Transcript – MDBA Announcement – Doorstop – Griffith, NSW – 13 March 2019

With:

The Hon David Littleproud MP, Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources

The Hon Niall Blair MLC, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, and Minister for Trade and Industry

The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories, Member for Farrer

Mr Austin Evans MP, Member for Murray NSW

Ms Perin Davey, NSW Nationals candidate for The Senate

Mr Phillip Glyde, Chief Executive, Murray Darling Basin Authority

E&OE

Subjects: Decentralisation of Murray Darling Basin Authority jobs; Murray Darling Basin Plan; water policy and risk of Labor; leadership; Katrina Hodgkinson, Nationals’ candidate for Gilmore; Building Better Regions Fund

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

It’s great to be here today with the Deputy Prime Minister, with my good mate Niall Blair State Minister, local Member Sussan Ley and obviously Austin Evans and our Senate candidate Perin Davey. This is an historic day as it was on the 14th of December when the Commonwealth and the Basin States for the first time in our nation’s history agreed on the management of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the biggest environmental program in our nation’s history. Part of that was around co-operation with the States and can I firstly single out Niall Blair for his leadership. When I became Water Minister there was a lot of anger, there was a lot of bitterness, there was a lot of name-calling. What he brought to the table with the other States was leadership. And that’s what people up and down the Basin Plan wanted, was leadership, and we provided it.

We provided stability. We’re providing sustainable diversion limits, the Northern Basin Review, and then the neutrality test and the 450. The hard work is done but is now up to the implementation of this Plan.

And to implement it, those that manage the river should live on the river. So I’m proud to say today that there will be 30 employees of the Murray Darling Basin Authority here in Griffith. This is an enormous investment in this community. This is about bringing potentially 30 new families to Griffith. This is about saying we understand the pain you have gone through but we are going to work through this Plan. It’s not a perfect Plan but it’s the best one that we can get, and in fact we’ve got bipartisanship for the first time in our nation’s history. It is something we as a Parliament, we as a nation should be proud of. And to you Niall Blair, for your leadership mate, it is something that is a legacy that you will leave for years to come. So mate thank you.

NIALL BLAIR:

Can I firstly thank the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Littleproud on honouring their agreement. This was part of our negotiations to make sure that we got the final pieces of the puzzle put together so we can then go and implement the Plan. But we know that our communities have been suffering and we know that they have been frustrated that some of the decisions that have been made in Canberra didn’t take into consideration the local impacts or local knowledge. And the best way to get over that is to put the people that make the decisions, the people that are in the meetings, in the communities that are affected by those decisions.

So that was something that we put to Minister Littleproud in December, along with Victoria, as part of the way forward and the final negotiation pieces on the 450 upwater – we wanted the Authority to be located in the communities that are impacted by its decisions. And today they’re honouring that: 30 positions coming here to Griffith; 30 families that are going to have to learn how to support either the Blacks or the Swans or some of the other local sporting teams here are going to make a difference, not just because of their contribution their job will make to this community but more importantly the decisions that they make, the decisions that they can look at the impacts of those decisions, will make a huge impact on all of the industry here in the MIA and down in towards the Murray.

We want to see the decisions taking into consideration those local issues; the decisions that they make – they can have a good look at the eyes of the people that they shop with on a daily basis or mix within their community, and that is something that you can’t get being based in Canberra.

