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Transcript of interview with Hamish MacDonald: ABC Radio National Breakfast: 29 May 2018: China's relationship with the Australian Government; tax package bills; Steve Martin joining The Nationals; Barnaby Joyce



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MICHAEL MCCORMACK MP DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT LEADER OF THE NATIONALS

FEDERAL MEMBER FOR RIVERINA

The Hon Michael McCormack MP

Parliament House Canberra| (02) 6277 7520 | minister.mccormack@infrastructure.gov.au Suite 2, 11-15 Fitzmaurice Street, Wagga Wagga NSW 2650 | michael.mccormack.mp@aph.gov.au

Interview with Hamish MacDonald, ABC Radio National Breakfast

29 May 2018

Subjects: China’s relationship with the Australian Government; tax package bills; Steve Martin joining The Nationals; Barnaby Joyce

E&OE

HAMISH MACDONALD:

As I say, though, the Turnbull Government is taking a crash or crash through approach to the centrepiece of its economic agenda: its two major tax reform packages which are yet to pass the Senate.

Twin legislation, cutting both business and income taxes, will be put to a vote by the time Parliament rises next month for the winter recess and the upcoming super Saturday of by-elections.

The Government has been buoyed by indications that Pauline Hanson could shift her position yet again as well as the surprise recruitment of Independent Senator Steve Martin to the National Party. That will give the Coalition obviously one extra vote in the Senate.

I spoke a short time ago with The Nationals’ Leader and the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Good morning, Hamish.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Could we start with China and these revelations that a secret report commissioned by the Prime Minister explicitly names China as a country which has been interfering in Australia’s political system for at least a decade. Are you aware of the contents of that report?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No I’m not, Hamish, but China has a lot of influence. It’s a very large country. But certainly, when it comes to government relations with China, always been strong. What we want to do is make sure that Australia continues to be export-focused in our relations with China. I speak to any number of farmers in and around the Riverina in Central West, and of course right around regional Australia, who are absolutely thrilled with the ChAFTA - The China Australia Free Trade Agreement. That’s what they’re focused on and as The Nationals’ leader and Deputy PM, that’s what I’m focused on too.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Can I clarify what you mean there? You’re not aware of the contents of the report? I mean, you’re the Deputy Prime Minister. We know it exists, that’s been acknowledged.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Yeah sure, and I’ve been out and about, talking to regional Australians about the things that matter most to them. And whilst I’m aware that there is a report - look, at the end of the day, I want Australia to be export-focused in our relations with China. I want to make sure that we can continue to make sure that we’re a robust trading partner with China, to make sure that all those wonderful products that regional Australia produces - food and fibre - has an export market in China.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Are you not interested in what’s in this report?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well I am, of course. But I say again that our relations with China are good, always been robust. Julie Bishop is doing an outstanding job as Foreign Affairs Minister and look, I’ll certainly leave those discussions and things with her.

What I’m focused on is making sure that with my Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, with the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, that we look to making sure that our relations on a trade basis with China continue to be strong.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Sure, but this trade relationship is being impacted as we know by the broader political debate in this country about foreign interference. You’re a member of a Government that is trying to gather the

numbers to push through a bill in Parliament on foreign interference. I’m just curious as to why you haven’t even gone to the Prime Minister and asked him what’s in this report?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, look, at the end of the day, again, I can’t stress enough, we want to make sure that we are very trade-oriented with China…

HAMISH MACDONALD:

[Interrupts] You’ve made that point.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

In doing that, [indistinct].

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Could I just ask you to address this question, though, because of course the trade relationship is influenced by the broader conversation? Why do you not care enough to find out what’s in this report?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, we want to make sure that all our relations with all our countries are on a good and even footing, and that’s what we do as a nation. And certainly, diplomacy is something which Australia is very good at. Certainly, diplomatic relations with all our trading partners and other nations as well is always strong, and I know Julie Bishop is focused on that. I know that certainly when I go out and about regional Australia, they’re focused on making sure that we get even more trade with China and we’ll continue to do that.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

So it’s just simply not a matter for the Deputy Prime Minister?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, it is a matter for the Deputy Prime Minister, but I stress again, so is trade.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

How about these allegations that the former Foreign Minister Bob Carr is drafting questions for Labor Senators to put through committee hearings about the employment of John Garnaut in the Prime Minister’s office, looking at Chinese espionage and interference? Are you concerned? I mean, Bob Carr denies that he’s done that, but would you be concerned if that was shown to be happening?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, let’s see in fact if that is true or not. Let’s see where that goes. Again, I stress that there’s a lot of reports about at the moment, a lot of things to take in. Whether or not they are in fact all based on fact, we’ll have to just wait and see.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Alright. The Government taking this all or nothing approach, it seems, to its tax packages. Can you guarantee that both bills will be put to a vote even if come 28 June you still don’t have those extra eight votes that you need from the crossbench?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, that’ll be up to Mathias Cormann and the rest of the leadership team.

Let’s see whether Bill Shorten in fact wants to be pro-business. Let’s see whether Labor wants to actually put business ahead of unions, business interests, to make sure that we can continue the jobs provision that we’ve done.

