Interview with Assistant Minister McBride, Michael McCormack MP and Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing - 13 March 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's interview on the Cootamundra flooding, AUKUS, vaping and the NSW State Election.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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GREG JENNETT, HOST: It’s time now for our political panel and joining us Labor front bencher and Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, Emma's in Sydney, welcome Emma, and Nationals front bencher and Member for Riverina. Michael McCormack is in his hometown of Wagga Wagga, welcome Michael. I'm sure Emma won't object if I asked you a local question, Cootamundra, you know, inundation of flood waters? I think it's backing off what's the latest word you've got there, Michael?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK: Yeah, the waters at Mattama Creek have subsided which is good news. And I thank those first responders and indeed it was a bit of a worrying period there earlier on today, but it appears as though the floodwaters have subsided. Quite a storm and it rained all night here in Wagga Wagga. And it came down in buckets in torrents at Cootamundra and that region was very hard hit some trees down and I would urge and encourage anybody driving in that area to take every precaution.

JENNETT: Good advice. Emma your region no stranger to natural disasters of that sort. But why don't I take you over Emma McBride first of all, to AUKUS. We're on the brink of something we're told is enormous here. What's in it for people of the Central Coast?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This is significant. As has been reported, the Prime Minister is in San Diego and will be meeting tonight, our time, with the US President and the UK Prime Minister. This will see a significant transformation of our strategic posture and the work undertaken to date speaks of the shared mission between the US, Australia and the UK. I think I can echo the comments of the Defence Minister earlier today without pre-empting any announcement, that this will mean tens-of-thousands of jobs and we know for regional communities and communities across Australia this is significant. This is about defence capability, and this is about manufacturing, and this is, as the Defence Minister has said, is about jobs.

JENNETT: The numbers are enormous, aren't they? Michael it's hard to get your head around particularly. We start this you know in deficit wondering how we get to pay for things like NDIS and social welfare programs. Michael McCormack, do you think the nation actually has any comprehension of what lies ahead?

MCCORMACK: I think the nation is very worried. I agree with Emma that this is a significant announcement. AUKUS was of course started under the previous coalition government. We took very seriously, as does the current government, the sacred responsibility to look after people, to look after Australians first and foremost and mind you if we keep digging things up out of the ground and getting record prices for those things that we dig up out of the ground and export them, well, we'll be able to pay for the sort of defence capability. We spent $270 billion going ahead to 2030 on defence capability, and I urge and encourage the current government to do everything we can to maintain that spending and to ensure that we are living in a country that is safe, that has the defence strategy and capability that is fit for purpose going forward.

JENNETT: And Michael, do you think people would be prepared to pay more, pay more in their taxes to fund all of these essentials? Defence all the way through to the other programs I mentioned?

MCCORMACK: Well, it's better than the alternative. Let me put it that way. And I know how much the defence spending in my hometown of Wagga Wagga where both the RAAF and army bases have had infrastructure spending up to nearly a billion dollars and of course, they're very important training bases for the nation. And the money that has flowed through the local economy from those investments is significant. So the responsibility of government first and foremost is to protect its people. That's what this government is currently doing. That's what the previous government did. And you have to, of course, pay big time for big infrastructure and big capability. I get that. I understand that Emma McBride is right when she says there's some important announcements coming up and the coalition will look forward to what those announcements are and will certainly support the government in its endeavours to make sure that the safety of our people is first and foremost.

JENNETT: How do you think it squares up financially Emma? I mean, it’s all very well to talk about the jobs dividend which will come because it's a major investment that's happening here, but you more than anyone would be familiar with the demands on the budget for health, mental health, NDIS. Do you think there's a case to be made here Emma for higher taxes for everything we're about to put on the public purse here?

MCBRIDE: I think what is significant and as Michael has said, is the defence capability. This is a significant transformation of Australia's strategic posture. And it is significant in itself that the Prime Minister is in San Diego today and will later today meet with the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, something that is so important in our shared mission and as Michael said, this is about keeping people safe. I think it's something that the Australian people understand and want to see a strong bipartisan approach towards.

JENNETT: And Michael just because you were there at the time, or there abouts as this was first being hatched. Does it sound now familiar with the original concepts that the Morrison government was exploring? I know it was a very tightly held group of people who were involved in that?

MCCORMACK: And certainly, I kept my cards very close to my chest over many, many months, being the deputy chair of the National Security Committee Council, of course, this was top secret, and it showed what a responsible government we were for actually keeping that very tightly held. And, you know, this is the defence of our nation. We can't ever, ever underestimate what we need to do as far as making sure that people are safe. I commend the government for making sure that they're pushing ahead with AUKUS. It is a good plan. It is a good policy. Yes, it's costly. As we've seen, it could lead up to 20,000 jobs. And a lot of those, most of those, fall in Australia, or so be it South Australia is very capable with shipbuilding. We saw that in our, in our government, so is Perth, we've got a lot of the best and brightest people working in defence right across the nation. And you know, only have to point to and look at the Bendigo Built Bushmaster making such a difference in Ukraine at the moment. So we can do it both in our capital cities and regionally. We've got the capability and we've got very close ties of course with the United Kingdom and the United States and we need to make sure we do everything to keep those nations very close.

JENNETT: Yeah, last one on this Emma to you. Newcastle is nearby and it does appear that that particular port along with Brisbane has been ruled out as the East Coast base for these submarines. Does that cause you any angst as a near neighbour to Newcastle?