So thank you to Minister Littleproud; thank you to the Deputy Prime Minister, for making sure that they have honoured this agreement. This is something that is certainly welcome, not just here in Griffith but more importantly in regional NSW. Decision-makers should see the impacts of their decisions. The only way you do that is to live in the river community and that’s what we’re seeing here at the moment: Live in an irrigation district; make sure that they have close contact with the people and the stakeholders that are affected by those decisions. So thank you.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Griffith is one of the – they will tell you it is the – best farming districts in Australia, make no mistake. I represented this area and was very very proud to do so for six years. I think this decision today is very very worthwhile; I think it’s fantastic. Griffith punches well above its weight when it comes to irrigation farming. I don’t see too many irrigation channels in Canberra. I certainly see a lot around Griffith. I certainly see a lot around Narrandera, around Hillston, around Leeton, Coleambally – this is Irrigation Central. This is the irrigation community that does so much for Australia’s export opportunities, that does so much for our domestic supply - of whatever they need, whether it’s cotton, whether it’s rice, whether it’s vegetables: They grow it here at Griffith and they do so because we ask them to. As a Commonwealth we sent World War One veterans out here to plough this dry sand, to plough this dry dirt, and they turned it into the Garden of Eden.

What we’re doing today, what we’ve announced today – not just for Griffith but also for Mildura, for Murray Bridge, has continued the decentralisation agenda that the Federal Liberal and Nationals’ Government has put into place: More than 300 jobs already decentralised to regional communities.

Today’s announcement of 30 jobs for Griffith continues on from that. But it doesn’t happen through chance; it doesn’t happen through coincidence. It happens because you have a Federal Liberal and Nationals’ Government, fighting hard for regional communities. We’ve got people such as Sussan Ley, such as Austin Evans, such as Perin Davey, making sure that the voice of the regions is heard, making sure that the regional Liberals and that the Nationals are in there around the Ministerial table or around Government, making sure that the right decisions are being taken for and on behalf of regional communities.

That’s what we do all the time. Regional communities are our focus. I congratulate David Littleproud; I congratulate Niall Blair. This is the right decision to be taken and I know that Mayor John Dal Broi is going to be delighted, as is the whole Griffith community, because they can walk down Banna Avenue and see somebody from the Murray Darling Basin Authority and have a chat to them on a Saturday morning – see them at the soccer, see them at the footy, see them at church or social outings and say: Look, this is something that we need; this is something we can talk about.

Having people who have the authority, have the decision-making power in the community is just the right thing to do. I know Phillip Glyde from the MDBA is right behind it too. I congratulate all concerned and I’m sure Sussan Ley will endorse my remarks as well, Sussan.

SUSSAN LEY:

Thank you very much, Deputy Prime Minister. To you as a neighbour, friend and senior Minister it’s fantastic that you’re here in Griffith. To the Water and Agriculture Minister, thank you. To Niall Blair, the States I always see as holding the line on the Basin Plan when it gets a little bit out of control so thank you Niall for holding that line on so many occasions. And to you John Dal Broi the Mayor, this is great news for your city and you community.  

But today is also about a presence for the Murray Darling Basin Authority in the Southern Basin, because the Southern Basin has been the most affected by the Murray Darling Basin Plan, by Labor’s awful buyback of water and by a set of circumstances that has really made a lot of farmers’ lives in this region very very difficult indeed.

So I will say, and I know Austin Evans as the Member for Murray will say, the soon to be re-elected Member for Murray…

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Hear hear!

SUSSAN LEY:

…is that water is our number one issue. It always is, in good times as well as bad.

So Phillip, thank you for your leadership of the MDBA and I think my message to you is that when your people get here they will be busy. They will have a wide reach, complementing the presence in Mildura and obviously further downstream in Murray Bridge. They will have a lot to do to get out and about and I know they will – because we do need to reflect in certain situations perhaps revisit a Plan as David Littleproud said is sensible, workable and while not perfect is the Plan that we have. But flexibility within that Plan is always possible, I say, particularly when it comes to allocations of environmental water.

So it’s a great day again for the Southern Basin and we look forward to many more. And a final shoutout to my female colleague Perin Davey on the Coalition Senate ticket for NSW – no-one I think who has better understanding of water allocations and entitlements, certainly on the Murray system where Perin has worked for quite some time, and also on the Murrumbidgee.

We really do have here today people who are determined to make a difference when it comes to irrigation and growing food with the water that is our gift to the region. Thank you.

