Transcript - Press Conference - Darwin NT - 29 March 2019

With:
Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs; Senator for the Northern Territory
E&OE

Subjects: Funding for Roads of Strategic Importance for NT; road safety; CSIRO study of the Roper River catchment; funding for road safety campaign; Murray Darling Basin; CDP employment programs.

NIGEL SCULLION:

Well, good morning. What a fantastic day it is because we’re in Darwin. So it’s a delight to welcome our Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to Darwin. He’s just opened the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Conference here and of course, we’re all just so thrilled to see half a billion dollars of investment in some of our most important road corridors in the Territory but I’m sure Michael have more to say about that. It’s just wonderful to be here Jacinta Price, the candidate for Lingiari, and with Kathy Ganley, the candidate for Solomon. So, thank you very much, and thanks very much for coming up here, Michael. We really appreciated the announcement.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Good. Good. Well, look, firstly, I’ll acknowledge the fact that both Kathy and Jacinta are doing an outstanding job campaigning for their respective seats. What we need is representatives of the CLP in those seats; what we need is more regional representation in our Parliament; and what we need is strong people, determined people who are going to make the voice of the Top End continue to be heard in the Parliament. It’s been heard through Nigel Scullion and I absolutely, absolutely acknowledge the many years of dedicated service that he’s done for the Top End, for Indigenous Affairs, and for people in the Northern Territory in general. He has fought the good fight for them and I wish him all the very best for the future. But I also hope that Sam McMahon can take his place and certainly make sure that the Top End’s voice continues to be heard in the Senate, in Australia’s Parliament.

Today, I’ve opened the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Conference here – a really, really important conference, the 35th. We acknowledged Grant Heaslip and the contribution he made as the inaugural president but moreover, that pioneering spirit that goes right through the cattle industry here in the Top End. Live exports of cattle to Indonesia are so critical, so critical. They provide so many hundreds of millions of dollars to the NT economy and we want to continue that. The fact is Labor and the Greens: they want to take that industry away. They want to stop that trade, that trade which means so much to the Top End, so much to its economy. We know that the Port of Darwin is the largest live cattle export industry port in the world. The Port of Darwin the is the busiest port in all of the world when it comes to live cattle exports. And of course, we’ve just signed that trade arrangement with Indonesia, which can only enhance our relationship and our trade opportunities with our northern neighbour, so that is a good thing. That will all come under risk if Bill Shorten becomes the Prime Minister.

But moreover, today, I was delighted to announce some really important initiatives. First of all, $492.3 million going to five road corridors under the Roads of Strategic Importance for the Top End, for the Northern Territory – those five corridors – as part of a process that we worked with the cattle industry, we worked with agriculture, we worked with local government, and we worked with the Territory Government to identify the corridors – not necessarily national highways and byways, but those secondary roads which are feeder roads, which means such a difference to industries, particularly the cattle industry, getting stock to port and obviously to markets are quicker, sooner, safer. That’s what it’s all about – and making sure that tourism routes are also opened up; making sure that Aboriginal communities in the remote Top End are also better connected with the rest of the territory; and making sure that we identify these areas along with industry stakeholders. Almost half a billion dollars going to improve those roads: the work will start now. That Roads of Strategic Importance Fund right throughout the nation, a $3.5 billion investment in regional Australia, is going to make such a difference.

We’re also investing money in a CSIRO study, $3.5 million, to look at the Roper River catchment area to improve agriculture, to potentially unlock so much more of irrigation investment in the Top End. That’s a significant investment too. As well, there’s $2.2 billion in a new road safety strategy. Now last year, 50 people lost their lives on roads in the Northern Territory. That’s 50 too many. That’s 50 people who weren’t at home for Christmas. That’s 50 people who are so sorely missed now and into the future, mourned by their loved ones, and a real loss to the Northern Territory. We don’t want to see a single person, not one person, die on any roads in Australia and that’s why we’re investing $2.2 billion into a new road safety strategy. So that involves money for better roads, money for better roads particularly in regional areas. A new Office of Road Safety will sit within the Infrastructure Department to ensure that we talk with people, whether it’s key stakeholders such as Lauchlan McIntosh, whether it’s local government people, people from the Top End. We want to hear their stories. We want to hear what we can do to improve on road safety.