MCBRIDE: I'm not going to pre-empt any announcements from the Prime Minister later today. But what I will say is that I have such confidence in the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister at the helm of this project and Australian sovereign capability, and like others, I'm looking forward to the announcement later today.

JENNETT: All right, well, let's move on something that is intersecting with your responsibilities Emma, a discussion that the Queensland Premier has tried to generate around vapes should they be banned in your view?

MCBRIDE: This was raised at the Health Ministers Meeting just last month in February and the Commonwealth and the States and Territories have now stood up a working party to look at a coordinated and comprehensive approach to vaping or E-cigarettes. I was a pharmacist and someone who's accredited in nicotine addiction and smoking cessation. What concerns me from hearing from the experts is the gateway you know, particularly for young people from E-cigarettes into nicotine. And we had some of the lowest rates, or we have some of the lowest rates, of smoking around the world. And part of that is, you know, plain packaging and other reform where we've really been at the forefront globally. So I mean, as a pharmacist, I have concerns and I'm particularly concerned when I hear from high school teachers about the real problems that they're seeing in classrooms and playgrounds with E-cigarettes. So, I welcome the inquiry by the Queensland Government, but as I said, at a Commonwealth level at the Health Ministers Meeting, there is now working party that's been stood up and I'm really keen as others are to see the results of that working group.

JENNETT: Where do you land on this one? You'll of course heard many of the arguments for and against Michael, what's your own view?

MCCORMACK: Well, there it wasn't that long ago, 2018, when there were pins being found in strawberries because somebody was doing very much a terrible thing to the agricultural industry. And within hours, if not days, we passed legislation to make sure that we ban that. This vaping it's out of control. I went to a wedding the other day and it was like every, every second young person there look like Puff the Magic Dragon with fumes coming out of their nostrils. We need to do something we need to act quickly. I commend the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for what she's doing. I would urge and encourage federally to do everything we can I know Emma McBride has a history as a pharmacist, but there's somebody who also is very keen on the cessation of smoking. Vaping just leads to smoking. Let's face it. Emma McBride should actually be on the front bench she should be not back where she is. She actually should be on the front bench and pushing this. She's got a knowledge in this. I commend David Littleproud for his comments about this in the last 48 hours. We need to do everything we can. I appreciate that, you know, that it's almost gone beyond regulation. We need to make sure that E-cigarettes and vapes are available from pharmacists. And that's just about it because otherwise, in 20, 30 years’ time, our hospitals are going to be full of cases of people who have health conditions caused by vaping which led to cigarette smoking, or just long-term use of vaping which is not good for us. Let's face it. I mean, let's be honest about this. There’re enough health reports out there to suggest it is no good for your health. Let's do something serious about it. Let’s act quickly.

JENNETT: Looks like there's a bit of a consensus emerging between you both, Emma I am interested in your view, under what circumstances if it went to the model that Michael is suggesting there, that is you have to seek an over the counter or prescription-based access to vaping, under what circumstances do you think that might be permitted?

MCBRIDE: And these are the things that the working party I'm sure will look to and it's something that needs a comprehensive and coordinated approach between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, and in terms of you know, what legislation or regulations or other interventions might be, but I think the thing that concerns me as a health care practitioner and as a local MP is just the prevalence of E-cigarettes and vaping amongst young people, young people who tell me they wouldn't smoke, they’d never pick up a cigarette, but they'll vape, and I think that that's something that we need to change and that needs to be changed urgently and I'm really pleased to say that this was an agenda item at the Health Ministers Meeting in February. And will be looking forward to support the work of that working group to make sure that young Australians particularly are kept safe.

JENNETT: All right, watch this space sounds like there is room for movement there politically anyway, Michael McCormack, I don't know, this is our last topic for conversation today. I don't know how widely you've been able to travel and get a sense of the lay of the land for the broader New South Wales election, but we have two New South Wales MPs with us today. So Michael, you first the Perrottet government. What odds do you give it surviving?

MCCORMACK: Deserves to be re-elected. Dominic Perrottet and Paul Toole have done everything that they can to make sure that New South Wales is leading the way as far as economic growth is concerned. regionally, I know that Steph Cooke and Bronnie Taylor were announcing another $56 million health facility hospital in Coolamon today. That follows on in my electorate from Cowra and Temora investments. Across regional New South Wales the number of hospitals or MPS’ which have received investment, refurbishment or complete rebuilds is numbering over 60 Labor did nothing in that space when they had 16 years of failed government before we took back the reins and we deserve to be re-elected. I think Emma and I might start to disagree now.

JENNETT: I think you might too so I'll give the last word to Emma. How’s it looking up where you are Emma?

MCBRIDE: I was with our Labor candidate Sam Boughton for Terrigal this morning. He's a physio who works in aged care, has a deep interest in the environment, which is what prompted him to run, and I think really this is a question for the people of New South Wales. What sort of state do they want to live in? Do they want more of the same, you know, more privatization, more running down and public services? Where I come from a healthcare background and it's fine to build a hospital but you need to staff it. And what we've seen is the strain that healthcare workers are under right across New South Wales and particularly in regional and remote areas of New South Wales. So, you know, I think in Sam Boughton in Terrigal, we've got a fantastic candidate David Harris, the Shadow Minister for the Central Coast, David Mehan, the Member for the Entrance, Liesl Tesch, the Member for Gosford. I’m backing change.

JENNETT: You've all got your word in. You’ve all got your pitches. Michael McCormack, Emma McBride, time has beaten us. We will leave it there, thank you very much.

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