AUSTIN EVANS:

This is a fantastic day for the Murray electorate, a fantastic day for Griffith, to see the MDBA going to have 30 jobs here. Whilst it’s a great thing for the 30 jobs and we really love that, the real nub of this is the fact that we’re going to have that communication - people being able to see in the MDBA what’s going on in these communities.

We talk about the Murray Darling Basin as if it’s this great huge kidney-shaped thing; well the reality of it is, the pointy end of it is in communities like this that bear the brunt of the Basin plan: Irrigation communities. 70% of NSW irrigation entitlement is in my electorate here and this is where the crux of the Basin Plan is hitting home.

So it is a fantastic announcement to have the MDBA relocating 30 jobs to here so that we can move on and get the sensible outcome of this Plan that has been forced on us.

PERIN DAVEY:

Thank you for the opportunity to say some words – this is a really exciting step today. But it’s also the culmination of efforts by irrigation farmers and community groups across the Basin for many years. I started working in water reform and water policy back in 2010. And right back in those days, communities were saying: If you’re making these decisions that impact on us, you need to live in our community so you understand what it means.

So for this to finally be realised is really exciting. I believe that when the MDBA relocates out here, and to Mildura and Murray Bridge, and Goondiwindi, they will understand the frustration that some of our communities feel when they keep hearing cries for more when they’ve got no more left to give.

We need to progress the Basin Plan, finish the implementation but do it from a level of understanding so we really know what it means to the communities where the impact will be felt.

QUESTION:

On the move, will it be junior staff that are relocated. Will there be decision-makers; do you have any specific commitments, any numbers and figures and job titles that you can tell us?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

Well for the last 24 hours I have been working on Phil Glyde to move out of Canberra (laughter). The reality is it’s from senior executive level down. The reality is we’re going to look right across the board, decision-makers right through to environmental people through to compliance people – the suite of opportunities are there. So we will be asking them to relocate and we will be looking for those that want to start up, whether they be local or from around Australia or even in fact around the globe. We saw that with the Regional Investment Corporation and with the APVMA.

QUESTION:

So any commitments on it though because there are already local engagement officers out here and that’s not worked according to this press conference.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

Well these are additional jobs. That’s what the Murray Darling Basin Authority is already doing with the engagement officers. This is going a step further. This is saying decision-makers down, those people who will impact these lives of these people who live in these communities, will be right here living with them. This is what you call Government putting services out in front of the people they are meant to serve. That’s what you call commonsense and that’s what we’re doing today.

QUESTION:

With the APVMA there was some hesitation from staff to decentralise and move to the region; are you expecting a similar sort of backlash with staff at the MDBA?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

It obviously comes down to personal decisions. But let me just say, of the last tranche of jobs we put up, 50 jobs we put up, we had 300 applications. Of those 50 jobs, there were 19 scientific roles, senior scientific roles, and we had 79 applications for those roles. So to say that people of high education standards don’t want to live in regional Australia is a lie. It’s nonsense. And we have to back and have faith in regional and rural Australia. They can deliver just as well as city Australians.

QUESTION:

Do you have details of timelines and relocation packages?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

They will start basically moving - most of these jobs will start by the end of the year. Phil has a plan to get this done by 2020 but effectively this will start immediately. It has already started. We already have 20 or so jobs that are already out in the regions – this is building on what we have already started and are formalising in a sensible methodical way. A third of the Murray Darling Basin Authority staff will now be living up and down the Basin.

QUESTION:

Will there be any support given to Griffith in terms of infrastructure? We’ve already got 60 jobs at TAFE which is great but it’s clear there is a lack of houses in the area. How do you solve those problems if there’s nowhere for these staff to live? (Interruptions)

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

Well it’s – are you real? I mean come on, let’s get serious about this. This is an announcement that is going to bring people, 30 new families, into this community. And yes we will work as we have done and we have proven, for the first time in our nation’s history, to collaborate between State, Federal and Local – you know what, let’s be proud. Let’s not pick at thing. Don’t create our own misery for our nation by you asking questions like that. (Interruption). Exactly, and we’re doing it.