Last year, 1100 people lost their lives. That number was down on the previous year. But the fact is we need to do more as we head towards vision zero, towards zero, by 2050. We want to make that an absolute national agenda. We are. That’s why we’re putting so much importance on this strategy. That’s why we’re particularly focused on regional areas because regional people are all too often overrepresented in road statistics. Those statistics, yes, they’re numbers but they’re also people, they’re family members, they’re loved ones.

And so, these important announcements: road safety, the Roper River strategy as far as irrigation and water infrastructure is concerned as part of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, that billion dollars’ worth of commitment, $1.3 billion already on the table, $500 million of new money towards building better infrastructure, and of course the Roads of Strategic Importance announcement.
It’s really good to be here in Darwin making those announcements. What better place to do it than Darwin? It’s such a vibrant, bustling place and we only want to see Darwin grow even more into the future as well as the entire Northern Territory.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We’re building better roads. We’re making sure that small business has the opportunity to grow even further. So what we’ve done is we’ve decreased the taxation rate for small business to its lowest point since 1940. We’ve increased the instant asset write-off to $25,000 and extended it into the future. So we want business to grow. We have a decentralisation agenda. I know Bridget McKenzie is working with the Territory, I know she’s working with businesses to see what Government Departments and indeed what private sector investment can be made, not just in Darwin but indeed the entire Northern Territory. I know how hard Nigel Scullion has worked in that regard too.

QUESTION:

What do you think of Pauline Hanson’s claim that the Al Jazeera documentary was edited, taken out of context, the question stuff. I mean what did you make of claims?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

That’s a matter for Pauline Hanson. I suppose only she and her representatives know the full extent of the full interviews and what was said and what perhaps wasn’t said and how much it may or may not have been edited. The fact is that what was shown was very alarming. The fact is we do not sell our democracy. One Nation has been dubbed Gun Nation and that is very unfortunate for our democracy, very unfortunate for all those people who believe that we’ve got the right gun laws in place, and I think that is the majority of Australians. And Tim Fischer I have to say, a former National Party Leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, did an outstanding job in that regard – under a lot of pressure after the Port Arthur massacre – to make sure that we got the right balance when it came to gun laws. Our gun laws are correct. We go to bed safe and secure at night knowing that we’ve got the right gun laws in place and that’s thanks to the National Party in Government working with the Liberals at the time in the mid-1990s when it was a fair bit more difficult than perhaps even now. The fact is we don’t need our gun laws weakened in any way shape or form and we certainly don’t need our democracy sold to overseas interests.

QUESTION:

So with that said, were you aware that Scott Morrison was going to preference One Nation behind Labor? Were you aware that he was to make that announcement yesterday?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Scott Morrison and I speak very regularly about all sorts of things and, yes, Scott Morrison did tell me that. And Scott Morrison also talks to me about infrastructure, road safety developments, Members of Parliament. He wants, like I want, to build a better Australia. He knows the importance of regional Australia, he knows the importance of better infrastructure and he also knows the importance of making sure that we have a safe and more secure Australia. And that’s why he and I and the Members of the Liberal and National Parties are working hard all the time to achieve just that.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] happy with LNP’s decision last night to preference One Nation behind Labor?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well that’s the Liberal seats within the LNP and the National Party Members who sit with the LNP will be, as we always have, deciding their preferences where they see fit. That’s always happened in the National Party. We have LNP members who sit with the National Party; they will continue to be able to go on and place their preferences where they see fit.

I’m hoping that none of our preferences get distributed anyway, because if you finish first or second your preferences don’t get distributed. I’ve always put the Greens last. I will continue to do that. I think the Greens represent the most clear and most present danger to our regional communities. They will go on doing that. They want to tell farmers what they can do and what they can’t do, where they can farm and where they can’t farm and what they can grow. They also want 100 per cent renewables. They, like Labor, want an emissions reduction target which is going to absolutely put the brakes on farming as we know it. We need to continue to grow the very best food and fibre in this nation, and we’ll go on doing that under the Liberal Nationals Government. We won’t be able to do it under a Greens Labor Independent alliance.