We’ve enabled small and medium family enterprises and big business a hire an additional 1 million Australian workers. Now, Bill Shorten … he can continue to provide for more jobs and for more hopeful workers, or he can stymie these bills and be the obstructionist Opposition Leader that he’s seemed to be in the last however long he’s been the Opposition leader.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Can you see a way, though, for these bills to get through the Senate, in particular the corporate tax cuts?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, I’m always hopeful.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Can you see a way, though- [laughs] that’s a very different thing! Can you see a way for it to get through the Senate at this point?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, there is a way, certainly, Labor could back them, the crossbenchers could see that they are good bills, could see that they are going to provide more jobs for the future and even more building blocks for business to grow the economy even stronger. So, they could come to that realisation, they

could back the bills and we could get on with making sure that we can continue to provide good Government, as we have for the last five years.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

There is support on the crossbenches, and indeed within your own party, for a compromised position on this, and that is to restrict the next round of tax cuts for companies with turnovers of up to $500 million. Why not go down that path?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, let’s see where the negotiations take us, and we’ll have those discussions with the crossbenchers and others, any willing partners who want to come on those discussions we’ll have those, we won’t play them out in the media. We’ll have them where they need to be played out, and we’ll see what happens.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Well, they are already in the media; we’ve got members of your party on this program talking about it.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, we’re a robust party; we talk about a lot of things. But look, let’s see where those negotiations with Mathias and the crossbenchers and others take us, and we’ll have to see what happens over the next couple of months.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Alright. You’ve been celebrating the recruitment of Steve Martin. Does that make any difference, though, practically, to you getting things through the Parliament?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, it gives Tasmanians, particularly regional Tasmanians ,another voice in Government. That’s important.

And certainly for the National Party it grows our numbers; it grows our influence in Tasmania. We haven’t had a Tasmanian representative since the 1920s so we’re delighted that Steve Martin has come on board. He’s been a very, very active Mayor of Devonport. He understands small business, having run a restaurant, having run a news agency. He understands farming, agriculture, all types of farming.

He’s born and bred in Tassie, he knows the state well, and he also understands regional Australia. So, that’s a very good fit for him, for us, and it’s a good relationship all round, I’m sure, going forward.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

And you described him as like a Tasmanian tiger, I mean, it immediately brought to mind extinction.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

[Laughs] No, no, no, not at all.

Well, people have been writing the National Party off for years but we keep bouncing back. And look, the last thylacine, the last Tassie tiger, was seen in 1936. The last Country Party member in Tasmania was seen in the 1920s. But it’s a revival certainly in the Apple Isle for the National Party, and really looking forward to working with Steve to bring about good outcomes for Tasmanians, working in conjunction with our Liberal Party members down there, it’s a good fit.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Let’s talk about another member of your party, and doing interviews in return for money. Do you think public accountability from our politicians should ever come at a price?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I wouldn’t do it. That’s a personal matter for Barnaby. And whilst you’re a serving Member of Parliament, you have to wonder about the merit of these things. The fact is when I go out and about, I’m talking to regional Australians about the things that matter to them. And on the weekend I did just that, no one raised the issue with me. But look, it’s a personal matter for Barnaby, and I’ll leave it at that.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

I’m sorry, though, because you’ve got millions of Australians voting for you as a party, and I don’t think you’ve really addressed that question of whether they should be able to expect, from the politicians they vote for, accountability, public accountability, without it coming at a price. Because that’s the fundamental issue here, and I just want to be clear about whether or not you think that is an important value to uphold.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, of course, public accountability is an important thing to uphold. And look, at the end of the day, the court of public opinion will always determine whether or not a politician has crossed the line. I suppose, at the end of the day, we’re all accountable to the electorates who we serve.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Do you think Barnaby Joyce’s decision does pass the pub test?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, again, that will be a matter for those people in that particular pub in New England. I wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Come on, you have deferred all over the place during this interview. Does it pass the pub test?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, again, I’ll say it was a personal matter for Barnaby. He chose to go down this path; we’ll let the people in New England decide whether or not that was such a sensible thing to do.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Have you spoken to Barnaby Joyce since news of this paid interview has emerged?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No, I haven’t.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Do you intend to?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I’ll be catching up with him this week, yes, like I catch up with all my National Party members. But at the moment we’re pretty buoyed by the fact that Steve Martin has joined us, we’ve grown the party, we’ve got a good Budget, we’re out selling it.

And the one thing we are worried about, though, is the drought. It is a continued dry spell and if it doesn’t rain in the next month, that’s going to mean a lot of heartache for a lot of people in country Australia, for people in Maranoa, in David Littleproud’s electorate, that’s seven successive years now; I know in Mark Coulton’s, it’s about three in four, it’s a worry.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

It’s a valiant attempt to change the topic, but I mean, will you have a conversation with him about what he’s doing? It obviously provides a massive distraction for your party.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, look, only if we make it a distraction. And again I say National Party members are out there talking to their electorates, as we do, on the ground …

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Seriously, you want to change the topic again? Are you going to talk to him about this or not?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I’ll have a chat to Barnaby, like I always have a chat with him. And that conversation will no doubt come up but the fact is I’m getting on selling the Budget.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

You’ll probably watch, though, won’t you?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

It depends on what I’m doing on Sunday night, at the moment I’ve got a function booked in. So probably won’t.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Michael McCormack, thank you very much. Have a good day.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Thanks, Hamish, all the best.

HAMISH MACDONALD:

Michael McCormack, The Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister there. We got a couple of answers, at least.

ENDS

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