TRANSCRIPT: Press conference – Cutting red tape for farmers (heavy vehicle regulation) Murrumbateman NSW, 5 March 2019  

With:

Mr Scott Buchholz MP, Assistant Minister for Roads and Transport

Ms Sophie Wade, Nationals candidate for Eden-Monaro

Ms Pru Gordon - General Manager, Economics and Trade, National Farmers Federation

Ms Carolina Merriman, Secretary, Yass branch, NSW Farmers

Mr Ed Storey, ‘Werong’, Murrumbateman NSW

E&OE:

Subjects: Cutting red tape for farmers; regional funding; $75 billion infrastructure rollout; drought assistance; NSW election; Federal election; Kooyong electorate; work to prevent violence against women.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

It’s great to be here this morning near Murrumbateman at Ed Storey’s property, ‘Werong’. I’m here with the Assistant Roads Minister Scott Buchholz. I’m here with Ed Storey, the owner of the property. I’m also here with Carolina Merriman, with Pru Gordon from the NFF and with the Nationals candidate for Eden-Monaro Sophie Wade. We’ve got an important announcement to make today and that is that we want to ensure that heavy vehicles – certainly when it comes to farm, agricultural implements such as headers and harvesters and scarifiers and hay seeders and all those sorts of things – have the ability to move from property to property with much easier access, with a much safer access, to increase productivity, to increase efficiency.

At the moment, farmers face the difficulty of having to put in an application to move a heavy machinery piece from, sometimes, farm to farm - other times just merely from paddock to paddock across the road - and have to put in a notice several days in advance; in some cases up to 10 days in advance. Then of course they have to wait for that application to be approved. But the Federal Government, the Federal Liberal and Nationals’ Government, wants to make sure that we make this ability for farmers to move their equipment from paddock to paddock, from farm to farm, from district to district much easier.

That's going to increase safety. It's going to increase productivity. And so what we're doing from this Friday is that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be consulting more than 430 councils right across the nation with the support, of course, of the National Farmers’ Federation and other entities. With their support, we want to make sure that we get a notice to ensure that there is uniformity across the nation.

I know Scott Buchholz has been working very hard on this. I know the success he had when the drought really impacted farmers – when we realised that the drought was having such an impact some time ago and we were able to get hay and fodder from state to state, from district to district, to cut through those laws which are not uniform at the moment between states, between jurisdictions. With the sort of ministerial ability that he has, Scott was able to get those loads whether by weight or by width, in one uniform manner. This is important. The Federal Government acknowledges that farmers are doing it tough at the moment. Farmers like Ed Storey and others besides need to have ease of access when they're moving heavy equipment from paddock to paddock, from farm to farm. They don't want to be bogged down with red tape and bureaucracy and that's why we're moving on this today. It's an important announcement.

So from Friday until 2 April the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be discussing this with local governments, we’ll be discussing it with councils right across the nation, to get better ease of access management, to get more uniform laws. This is going to increase efficiency. It's going to increase productivity. It's going to make it safer for road users. We urge and encourage people who are driving on our highways and byways, when they do come across whether it's a seeder, a scarifier, a header or a harvester or a tractor, no matter what the case might be, to give way to make sure that they have ease of access. But certainly, what we're doing today and what we're announcing with this Agricultural Notice is to make it easier for them, to make the laws easier for farmers, to give them better ease of access, to make it more uniform.

This is an important step. I urge and encourage the councils to get on board. I’m very, very pleased that the National Farmers’ Federation is fully supportive of what we're doing - they know how important it is, particularly at this time, particularly for these troubled times for farmers, how important it is for our farmers to have more efficiencies, better productivity, and it certainly makes good sense. I’ll ask Scott Buchholz to make some comments and then am happy to take any questions.