QUESTION:

Sure, but given what we’ve seen in the last couple of days surely Nationals across the board, including [indistinct]

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I’m quite happy with the National Party Members determining at a local level – this is democracy at the local level – where they put their preferences. I’m quite, quite comfortable with that and the fact is we will go on representing our electorates as fiercely as we’ve always done and we’ll make sure that democracy at work operates into the future. And this is democracy at work, local people deciding what’s best at a local level. That’s what the Nationals have always done. That’s what we’ll continue to do.

QUESTION:

So you have no qualms with a Nationals Member putting One Nation in front of Labor preferencing wherever [indistinct]?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No I don’t.

QUESTION:

Labor’s announced that negative gearing, those changes that it’s proposed, will come in from 1 January if it wins office. Do you think it’s a good thing that they’re providing certainty ahead of an election?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Certainty? Certainty you say? Hardly certainty for all those ambulance officers, all those police officers, all those firies who negatively gear properties, who make investments, who work hard for their future. It’s no certainty for them.

Negative gearing has given people certainty. It’s given people recompense for their hard work, making sure that they can invest in a better future. We don’t want a nation that is going to be totally reliant on welfare. We have an ageing population and we want out our people who invest and back themselves and buy another property and negative gear it to be able to continue to do that. Bill Shorten and Labor stand against negative gearing. They want to rip away the retirement savings of older Australians who have worked hard to get shares and to get dividends and want their franking credits. This is what the modern Labor Party does – want to rip away franking credits, want to rip away negative gearing prospects for hardworking Australians and they don’t stand in favour of businesses, farming families, households as far as when it comes to putting up another $200 billion worth of taxes and pushing energy prices through the roof. That’s what Labor stands for. We stand for everything opposite.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Road funding for Queensland? Well, it’s going to be significant and the fact is we’re getting on with building more corridors through the Roads of Strategic Importance announcement. We’re getting on with building the Bruce Highway. We’re looking at the Warrego, lots of other roads in Queensland as well as part of the Northern Australian Roads Program; Beef Roads; ROSI announcements that we’ve just made. The Outback Way: we’ve invested $160 million in the Outback Way which starts at Winton in Queensland and goes all the way through to Laverton in Western Australia; put $160 million on the table for that. $33.5 million is the Queensland component. We are sealing roads that were always unsealed. We’re making sure at the same time as we build better roads and put down better facilities for our cattle industry, for our agricultural industry, we’re also making sure that the top end of Queensland gets well looked after following the recent flooding, following the recent cyclone event.

I mean there’s already been hundreds of millions of dollars go out the door. I commend the Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the swiftness with which he acted in conjunction with Linda Reynolds, the Emergency Services Minister, to make sure that those farmers were well looked after, to make sure that the $75,000 that they needed right there and then, there were no strings attached, no bureaucracy, no paperwork needed, just money into their into their bank accounts so that they could try to restock, so that they could try to rebuild their lives as quickly as they can. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with those farmers, with those communities going into the future. I’m delighted that millions of dollars are being spent on better radar facilities. That was just announced yesterday and Jane McNamara, one of the outstanding Mayors from that area, has been on the phone to me already twice to thank me earnestly for that commitment, only brought about because the Nationals in Government were in there fighting hard and making sure that that was identified as one of the key necessary amenity infrastructure upgrades that was required after that terrible storm and flood. And we’re getting on with the job of rebuilding that particular area of Queensland just like we’re standing side by side with our drought stricken farmers.

That’s why the Drought Future Fund is so important. This is a Drought Future Fund, $3.9 billion dollars already on the table going up to $5 billion, that Labor opposed. How could the Labor Party, in conjunction with the Greens, oppose a Future Drought Fund? It just beggars belief. The fact is we will stand beside our drought communities. We will stand beside them and make sure that we’ve got the best options available to them to help them through this crisis, and Labor unfortunately will not.

JOURNALIST:

And just a question from my colleagues in South Australia, Burke says he will rescind changes that mean water can only be returned to the environment …

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Burke as in Tony Burke?

JOURNALIST:

Tony Burke, yeah, sorry.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Right.

