript - Interview with Jo Laverty and Conor Byrne, ABC Radio Darwin - 29 March 2019

E&OE

Subjects: Drought; National Water Infrastructure Development Fund; Climate Change; Election.

JO LAVERTY:

It’s also been a very big week for cattle themselves in the Territory. Of course starting with rain from Cyclone Trevor hitting stations across northern and central Australia, and if you think it’s difficult to try and look after your dog or cat when you’re in a cyclone situation, imagine trying to do it with several hundred head of cattle. Then of course, the news this week, big news, that the Batchelor abattoir is set to reopen and the Territory can once again process its own meat. But cattle’s not out of the woods yet. Drought, live animal trade, and animal rights activists are still front of mind for those in the cattle industry.

This week, the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association are gathering for their annual conference, and in town today to talk all things cattle is Michael McCormack, who is the Leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister. Good morning, Mr McCormack.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Good morning.

JO LAVERTY:

So despite the rain, there’s still heaps to talk about in the Territory, including the drought. What can we talk about, about drought policy at the national level?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Certainly, we’ve already put on the table $7.2 billion for drought assistance and we can, and we must, and we will put more as we continue to monitor the drought as we continue to get out and about in our regional communities. I come from a drought-stricken regional community in southwest New South Wales, but wherever you go, whether it’s in northern Queensland or indeed across here, it’s dry. There is no question, it’s dry. Despite that our farmers are a very resilient bunch. Despite that our farmers still last year managed nearly $60 billion of exports. So it’s still a vibrant industry, but they just need water. They just need water to help fill out stock; they need water obviously to grow crops and to get confidence back into the economy.

JO LAVERTY:

Yes and coming from a drought-stricken area yourself, you know that assistance is very gratefully received. But what’s better is to manage it in the first place. And I have heard from people in rural areas of the Northern Territory saying – look Federal Government, how about, instead of funding something like the Barneson Boulevard, you put more money into things like the bores, which we really need to catch that water when we are in dry times, as we always are in Australia.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Oh look, no question, I absolutely agree with you and that’s why late last year I’ve put on the table $500 million – half a billion dollars – for more water infrastructure. It’s so vital. I’m looking forward to making an announcement today, as far as the Northern Territory is concerned, about a project that I would like to see investigated fully up here. But more to the point, I want to see weirs lengthened, heightened and strengthened. I want to see dams being built. I want to see pipelines being constructed. This National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is going to do just that, of course, working in conjunction with the willing States and Territories. We can put down the water infrastructure that can really drought-proof this nation.

JO LAVERTY:

Alright, so you’re currently on ABC Breakfast, and you’ve got a big announcement to make later in the day. Can we get just a little sneak peek of what that is, Deputy PM?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well I’m looking forward to working with a very, very large Australian organisation to investigate the possibility of putting more water infrastructure in place to grow irrigation here in the Northern Territory. That’s about as much as I’m going to give away. But [indistinct] this part of an overall program, and not just in this particular area of the north at the Top End as well, but I want to hear from the Territory about other potential sites where we could potentially build dams; where we could put weirs down; where we could build pipelines. That’s what the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is all about: $1.3 billion of money already either invested or on the table to make sure that we get the right drought-proofing infrastructure for our nation. That’s what it’s all about. But I’m also looking forward today – and I know that the cattlemen will be absolutely delighted – to talking about the Roads of Strategic Importance: nearly half a billion dollars there too, $492.3 million, to upgrade priority freight routes in the Northern Territory. That is going to maximise benefits for industry and communities right throughout the Top End.

JO LAVERTY:

I won’t press you too much on your big announcement, but the other thing of course in the Northern Territory that we desperately need are more people, more jobs. So does this big plan that you’ve got involve a way to make sure that Territorians get the jobs, not just a big national company?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Absolutely. And when you build irrigation districts you build agriculture; when you build agriculture you enhance these communities, you build community capacity and it does lead to jobs. It leads to jobs in the construction phase; it leads to jobs further down the track, ongoing jobs, real jobs, full time jobs, well paying jobs. Agriculture does that but so does building infrastructure and I’m really looking forward to working with the Northern Territory stakeholders. I know it’s an exciting project and I know that it’s going to be welcomed up here.