SCOTT BUCHHOLZ:

Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. This morning's announcement for a Class 1 agriculture equipment is front and centre from the National Farmers’ Federation for the list of priorities for their members. What it entails is it allows that for harvesters, tractors, machines, depending on where you are, we've reclassified 16 zones down to five zones. Some of the smaller zones may have limits up to 3.5 metres. Some of the zones further west, as you go into your grain-growing areas, may have width limits up to 7.5 metres. So it's a really hands-on, commonsense approach that flows on from our oversize, over mass announcements that we made earlier on the year that have been so welcomed by the community.

One of the benefits that the growers will have, farmers will have in this regard is that there will no longer be a $73 permit fee which had to be sought, and the 28-day lead in time is now gone. The States are on board with that as of today, and as the Deputy Prime Minister said, we are now working with local governments. I want to acknowledge the work done by the states co-ordinated by Sal Petroccitto and his team with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. They have taken point on this. They will continue to do up to 40 different workshops or summits, information summits, with councils around the country and we'll bring them on one by one. I don’t suspect that there will be any pushback because, once again, this is a commonsense approach. This is number one priority for the National Farmers’ Federation. The States are on board; this Government is on board because we know all too well the work that needs to be done with the drought affecting these farmers; and this is commonsense approach – Government working with local government, with the State Governments and our agricultural sector.

ED STOREY:

Very briefly, Deputy Prime Minister: Thank you. The issue here is where States and Federal Government and local government all interface and interact with that, which does affect agricultural and regional communities a little more, I would argue, than city communities. It is very important. We live in an era where agriculture and regional Australia has a wonderful opportunity over the next 5, 10, 20 years to produce a lot of products. There’s a huge amount of export being driven out of regional Australia, be it in wool as we have here today or grains, and we require infrastructure. The productivity gains from innovations in machinery are important - machinery is bigger, more efficient, able to reduce the cost of production for farmers. It’s important that this machinery can get around and do the job it needs to do without impediments. Everyone has got enough on their plate. This is not a reduction in safety standards. This is not a reduction in inconvenience for other road users. This is about efficiencies. And I absolutely welcome the announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister. If States are working together on this and local governments are working together on this, this is very, very welcome.

Too often in society we see different levels of Government blaming each other and it’s always someone else's fault. That’s a really easy out. The much harder solution is to get down, get your heads down, your bum up or the other way around, whatever it is, and get on and work as Governments of different persuasions and come up with an outcome that improves safety, improves productivity and delivers the productivity gains and efficiency gains and reduces red tape that regional Australia doesn’t want to be impinged with. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Ed, can I just ask you quickly: So this is something that is now in a consultation phase.

ED STOREY:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:    

If it’s so urgent and everybody is struggling at the moment, would you wish that it was happening right now, that the different levels of Government would just come together and agree on it?

ED STOREY:

Look, I think the States are on board but you've got to consult. There's a lot of potential work here for local government. There may be some upgrades required of their roads and I'm sure that by working together with the States and with the Federal Government in a coordinated way, that can be achieved. So consultation is very important.

JOURNALIST:

Can you paint a picture for us? What’s it like currently with the current set up if you try to move a vehicle across country?

ED STOREY:

 

Look it's a lot more difficult than it needs to be. There's paperwork and things like that. We have the big headers and things that you probably don't see in Yass to be frank, but the big headers and things that move around, the big sowing gear that move around, often there's public roads and different things on either side of the farm - the vagaries of how Australia was settled. So you have to do that when everyone's aware of the safety issues required and people are not trying to reduce the safety implications of their move. It's just about productivity, less red tape and getting on and doing the work these machines need to do.

JOURNALIST:

Do you wish the Federal Government was doing more generally on this issue?

ED STOREY:

Well I think as we're seeing evidence here today, the Federal Government's done quite a bit. In other aspects of life, I try and deal with jurisdictions and different things. It's not easy to get a whole bunch of people in a room and come up with a solution. And if this Government has been focused on a solution to this problem, that is a good outcome. I'll hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Transport, to answer further questioning.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

You’re doing a great job there.