JOURNALIST:

Into the environment, there’s no [indistinct]?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, Labor’s only ever stood for buyback. It’s a lazy political approach. I crossed the floor against the Murray Darling Basin Plan in 2012 to make sure that we capped buyback, to make sure that this nonsensical policy of leaving stranded assets and the Swiss cheese effect of river communities, of farming irrigation communities, did not continue. What we’ve ended up with is a Murray Darling Basin Plan that is workable, that is adaptable. Yes, it’s not perfect and you would get environmentalists who want all the water to go out of the mouth of the Murray and to Ramsar identified areas; I appreciate that. We also have farming communities who want more water to grow more food and fibre. Our farmers are the very best environmentalists in all of the world. Make no mistake, their landcare arrangements are second to none. It hasn’t rained in some of the catchment areas for seven years. Cotton farmers are getting a pretty bad rap at the moment and they haven’t had a water allocation for three years and they’re growing one per cent of the crop that they would normally grow in a good year. So, they can’t be held to blame.

The only thing that can be held to blame is the fact that it just hasn’t rained in some areas for seven years. But it will rain again, and when it does the Darling River will flow again. And when it does the Murrumbidgee and the Murray will also do well and agriculture will again prosper. But what we don’t need to do is continue to take all the water away from our farmers and give it all to the environment because let me tell you, when the drought breaks, the frogs and the fish will return and the bird life will return to these riparian areas, to these rivers and lakes and streams far quicker than our farming communities will recover. Our farming communities are going to take a long time, months, indeed years to recover from this drought. They will recover because they’re the most resilient people in the nation as well.

But what we don’t need is the Labor Party playing politics; what we don’t need is the recommendations of the South Australian Royal Commission adopted forthwith because that was a state-based and state-biased Royal Commission. What we need is common sense, and what we do also need is a bit of patience, because it will rain. And when it rains, the good times will resume. But we can’t make it rain. We’re getting on with the job of building a better regional Australia. We can do that with water, and that’s why I’ve put down on the table $500 million under the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund to help for future drought-proof our nation.

JOURNALIST:

This is just a question to the Senator from a colleague as well. What have you done in Government to improve the outcome of the CDP employment programs, [indistinct] employment program for remote Indigenous people? What are you doing now to improve it?

NIGEL SCULLION:

Well I’ve been working for the last three years in good faith, very closely with my Senate colleague Pat Dodson. It’s been unfortunate that the agreement that we have seem to have got to about the significant improvements in the community development program. At the last minute, I wanted to introduce legislation that would have introduced 6,000 jobs annually; jobs that are real jobs, award wage jobs that are half, 50 per cent, subsidised by the Commonwealth Government. Every year, an additional 6000 jobs, 20 hours. All of those things that people have said to us- a reduction in hours; we’re making sure that Centrelink is out of your lives, that if you’ve got one of the 6000 jobs, it’s a real job anyway. But for those who remain, Centrelink will be out of your life. The provider in that community will have the capacity to be able to make decisions. Those decisions will be far more informed than a Centrelink office 200 kilometres away. So, all of these processes were put in place at the last minute. Of course, Labor, it’s a dark secret. Labor is just a dark secret. Who knows what goes on there. But at the last minute, they said: oh look, no, we don’t want play. Cracker. So I’ve gone ahead, in so much as I can without the support of the Labor Party, legislatively. So I’ve managed to find savings as part of the payment process in so much I can to introduce a thousand jobs. Now those jobs are rolling out right now. They’re back to 20 hours where all, 100 per cent, of the CDP providers are now Indigenous organisations.

So whilst we had a plan to do better than we’re able to, again we expected to be dealt with reasonably by the Labor Party who have whinged and bitched about this for some time. But we’ve been partners in it, and when we hand them the solution, they say: oh look, we just want to play politics for a while now. We’ll come up with something later. In fact, all they’ve said is we are now abandoning; there is no CDP in communities. So I don’t know what you’d do to say to the 500 odd Indigenous employees of those providers. I don’t know what you’d now say to 100 per cent of an industry that’s 100 per cent indigenous businesses. Labor had just said very glibly: we’re wiping you out and we haven’t really worked out what we’re going to do next, as ever.

So I’m very proud of the record that we have of delivering employment and economic opportunities to communities. And I think that the 6000 jobs rolling out year on year that are award rated jobs – they’re not minimum wage – is the most significant difference we can possibly make. And it’s never too late. Labor can give me a ring now. We’ve got a couple of days of sittings yet. I’ll make sure it gets t-status and we can bowl that through.

[ENDS]

Hannah Maguire