QUESTION:

There’s a real housing shortage in Griffith. We’ve heard from one lady today who is moving back to Leeton because she can’t find a house in Griffith and has been looking for three months. How do you suggest we solve these issues?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

Well that’s where we collaborate. As I just said, we will continue to collaborate at all levels of Government. That’s what we should do. That’s what people want – they want outcomes. They want commonsense. And we will work with State and Local, we have proved that – for the first time we have been able to bring everyone to the table on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. It’s never been done before in our nation’s history. Let’s make sure we build on it.

NIALL BLAIR:

As a former resident of Leeton that’s not a bad thing either. (Laughter). I had five of my best years of my life in Leeton, 50 or so k’s down the road. Go out to Darlington Point. Go to Coleambally. This is something that doesn’t just help Griffith – this helps those other communities that surround it – so a shoutout to any of those other communities. The options and the opportunities are wonderful and that includes Leeton. So a big thumbs up for Leeton.

QUESTION:

Federal election is coming up – is this decentralisation move Labor-proof?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

The first thing that we have been able to do is take the politics out of the Murray Darling Basin Plan and I have to put my hand up and give a shoutout to Tony Burke. We stopped shouting at one another and we led. And that’s what the Australian public expect us to do. And that’s what we did with the States. And the fact that we have States that agree to this, of all political persuasions – they are also supportive of this in terms of delivery of the Plan. It’s an important step in the delivery of the Plan. This is good Government. This is commonsense Government in making sure that that Plan is completed in 2024.

NIALL BLAIR:

Can I add to that: From a NSW point of view though, the only way you can Labor-proof the Murray Darling Basin Plan is to step back from the threat that we’ve got from Labor at the moment to remove the buyback cap and come into our communities and start buying out water again. NSW will participate in the Murray Darling Basin Plan but it’s not a Plan at all costs. We firmly believe that opening up that buyback cap and coming back into our communities, coming back into the Murrumbidgee or back into the Murray, and doing the lazy option and trying to buy out water – that is a non-negotiable from our point of view and that’s when we would walk away. So you can Labor-proof the Murray Darling Basin Plan by Labor backing away from its threat to have those buybacks. And at a State level, anyone who want to preference Labor in 10 days’ time – they are also signing up to buybacks.

In the Murray electorate we have the Shooters and Fishers that are wanting to work with Labor. That is a tick to Tony Burke and his State Labor colleagues to come back here into this community and buy water. We won’t stand for that.

There is a very clear difference on March 23 when it comes to water and the position on property rights and buybacks. The Nats in the Murray electorate will not stand for any more buybacks. We need to see State Labor and the Shooters and Fishers rule that out and come out against Tony Burke and his plan to buy more productive water out of our communities.

QUESTION:

Minister Littleproud, you’ve made mention of the announcements for Murray Bridge, Mildura yesterday, Griffith today; I understand there’s another two to go. How many MDBA staff are being I guess put up for decentralisation or how many staff are proposed to move out to the regions?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

There’s another one to go tomorrow and I don’t want to break that seal just yet, if you will respect that. Obviously that community needs to have its moment in the sun as well. But the reality is that at the end of this there will be over 100 jobs that will be put into the regions up and down the Basin and that’s about a third of those staff that work for the Murray Darling - that’s in a balanced, sensible methodical way about making sure that we can deliver the Plan and without interruption and to get the outcomes the community wants – which is about having a connection to the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

QUESTION:

Why have you selected these locations?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

They have been predicated on essence of delivery, spread geographically around where a lot of the management of the river system is required, and being able to do it in a central way but also have the services to support that.

QUESTION:

(inaudible) timing be the upcoming state election or the federal election?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:

There is an independent business plan that is undertaken. Let’s not be cynical. Let’s just celebrate.