JOURNALIST:

Deputy Prime Minister, if this is such a commonsense approach - this problem isn't a new problem, why hasn’t something been done earlier?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

It's not a new problem but we've been working on it for four years. We're actually getting things done. It wouldn't have happened under Labor. They don’t care about rural and regional Australia. It's happening under us.

Of course, we had to get the States on board. We had to get their agreement. Now we're going to be working through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, with 430 councils, 430 local government jurisdictions right across the nation. We're hopefully going to get them co-ordinated, hopefully on the one page, because it's going to mean good outcomes for the farmers in their local areas.

JOURNALIST:

Road quality and road conditions between 430 councils are obviously going to vary quite distinctly. Is there a risk in taking a one size fits all approach?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

This is why we've got a $75 billion record infrastructure rollout. This is why the Nationals and the Liberals, certainly our regional members are committed to making sure that we've got Black Spot funding, making sure that we've got Roads of Strategic Importance that in last year's budget has $3.5 billion rolling out to fix roads, whether it's first mile or the last mile, but in regional areas to increase, to boost productivity, to make sure that programs such as this can get off the ground. We're always looking to obviously putting more money into roads, and when you've got a stronger economy, as we are building, we're building a better future - we're building better Australia…when you've got a stronger economy, you can put even more money into infrastructure. Josh Frydenberg knows just how important infrastructure is, as does the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. And I've been banging on Josh's door to make sure that we even increase the amount of infrastructure spending that we've got in the next budget because when you've got better infrastructure, you've got better outcomes - whether it's for farmers, whether it's for miners, certainly regional Australia carries this nation as far as productivity and exports are concerned.

We want to continue to do that. We want to make sure that there are jobs out there. We want to make sure that regional Australia grows, notwithstanding the drought, notwithstanding the fires in Victoria at the moment and sadly the floods that have hit north Queensland. There’s a real future for agriculture and we want to make sure that it has its best possible chance to succeed and prosper.

JOURNALIST:

Can you understand the frustration for some farmers who really are battling at the moment all across the west of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria with ABARES figures out today about what the drought has done to the value of agricultural industries. And we're here talking about a small farm machinery announcement for consultation. Why aren't you doing more? Why isn't your Government providing more immediate assistance?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

We are providing more and immediate assistance. If you look at the North Queensland flood situation, we’ve rolled $90 million out the door in assistance in the first ten days of that. And the Prime Minister, of course, announced a reconstruction and rebuilding program which he put no end date to, last week. So that's really important. As far as the floods are concerned in north Queensland, we acted, we acted very quickly and responsibly as you'd expect a good Government to do. As far as the drought’s concerned, already $7 billion has been put on the table with a $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund which will build to $5 billion. Labor opposed that. Labor and the Greens oppose that. They want that money to go into general revenue. They want that money to be decided by the unions and the Greens and the inner-city latte sippers. We want to make sure that it gets to the people who it needs to get to, and that's farmers. They're doing it tough at the moment and how dare Labor do that to farmers. I mean, I know even people who I've spoken to in city areas, those people who care about country were absolutely disgusted with what Bill Shorten did as far as the Future Drought Fund is concerned.

The fact is we are providing that assistance for our farmers. They are the best environmentalists in the world. They are the best farmers in the world and they certainly need help at the moment. Yes, ABARES figures show that farming and exports took a real hit. Agriculture is struggling at the moment; I appreciate that. It could have been a lot worse. It would have been a lot worse if our farmers weren't such great caretakers of the land. It would have been a lot worse if our farmers weren't as resilient as they are. But you know what? Farmers are the best environmentalists. They are working very hard and they are making sure that they care for their country and that's why, despite the downturn with the drought and with other natural factors against them, they've still done probably better than they even expected themselves, and they've done it with the help of Federal Government. They've done it with the help of a lot of people who've dug deep into their own pockets and helped farmers. And we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side with farmers into the future to make sure that the assistance that they need is given, that the assistance they need is rolled out. That won't happen under Labor. A Labor Government in May, federally, and indeed in New South Wales on 23 March if they decide to go down the Labor path: that assistance, well farmers in rural areas can kiss it goodbye because Labor does not care, does not care - never has, don't now and won't into the future. They don't care about rural and regional Australia. We do.

