Doorstop interview with The Hon Michael McCormack MP, Minister for Small Business

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL MCCORMACK: Well it's fantastic to have Julie Bishop the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Federal Liberal Party here in Wagga Wagga today.

We've just witnessed a milestone occasion where Regional Express and their Australian Airline Pilot Academy graduated 24 pilots – 17 of them outstanding, exceptional young pilots from Australia, and seven of them with the Vietnam Airlines.

The relationship between Hanoi and Wagga Wagga has been sealed, a bridge permanently concreted, if you like. Also they've now got their epilates, they've got their wings – Julie Bishop was here and as the Foreign Affairs Minister – how wonderful it was that she was here to see this historic occasion. Her work in the region, in Asia, has been nothing short of outstanding, making sure that those bridges have been absolutely sealed and delivered as far as Vietnam and Australia, and all other Asian countries and Australia.

And of course we've got three free trade agreements with those Asian giants – South Korea, China and Japan – and the relationship between Asia and Australia has never been stronger. That's because we've got good government, we've got a great Foreign Affairs Minister.

Today Rex has once again confirmed how important an organisation it is for this city. 170 jobs are here in Wagga Wagga. This city has a marvellous relationship with Regional Express, it started back when of course the Ansett collapse happened in late 2001 and Rex decided to make Wagga Wagga its home.

It is, as it says, it has its heart in the country and certainly the Chairman Lim Kim Hai the Deputy Chair John Sharp have made sure that relationship has not only been built upon, but certainly they will ensure that it's going to be strengthened into the future.

It was great to see so many of the families come to Wagga Wagga today. That will be their story from now on in, and everybody has a Wagga Wagga story to tell.

I'm glad that Julie Bishop is here today, she's no stranger to the city either, she's one of the most recognisable faces of course, and one of the most respected faces right across Australia.

To have her here in the week of all weeks, budget week, and what a good budget it was. Of course, Scott Morrison the Treasurer talked this week about a budget of responsibility, of fairness, of opportunity and of security and of course that's what it was and certainly for the Riverina and Central West electorate I represent I was so pleased that we have the inland rail, a corridor of commerce getting in Riverina produce from farm gates in the Riverina to Asian plates – so important. Fairness in schools with needs-based funding for the 128 schools I represent – they've got a funding increase. And of course, as Small Business Minister for Australia I was so delighted that on the very day where the tax rate was reduced to 27.5% - the lowest it's been for many, many decades.

Of course, the redefinition of a small business from a 2 million turnover to a 10 million turnover that we also made sure that there was a 12 months extension to the instant asset write-off and let me tell you that the businesses, the small business, right across the region – indeed right across the nation – were cheering at that.

Julie, would you like to make some remarks?

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Michael. I'm delighted to be here with Australia's Small Business Minister, Michael McCormack in his electorate of Riverina at a very auspicious event.

Today I witnessed the graduation of the first-time Vietnamese students have been able to gain Australian aviation qualifications here at the Australian Airline Pilot Academy.

This represents a partnership between Rex Regional Express and Vietnam Airlines and I'm delighted that young Vietnamese people are gaining qualifications from an Australian institution.

We are a world leader in aviation. Australia is home to some of the safest and most highly regarded airlines in the world. This partnership is the beginning, I believe, of a great expansion in Australian being able to provide aviation expertise to the most dynamic and fastest growing aviation market in the world here in Asia.

This event today was a milestone, not only for the academy and the City of Wagga Wagga, but also for Australia-Vietnamese relationships.

I'm also very pleased to be here with Michael because we'll be meeting some small business owners and operators here this afternoon and I look forward to talking to them about the opportunities that the Turnbull Government's Budget will provide to small business - it is the backbone of the economy.

We have, as Michael said, concluded a number of free trade agreements with significant markets to our north and it provides enormous opportunities for exporters here in the Riverina and elsewhere – whether it's beef, or wine, or grain, or pilot qualifications – the goods and services from Australia and from this region are very much in demand. The Turnbull Government will continue to ensure that Australian businesses, Australian exporters, have access to some of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The pilot program has done quite well here for the past year, are there hopes that it could expand and continue and bring in perhaps more Asian cadets?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I was certainly impressed by the partnership between Rex and Vietnam Airlines. We are seeing an increase in the number of flights between Hanoi and Australia and I think that while we have Australian pilots working around the world it will be wonderful to see more pilots in Asia with Australian qualifications and the Airline Academy is exquisitely poised to take advantage of that growth.

JOURNALIST: How much does this strengthen relationships between us?

JULIE BISHOP: It's enormously important, the more we can engage in the provision of services, the more Australia can share its expertise – whether it's in aviation, or education, or healthcare, or tourism – the more closely aligned we are with nations in our region, of course that leads to greater peace, greater prosperity and greater stability in our part of the world.

These bilateral relationships are extremely important and that's why I was delighted to accept John Sharp's invitation with Michael McCormack to be here at the Academy to witness a milestone, an auspicious occasion. The first group of Vietnamese students to have gained Australian aviation qualifications from the Australian Airline Pilot Academy – it's a great day.

JOURNALIST: Regional Express has raised concerns since the government announced it was slashing 457 visas because they say they get a lot of their experienced pilots from – who use those visas – and that it might force them to axe some regional routes. Do you think their concerns are justified?

JULIE BISHOP: We are replacing the 457 visa with two further visas and they will be focusing very much on skills shortages. We of course want Australians to have opportunities here to take jobs here and we have set up a skills training fund so that employers can assist Australians who want a job to have the skills and the training to fill those positions. But where there is a genuine skills shortage of course we want the employers in Australia to have the opportunity to bring in skilled workers. There will be two visas for that and we're constantly reviewing the classes that are available so the skills shortage list will be constantly reviewed.