QUESTION:

I had a question for Mr Glyde – do you have any concerns about the quality of policy-making that this might impact, moving key decision-makers out of the Canberra office?

PHILLIP GLYDE:

First of all we welcome the investment by the Federal Government in further decentralisation. As the Minister has already mentioned, we have 10% of our staff already out there. We’ve done that over the last two years within our own budget but with this investment we can do so much more. And as the Minister has already mentioned, there’s a two year period to roll this out, to be complete, and the reason we have that long time is so that we can do this and still deliver the Basin Plan. It has a lot of tight deadlines between now and then and we are really quite comfortable with the fact that we can do this. We have experience with putting staff into the regions. We’ve already got four regional officers. We think that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

QUESTION:

What has the initial response been from staff who are looking to have to relocate?

PHILLIP GLYDE:

I haven’t been back to MDBA – we started yesterday with these announcements; so far people are just wanting to find out the details and know what’s involved. When I go back on Friday I will be talking directly to staff. Obviously we have a whole lot of consultation to do with staff; we’ve got a whole lot of consultation to do with our State colleagues, with stakeholders but also importantly the people in the communities we’re going to be locating into.

QUESTION:

Mr Glyde, as you would be well aware, there’s always been a fairly interesting relationship between Griffith and the Murray Darling Basin Authority. This is the town that burnt the Plan, there have been coffins, there have been effigies at different meetings. Do you think it will be such a warm welcome to staff here or do you anticipate there may be some teething problems?

PHILLIP GLYDE:

I don’t think there will be any teething problems. We actually do a fair bit of engagement coming in and out of the community. Sure, temperatures will always be high on such an important issue as water, but we certainly don’t anticipate any adverse reaction. In fact in all of the places we’ve been where we’ve located at the moment in terms of Albury-Wodonga, Goondiwindi and Adelaide, we’ve had nothing but welcoming signs. We also have a regional engagement officer program where we employ local people from the community on a part-time basis. In all of that experience we haven’t had any adverse pushback. I think people do want to understand the complexity of the Plan and certainly we learn a lot from talking to the locals. We have to bring in a Plan over a million square kilometres and in that million square kilometres there’s huge diversity and difference. We have to be able to pick that up in the coming years if we’re going to make this a successful reform.

QUESTION:

Are these new jobs or are they existing jobs in the MDBA?

PHILLIP GLYDE:

They are existing jobs. So as you know already we’ve got 10% of staff already out there. There’s a mixture of people moving for their own reasons – they wanted to go to those other places I’ve mentioned – but also we have a whole lot of new hires as well.  So I would expect it to be the same again because there will be some people who will not be able to leave Canberra but their jobs will have to.

QUESTION:

The Griffith Business Chamber has been (calling) for the whole of the MDBA to be moved to Griffith. Was this ever considered and why has the decision been made to spread it right out through the Basin?

NIALL BLAIR:

Well the decision is ultimately the Federal Government’s decision because it’s their agency that they are putting out and around the regions, but I think this is a really smart move. Sharing the staff amongst the States and different parts of the Basin gives a better breadth of the way that certain decisions are viewed in those communities. I know that if we were to just pick one location then there will be many other communities that would say well what about us?

Now there are many parts of the Murray Darling Basin and there are many communities that have different impacts on those decisions. That’s why I think this is a smart move. It’s pretty difficult to really understand some of those impacts sitting in an office in Canberra. But when you have staff spread throughout the communities and different parts of the system, you get that better local feedback and I think that’s why we really welcome this decision by Minister Littleproud.

He honoured his word. This was part of the deal. We wanted this to happen. The communities want this to happen, and they have delivered – so deal done. These guys are getting stuff done. And that’s the thing that is making a real difference not just for this community but everyone that relies upon water throughout the Murray Darling Basin.

QUESTION:

Is there concern that staff will be spread over so many locations that internal communication could be kind of an issue?