JOURNALIST:

How much of a fight are you having to have in the lead-up to the budget to actually get money to send back to those communities that are struggling? How much of a difficulty is it for you to convince your colleagues dealing with marginal seats that they have to win in city areas, in the lead up to a budget and an election to actually get money for the regions?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well there's no resistance whatsoever I mean…

JOURNALIST:

None at all?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well there’s not. And those members…all those members…

JOURNALIST:

[Interrupts] So are you asking for it now?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well you’ve asked the question. Those members who sit on the Expenditure Review Committee, those members who sit in Cabinet, those members right across the Liberals and Nationals family - and we are a family - they understand the importance of rural and regional Australia. They understand that rural and regional Australia and particularly, farmers and small businesses in these towns are hurting at the moment. And we've been there providing the assistance. Of course we can and we will do more. When I sat down with Scott Morrison to talk about the Coalition agreement when he was first elected Liberal leader back in August last year, I said to him - the first thing I'd like you to do is to come to a drought-stricken community. He had a piece of paper that he turned around and top of the list was visit a drought-stricken community. So we're on the one page. We're on a unity ticket. The Liberals and the Nationals, city and country, are on a unity ticket to make sure that we provide the assistance that rural communities - which are hurting at the moment – that they get it. They need it and we're delivering it.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just check on a couple of other issues with you Deputy Prime Minister? Firstly, are you absolutely committed to the biosecurity levy plan as it stands now. Will we see that in the budget papers as a continuing project, even though 100 per cent of industry representatives apparently don't agree with it?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I know that David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister has called for a consultation; I know he's getting a group of people together to work through this. Of course, any discussions I have about the budget, about ERC, and about those sorts of things, I’ll do them behind closed doors. I’m not going to do them via the ABC or via the media. That’s the proper process. Yes, I’ve spoken to Margie Thomson; yes I’ve spoken to Mike Gallacher from Ports Australia. I understand their issues. I understand that when we’re importing fertiliser and cement and all sorts of things, that they feel as though that they should be able to do that the way they’ve always done it. But I also understand that we’re still paying back Labor’s debt. I do get that. And it's also important that we produce the surplus budget on 2 April. I get that as well. So we're trying to reach a happy medium at the moment, but those discussions that I have with Josh Frydenberg, they'll remain behind closed doors.

JOURNALIST:    

How confident are you that Josh Frydenberg will retain his seat now that Julian Burnside has entered the race there?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Julian Burnside, who quoted Hermann Göring, for Kooyong? Really? The fact is he was quoting a terrible, terrible Nazi leader and discussing Australia at the same time. 1930s and 40s Germany and Australia should not be mentioned in the same sentence. Shame on him. Shame on him.

The fact is Josh Frydenberg has been an outstanding Treasurer. He has been outstanding in all his Ministerial portfolios. But at the end of the day he has also been an excellent local Member. All politics is local. If Kooyong wants the very best representative, both locally and on the national stage, they can do no better than Josh Frydenberg. He’s a friend of mine; he’s a friend of Australia’s; he’s certainly a friend of his Melbourne seat. Julian Burnside – he just represents division. Anybody who wants to quote a Nazi leader does not deserve to be in the Australian Parliament. Not now, not ever.

QUESTION:

That’s your personal view on him, but what do you think about his electoral chances?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I don’t rate them. I mean, why would anybody want to elect a Greens Member of Parliament? They want our schoolkids to go on strike. They want to change the social agenda of Australia. They want to rip up all our financial obligations. They want to put a 100% renewables target in place. Their emissions reduction targets are unrealistic. They want to de-industrialise Australia. They want to stop farmers having the ability to breed stock, to process stock, to plant crops – the Greens don’t represent Australia in the modern era. They’ve never represented Australia. They’ve got a social agenda that quite frankly is simply nuts.