CONOR BYRNE:

Michael McCormack, you’re with Jo Laverty and Conor Byrne. We’re talking about drought and extreme climate. Are you really going to the election in support of coal-fired power stations?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The Government has said that if it stacks up, there’s a business case there for a project in Collinsville in Queensland. And that is specifically for Central Queensland for the industries there – there’s cement makers there, there’s smelters there that just need the baseload power. Now they don’t have it at the moment and they’re paying way too much for it. Now we don’t want to see those go offshore. Jo just mentioned about jobs going offshore – we want to keep these jobs in Australia and so one way of doing it is getting more baseload power. This is a specific business case for a specific area in Central Queensland. Now look, let’s face it, already coal helps to provide two-thirds of energy needs for Australians.

CONOR BYRNE:

Now you have a climate change policy which has all the right words but it also says we don’t want to throw out our way of life, local jobs and industries, which is admirable, but isn’t it our current way of life and our industries which is changing the climate?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well not necessarily so and we absolutely need to have industries. We need to have jobs. It’s all well and good to say well let’s shut them all down, let’s stop all these exports of coal – that’s $66 billion. Who’s going to pay for the hospitals? Who’s going to pay for the schools? How are we going to ensure the standard of living? We can’t all be baristas making coffee. So what we need to do is we need to have those well-paid jobs; people think of coal mines and they think of the high-vis wearing miner with the torch on the front of their helmet coming out of the dirty dusty coal mine. The fact is that coal mining also provides some really, really well paying jobs in offices too, right around the nation, and it also provides two-thirds of our energy needs. So at the moment we can’t, we can’t as we transition into more renewables – yes, that’s the way the future, but at the moment we need those coal mines for export and we need them for energy sources.

CONOR BYRNE:

Nigel Scullion is resigning after this election; he’s got a lot of corporate memory in the Nationals. How do you feel about his departure?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I’m really sorry to see Nigel go, but equally excited that Sam McMahon put the hand up for that particular position. I think she’ll add some great things for the CLP of course we’ve got Kathy Ganley for Solomon and Jacinta Price for Lingiari, outstanding candidates.

CONOR BYRNE:

But the Country Liberals has been in disarray since the last election – would you prefer to see National’s branding on local conservative candidates instead of Country Liberals branding?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, I’ll just put it simply, yes. The fact is in Queensland we’ve got the LNP so it’s different branding again, but no matter what the branding, you know that the message is right; you know that the message is the same and we look after the regions. We look after the regions as far as decentralisation, agriculture, small business – and I have to say Nigel has done an outstanding job in Indigenous Affairs and I know how important that role has been for the Top End. But more than that his role in Cabinet, he has been absolutely amazing – he’s delivered for the Top End. I’m sure that Sam, Kathy and Jacinta will do just the same and I urge and encourage them, no matter what the brand name is after their name on the ballot paper, put a number one beside their name you won’t go too far wrong.

JO LAVERTY:

This is ABC Radio Darwin, Jo Laverty and Conor Byrne with you and we’re joined by the deputy Chief- Deputy Prime Minister – I’m sorry a bit of a downgrade there, I’ve offered you there, Michael McCormack.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well Acting Prime Minister today, so it’s great to be in the Top End as Acting Prime Minister.

JO LAVERTY:

Hey, Acting Prime Minister.

CONOR BYRNE:

Congratulations.

JO LAVERTY:

It’s getting bigger and bigger.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Scott Morrison is over in the memorial service at Christchurch in New Zealand, so that’s obviously a very sobering thing and of course, our thoughts and prayers are with our friends across the Tasman about that.