NIALL BLAIR:

No. It’s 2019. We have companies that operate globally. This is the way of doing business. This is the way of making sure that local knowledge and local impacts are incorporated into decision-making. You only do that by having people based in those communities. I guarantee that there will be more knowledge passed on either on the side of a sporting field or at a café than what you may get in a formal meeting or a formal briefing. The people in this community – they live and breathe water. You could probably walk up and down Banna Avenue and pick 10 people that probably know more – know more – about the Murray Darling Basin Plan and its impacts than people who have PhDs and are probably sitting in a university or in Canberra...because they are impacted; they have skin in the game.

That’s why this is such a fantastic move. These are people who are invested in the decisions around water because they live and die by those decisions. So come and spend time with them, walk along the banks of the rivers or the irrigation channels and listen to their knowledge. Listen to their experiences. And you can only do that by decentralising a department and that’s what we’ve seen today.

QUESTION:

I have a question on water politics for perhaps local Members: This morning the Shooters and Fishers were down the road and accused the State and Federal Governments of mismanagement of the Basin Plan which has exacerbated the impacts on industry. How do you respond to that?

SUSSAN LEY:

I can certainly respond by saying that the worst effects of the Basin Plan happened before the Basin Plan, and that was Labor’s buyback in 2010. So in representing Deniliquin and Murray irrigation – I didn’t represent Murrumbidgee then – but I can speak first-hand about what happened on the Murray: It was devastating. It was awful. It was cruel and it was brutal. And it could also be repeated if Labor wins the upcoming federal election and decides to implement the policy they announced in the last week of Parliament which was to lift the buyback of 1500 gigalitres, and in so doing exposed every single community that we represent to that same pain and heartbreak.

So it’s a bit rich for people on that side of politics – and remember the Independents are on that side of politics – to accuse us of mismanagement.

AUSTIN EVANS:

I’d only endorse those comments. We’ve got the comments from the Shooters so it depends which electorate you go to is what comments you get from the Shooters. Around here they might say they are against buybacks; if you go up to Barwon in certain locations they’ll say they are for buybacks; they endorse the South Australian royal commission which for everyone in this area was an horrific joke. It was incredibly terrible.

We have been consistent – we’re consistent at a State level, at a national level, about trying to do the best to deliver this Plan. We’re getting all sorts of mixed messages from them, and they won’t confirm that they won’t support Labor. As others have said, we’ve got this threat hanging over us from the Federal Opposition water spokesman saying they want to take more water out of our communities and they want to take more buyback. The South Australian royal commission is saying that buyback doesn’t hurt anyone. Come to Wakool. Come to the towns that have been impacted incredibly – Wakool lost 53% of their full time equivalent jobs. It is just horrific. And this is one of the great things of this Plan: It brings people on the ground, they can’t make ridiculous statements like that when they see that gong on first hand.

QUESTION:

Mr McCormack, what do you make of Barnaby Joyce’s comment this morning that his leadership comment may have been a misstep?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well I agree with him.

QUESTION:

John Barilaro says the Federal Nationals should shut up. Do you accept that there has been division in the Party and that may have damaged the NSW Nationals’ chances at the state election?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The fact is there was a lot of media hype this week and yes there were a few statements made. Barnaby has withdrawn his remark that he made earlier in the week. The fact is we’re getting on with, focused on what people want us to be focused on: jobs, outcomes for regional areas such as decentralisation, making sure that the power bills are affordable; making sure that there’s downward pressure on costs of living – those are the things that I’m focused on; those are the things David Littleproud is focused on federally and certainly I know Perin Davey and Austin Evans are fighting hard for that; Sussan Ley, Niall Blair – we all are.

All of us here are focused on what really matters, what really counts, and that is jobs for regions – they are the sorts of things that people want us to be talking about. They are the sort of things that I will be focused on, and making sure that we help our State colleagues in every which way to be returned on March 23. Anybody who thinks that the Berejiklian/Barilaro Government doesn’t deserve another term is completely off with the fairies. The fact is they have been a very good Government.