JOURNALIST:

The Prime Minister’s today announcing some fairly significant funding for prevention of domestic violence. How much of that should be going to regional and rural Australia?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, I know there will be an emphasis on rural and regional Australia. I know that last year, 63 women died in domestic violence incidents. I mean this has got to stop. This just has to stop. And it's up to men to make it stop. The emphasis starts with men. The emphasis starts on fathers telling their sons to make sure to treat women the way women should be treated. It's up to parents, to school teachers to make sure that message gets through, particularly to young boys who will be the men of the future. It's so sad that 63 women died at the hands of violent partners in the last 12 months. I mean this has got to stop.

I commend the Prime Minister for this announcement today. It's a significant announcement. Yes, rural and regional Australia needs its fair share when it comes to refuges, to awareness programs, and I'm sure that will be part of the funding announcement today. I commend the Prime Minister for what he’s done in this regard. This is above politics; it's got to be. And for every man out there, for every young boy out there, they need to know that women and girls need to be treated with the respect, the love, the care, and the support that they deserve. This has to stop. This domestic violence situation has to stop.

JOURNALIST:

New South Wales election is not far away. The Deputy Premier, a member of your party, has been accused of stepping away from the Nationals brand in his election advertising. What do you make of this approach? Are you confident that the Deputy Premier in this state will maintain his seat?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

I have every confidence that the people from Monaro will re-elect John Barilaro, I mean, why wouldn't they? He’s a fighter. There’s no prouder New South Wales Nat than John Barilaro. He was able to quarantine the $4.2 billion from the Snowy Hydro sale for rural and regional New South Wales. And that's not Wollongong or Newcastle, that's everywhere west of the great divide. He's done an amazing job. And he's got $90 billion of infrastructure; a lot of that's for rural and regional New South Wales. I commend him for what he’s done. The 48 hospitals that have been built and MPSs and health facilities right across New South Wales: I didn't see one being built under Labor. The fact is, rural and regional New South Wales is far better for having a strong National Party working with Gladys Berejiklian and the Liberals, and may that long continue.

JOURNALIST:

DPM, can I sneak in one more? Just in terms of the impacts of drought: How much do you think that your performance, your party's performance and your Government's performance on drought is likely to impact on the outcome of the next federal election?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

The drought continues, and whenever there is a drought and a prolonged drought such as the one we're suffering at the moment, people's moods, their incomes drop. It is very difficult.

We've been very responsive. We’ve put more than $7 billion on the table. I know I've visited drought communities right across the nation. I live in one. I understand the impacts of the drought. And I understand it's not just farmers either, it's small businesses in communities which are doing it very, very tough. I understand that, but that's why also the Federal Government not only has provided the sort of drought relief and assistance that has been necessary – and we will do more – but we're also in there, making sure that when the rains do come – and they will, the weather will break, the good times will roll on into the future.

The fact is we've got, yesterday, an Indonesian free trade deal signed. That's going to be worth more than $16 billion for Australia. That's going to be such a great boost for our farmers. I know how valuable the free trade arrangements with South Korea, Japan and China have been. And I know that Simon Birmingham and his Assistant Minister Mark Coulton are working furiously hard to arrange even more trade agreements with other countries as well. We're in there making sure that there are new export opportunities for our farmers. And I know that even in my own area, that provided such a boom for wine, for seed, for grain, for sheep meat, for beef, for wool.

All those sorts of things are very, very important, but they need more markets. We're providing them. This will all go under Labor. We haven’t even got Bill Shorten coming out and agreeing that yesterday's Jakarta deal was something that they were going to support. Labor does not care about the regions. I can't emphasise that enough. Michael Daley doesn't care about rural and regional New South Wales. Bill Shorten wouldn't know a country area if he fell over one.

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]

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Hannah Maguire