JO LAVERTY:

Well in that case it’s probably a good time to talk about guns and the big news this week has really been the leaked footage or the recorded secret recorded interviews with One Nation saying they’re trying to get support from the NRA and they’re questioning – well Pauline Hanson has been filmed to be questioning whether or not Port Arthur really happened, which of course she says today is taken out of context. This has forced the Liberals’ hand and meant that they’re having to now put One Nation behind Labor and The Greens on the ballot tickets. What does this mean for the Nationals?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well the Liberals also don’t have a lot of candidates with One Nation candidates running against them. But I understand Scott’s position on this, I understand the Liberal’s position on this – I do get that. And in the cities that would be an important distinction. The fact is in regional areas the Greens, I believe, represent – and to say that my colleagues – represent the clearest and most present danger to our way of life – to the right to farm, to ensure that our regional communities stay strong. The Greens and their bizarre emissions reduction targets…

JO LAVERTY:

…This isn’t about the Greens sir, this is about One Nation.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Yes but it’s also about the preferences which, quite frankly, for most of our members indeed probably all of our members, won’t be distributed anyway. Our preferences won’t be counted because if you finish first or second your preferences don’t get counted anyway. But it’s important the fact that we decide those things – always have – on a local level, electorate by electorate. Obviously the Members talk to their state divisions, but the fact is we decide these on a local level and that’s the way I’ve always done it, that’s the way my colleagues have always done it, that’s the way we’ll be doing at this election.

JO LAVERTY:

So Marketing a Massacre, which is the Al Jazeera Report, two parts into One Nation and they’re trying to form ties with the NRA: Watching that and also having observed what’s happened as a result of rising hate and fear among the right towards minorities like Islam in Australia – does that make you feel like you want to distance yourself from a Party and from Pauline Hanson who are propagating that fear?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well what we saw was reprehensible. You cannot sell our democracy to overseas interests, particularly overseas interests who want to change our gun laws. Now people should well remember that Tim Fisher as the Nationals Leader was the one who drove change as far as gun laws are concerned and tightened gun laws up for the better, tightened gun laws up for Australia’s safety. Now we haven’t ever as National Party Members waivered from that resolve. Tim Fisher led the way and it was difficult at the time, we were all remembering the mid-90’s and it was pretty difficult; we all remember John Howard with his flak jacket when he went out to address public rallies. And there was a lot of concern that we were in some way diminishing our national security. The fact is we’ve got good gun laws, tight gun laws, the proper gun laws and we will always as Nationals stand by those laws which we had a big part in driving into legislation.

CONNOR BYRNE:

With all that in mind, are the Greens still the enemy and not One Nation?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

As I say, we decide these at a local level. So we will decide these at an electorate by electorate, seat by seat and that’s the appropriate way. And I say again, honestly the number of people who have come up to me and talked about preferences over the nine years I’ve been in Parliament, you can almost count on two fingers. Yeah I know a lot of journalists get all worked up about this, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to be distributing our preferences at any rate. And I do believe that the Greens overall, overall represent the greatest danger to our regional communities way of life. The fact is we’re not going to change our gun laws, that is a fact. And we’re not going to do it and we’re not going to sell out our democracy either.

JO LAVERTY:

Alright. It’s lovely to speak with you Deputy Prime Minister – Acting Prime Minister today. Just before I let you go, the Cattlemen’s Association is quite famous for putting on a good feed. Have you been fed yet?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No I haven’t been fed today, no. But I’m looking forward to a steak at some stage – a good Top End steak.

CONNOR BYRNE:

Well starve yourself is my advice because it’s going to start coming out you this afternoon.

JO LAVERTY:

Take a big belt that you can loosen at some point, okay?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:
Indeed. All the best.

JO LAVERTY:

See you later. Bye bye.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Okay bye now.

JO LAVERTY:

That’s Michael McCormack who is Acting Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals.

[ENDS]

Hannah Maguire