Somebody asked me a number about NSW today and I said 3.9 is a good place to start: 3.9% is the unemployment rate in NSW – best in the nation. They have $90 billion that they are spending on infrastructure in the next four years. There’s more cranes over Sydney than any capital city in the United States of America. There’s more money being spent in rural NSW than there ever has been before. Look at the 48 hospitals and MPSs that The Nationals and the regional Liberals in State Government have built since 2011. Before that we had 16 years of desolation and despair – the four Premiers that ran the joint from Macquarie Street for Labor, if they ever came over the Great Divide they didn’t care about it. They never care about rural and regional NSW. They never care about rural and regional Australia. Nationals in Government do; regional Liberals do; that’s why we’re fighting hard whether it’s Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro, Scott Morrison or myself as Leaders of this nation and this State – we’re in there fighting hard and focusing on the things that matter.

QUESTION:

How did you feel about the responses in regard to your leadership that Mr Littleproud and Bridget McKenzie gave yesterday?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The fact is Bridget McKenzie, the Deputy Leader and David Littleproud are supportive of my leadership. They know that we are getting behind the things that matter – the ordinary everyday people that live in regional Australia who expect us to be focused on jobs. That’s what they’re doing, that’s what I’m doing – that’s my focus.

QUESTION:

I understand the Prime Minister has a new nickname for you: You’ve got ScoMo and Big Mac. What do you make of that? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, McHappy Day for calling me Big Mac (Laughter). That’s all well and good. ScoMo call me Big Mac – that’s fine. (Laughter). I’m a big man with a big job to do and I’m out there doing it every day of the week.

QUESTION:

On Inland Rail, Mr McCormack, there’s been some talk recently that there are prospective really encouraging freight rate figures that CSIRO are projecting. We’re talking tonnage, dollar per tonne reduction at the farm gate – can you shed any light on that?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Yes - lower costs than the original anticipated $10 per tonne. This is fantastic. When CSIRO puts their name to something you know they have done a lot of independent research; you know they have done a lot of analysis on it. We want to make sure that if you are carting something from a regional area to a port, to another market that has been opened up thanks to a Liberal and Nationals Government, then you want to pay less for it, you want to pay a reduced freight tonnage. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what the Inland Rail does. That’s why the Federal Government has invested more than $9 billion – that’s nine thousand million dollars – into this project. It is going to be transformational for the Riverina, for the Central West indeed right up and down that 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce. It’s a fantastic investment. We’re getting on with it. We’ve dropped the last 14,000 tonnes of steel off at Parkes the other day, in Central Western NSW, now in the Riverina electorate. That’s Whyalla Steel. That’s Liberty Steel. That’s South Australian steel. That’s Australian jobs and that’s what we’re getting on with and that’s what we’re focused on.

QUESTION:

Are you happy about how Katrina Hodgkinson has been received by voters in Gilmore?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Absolutely. You meet Katrina Hodgkinson, you love her. You meet Katrina Hodgkinson, you know that in her you have somebody with 20 years’ experience at a State level of politics – 20 years’ experience making sure that rural and regional NSW people were cared about, making sure that their demands and their expectations and what they deserved was delivered upon. She’s getting out and about the seat of Gilmore. I know she is going to be a real winner there, a real hit there. She brings that primary industries experience as a Cabinet Minister in the NSW Government – but she also brings all the down-to-earth qualities that you would expect in a really really good Member for Gilmore.

She’s a mum; she’s a businesswoman; she’s a fantastic wife – she ticks absolutely every box as far as what we want in a representative in the Federal Parliament is concerned. I need Katrina Hodgkinson in my Nationals team, to continue to fight hard for rural and regional people. That’s what she delivers. That’s what she will bring.