I know that the local member, Michael McCormack, will be working closely with Rex to ensure that their requirements are fulfilled.

JOURNALIST: Minister just quickly on the news today – the possible extradition of Neil Prakash to Australia – what happened to stripping terrorists of citizenships and not letting them back into the country? Was that just a political standing?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all, Neil Prakash is an Australian citizen and that brings certain rights, but if he returns to Australia I'm sure that our authorities, law enforcement, security and intelligence, will be very interested in meeting with him.

JOURNALIST: Should we be paying for an extradition of him and how much will it cost?

JULIE BISHOP: I haven't got those details. Extradition matters are within the responsibility of the Attorney-General's Department but it's important for Australia to hold people to account for their conduct overseas if it relates to terrorist activities.

The Australian Government has been absolutely firm that if people go overseas to support terrorist activities then they are putting not only the lives of the citizens in the countries that they are visiting in danger, but they are putting in danger the lives of Australians and we have clamped down very, very strongly on those who seek to support or work with, or train with, terrorist organisations and we will continue to do so.

I have cancelled hundreds of passports of Australian citizens who were planning to go overseas to train and work with terrorist organisations. There are about 200 Australian citizens who are currently under investigation for seeking to support terrorist organisations. We've enhanced our resourcing for our Australian security, intelligence, defence and law enforcement agencies. The Australian Government will not rest in our quest to combat terrorism wherever it occurs and to keep the Australian people as safe as possible, both home and abroad.

JOURNALIST: Great, and just on another issue, I guess the media reform changes this week – or the proposed ones – what do you think of those?

JULIE BISHOP: I think it's a very comprehensive package. It's been welcomed by the media organisations and, for those who know the diversity of the media organisations in this country, I think that's quite an achievement on the part of the Minister for Communications.

They were necessary reforms, licence fees were from a bygone era, spectrum changes, the changes to anti-syphoning - I think that the changes, the reforms that we have made will ensure that the Australian media industry can continue to be sustainable into the future.

JOURNALIST: Back to the 457 visas, have you spoken to REX about their concerns or offered any kind of assurances?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes I've spoken to John Sharp about the matter and of course, I know their local member, Michael McCormack has.

We've assured REX, and we assure others, that if there are genuine skill shortages of course we can review the occupations list from time-to-time.

We want to make sure that the 457 visa class is not abused as it was under the former Labor government. Bill Shorten was the champion of providing 457 visas where there were actually Australians who wanted to take the jobs. The idea of the 457 visa was abused by Labor so what we've done is put integrity back in the system of the need for skilled visas. We'll have two new visas available, the classes of occupations will be constantly under review, but the idea is to give Australians the opportunity to get a job, that is, a skilled job. That's why we have a fund to provide the support for Australians to gain skills, the training, the education that they need to take these jobs.

If there isn't an Australian that is available to do it then of course we support employers bringing in skilled workers from overseas.

JOURNALIST: What about also for, we've got a lot of meat workers around the region and sometimes you know, they say it's not necessarily that there aren't people there to work, it's that they don't want to do that kind of work?

JULIE BISHOP: Well again, in our budget we've made changes to the – and introducing reforms – to those that we want to get off welfare and get into a job. The best welfare that you can provide anyone is an opportunity to have a job. There have been changes in the budget to ensure that everybody who wants to work gets an opportunity to work, but you can't expect the taxpayer to support people who refuse to work. If there are opportunities available and they are able-bodied and can do it, well then they should be encouraged to do so.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK: And the fact that Cootamundra abattoirs closed recently with 225 workers, there is a workforce there that are ready and able and willing to take jobs and hopefully they will be very mobile as well. Of course I think the meat workers who are looking for a job also need to understand that sometimes you do have to travel to take up employment opportunities. Similarly, those abattoirs which are looking for meat workers, whether that's here in the Riverina or elsewhere, should be encouraged – and I know that they are through Job Active – to look at those Cootamundra workers who were laid-off when the abattoir closed and to consider them.

JOURNALIST: Michael, just a local one for you – the Teachers Federation is obviously up-in-arms about the school funding changes. Do you agree that no Riverina school will be better off under Gonski 2.0?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK: The 128 schools I represent in the Riverina and Central West are all going to get needs-based funding – more funding than they've ever had before and certainly since we've come to government in 2013, there has been record school funding year-on-year. That will continue and the Teachers Federation are just playing silly union games – I could appreciate that, I understand that that's their job to do, but they should actually be cheering. They should be putting out media releases praising the Turnbull Government for the delivery, for the outcomes, for the funding, that we have given them, to schools right throughout the nation and particularly in regional areas.

There are 9,400 schools in Australia and almost all of them have received a funding boost thanks to the Budget, thanks to our responsible Budget, and making sure that we know that education is a great enabler and that's why we have supported education in such a large way in this Budget.

JOURNALIST: So do you dispute the figures that they've put out in those press releases?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK: Well of course I would dispute the figures, I mean, we are providing year-on-year record funding for schooling. We have provided more funding for the 128 schools that I represent across the Riverina and Central West and I don't have to take the budget's figures word for it, I'm also taking the word of the Principals, the parents, the staff and even, indeed, some of the students who've told me and my office that they are very, very pleased with the outcome that has been given thanks to the budget.

It's a responsible budget, it's a fair budget and it certainly backs education all the way, particularly in regional areas.

Thanks very much.

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