QUESTION:

Do you think that she will have the support of Liberal and Nationals members on the ground, or will you be bringing people in throughout the election?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Absolutely we will and absolutely she will – she resonates with good humour, she resonates strength, she resonates all the sorts of things you’d want in an MP. She’s down-to-earth, she’s practical, she’s pragmatic but she’s certainly a fighter and she will fight hard for the people of Gilmore. She will fight hard for them leading up to the election. She has made that her home and she will fight hard for them after she gets elected.

QUESTION:

There was a horrifying news story out this morning about an aged care patient at a Bupa facility down on the South Coast that had maggots found in a head wound. Bupa has sanctions against nine of its aged care homes around the country apparently, one of which is here in Griffith. Do you think the Federal Government should be taking stronger action against Bupa given the recent spate of reports of mismanagement?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

That’s why there is a royal commission into aged care and that’s why we’re working hard to make sure that these sorts of horrific reports, and others, will obviously go before that royal commission. We’re certainly taking action. Ken Wyatt has been out this morning, as the Minister responsible, talking about the need to take care of those people in care. These are some of society’s most vulnerable people. We need to take care of them as best we can. They need to have maximum support, maximum love and support shown to them in their twilight years. They have worked hard to make this nation the great place it is and we should be able to make sure that we work hard to make sure that they have the very best of life.

QUESTION:

A royal commission isn’t going to deliver answers and solutions though.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

That’s what royal commissions are actually for – royal commissions are there to deliver solutions and answers. That’s why we had a banking royal commission. That’s why we’ve looked at all the recommendations and we are working through those, right at the minute. That’s why we are going to have a royal commission into the disability services sector. That’s why we’re having a royal commission into the aged care sector. That’s what royal commissions actually do. They do make recommendations; they do provide answers and solutions and we’ll work with that royal commission. Also obviously as Minister Wyatt said this morning, he will do everything he can to make sure that these sorts of situations that have been unearthed are rectified.

QUESTION:

Just bringing you back to Wagga, apparently it’s been leaked that Wagga PCYC has missed out on federal funding leaving it at a standstill. What’s your response to this?


MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The fact is it was a very competitive round; $200 million we spent on the latest Building Better Regions Fund. Had we invested in every single one of the many many hundreds of applications and very good applications right across the nation, we would have probably spent more than $1.2 billion. There were hundreds of applications; the PCYC’s was one of them. I urge and encourage them to apply for the next round, the next round which will come under a re-elected Liberal and Nationals Federal Government. The fact is, if there’s not a re-elected Liberal and Nationals Government the Building Better Regions Fund and all the other regional funding programs besides – that will be the first thing that goes under a Bill Shorten Government. Under a Bill Shorten Labor Greens-led Independents Government, that will be the first thing that goes. They don’t care about the regions. We do. Look, we can’t fund absolutely everything. I know, I’ve been in close communication with the PCYC. I appreciate that that was the first time that they had actually applied for that particular federal funding round. Look, I look forward to them reapplying. I know that on the corner there of Fitzhardinge Street it’s a good project. I understand that young people need somewhere to go. I understand it’s a good project but I encourage them to reapply next time.

QUESTION:

Apart from encouraging them to reapply will you be doing anything else to help them progress and obtain further funding?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Like I said they need to reapply. Like I say, it was a good funding submission that they put in, but it was very much over-subscribed. It’s very much a competitive tender process, a competitive submission process. There could have been $1.2 billion worth of applications funded right across the nation, had we funded each and every one of the hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of applications received. Riverina didn’t miss out, let me tell you; we’ve had some really good things, the biggest of which was the $5.3 million for the Temora Airport upgrade which I have to tell you, having landed at that particular airport, could eventually save lives because the airport runway needed to be resealed and when we had the last big floods it was underwater. So we needed to make sure that that was a priority. It’s been rewarded under this funding program. I might add that Temora Council and the stakeholders there had applied more than once as well. They have been lucky enough to get the funding this time, And PCYC I urge and encourage them to apply again next time.

[ENDS]

Media contacts:

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Dom Hopkinson, 0409 421 209

 

 

Hannah Maguire