Transcript: National Press Club address, Canberra, 30 April 2019



Ladies and gentlemen, 

I am delighted to be here today and am pleased to be joined by my beautiful wife Catherine on our daughter’s 28th birthday. 

At the heart of this campaign — at the heart of what The Nationals stand for — and at the heart of my vision for regional Australia there are some key questions.

If you live beyond the city lights, in a regional city or country town, what kind of community do you want that to be?

Do you want better access to a local doctor?

Do you want better roads to get you home sooner and safer?

Do you want more and better-paying jobs to keep skills and opportunities in your region?

Do you want country sporting clubs and facilities to have basic services like female change rooms at local sporting fields?

Do you think we should harvest and harness water when it does rain to support communities when it doesn’t?

Do you think we should save and better prepare for drought, by putting money aside so we can support farmers, small businesses and communities when they most need it?

Should a farmer be able to produce whatever he or she thinks is best for that season, or should they be told from afar to draw a line through commodities in some country and coastal communities?

When I am walking down the main streets in country towns, these are the things people talk to me about. They are the issues that matter.

They are the little things The Nationals in Government are working on so our country and coastal communities can grow.

But they are also big things. They matter.

And each of those are things Bill Shorten would cut. They are things the Greens oppose. And they are things independents cannot deliver.

That’s why I’m a National. 

That’s why I put my hand up for Parliament in the first place. And those are the things I believe country and coastal communities deserve.

That’s why we are asking for regional Australia to give The Nationals another go at this election.

We can keep our economy strong, delivering for the regions and building even better places in which to live, work, invest and raise a family. 

And today I want to outline how we have delivered that to date, how we are planning for the future and why I am excited about the prospects for rural and regional Australia.

Today, regional Australia can look ahead with confidence.

That means being bold and thinking big. That means getting things done.

We need blue sky vision. We also need grey sky vision.

And today I want that to start with dams and water.

Dams create jobs. Dams back agriculture and back farmers.

Some people are too quick to say we have failed when it comes to water.

But we have not.

Water policy and the politics of water are incredibly complicated.

But with water we have our nation’s greatest resource and our greatest opportunity.

To grow agriculture.

To grow our regions.

To create more jobs.

We are now investing more than $3 billion to build water infrastructure projects.

These projects are delivering greater water security for rural communities, growing jobs, and underpinning new and expanded agriculture and supporting regional prosperity.

Never before in the history of this country have we seen the type of investment from a federal government to build water infrastructure – and that’s come from this Government. 

We know the key to unlocking the potential of regional Australia is simple – just add water.

Let me give you a few examples: 

$14.5 million for the Mitiamo district – this network of pipelines has the potential to cover 80,000 hectares and about 200 farms.

This project will change the future of these Northern Victorian communities and provide security and stability in basic water supply, which hasn’t existed in previously.

$190 million to deliver the Myalup-Wellington Project.

It will create 380 jobs in construction and increase the West Australian gross state product by more than half a billion dollars every year. But the State Labor Government continue to hold up this development.

$176 million to construct Rookwood Weir.

This will create 2,100 jobs in Central Queensland and expand irrigated agricultural production by up to $1 billion.

While we are being bold and building big – we are often stopped at the first hurdle when it comes to short-sighted state governments that choose politics over practicality — and indeed science — most times.

Urannah Dam – near Mackay, Lakeland Irrigation Scheme near Cairns, Emu Swamp Dam, near Stanthorpe – will never see a shovel in the ground unless the state government allocates water to them.

Last year the CSIRO recommended six dams could be built across Northern Australia -– in the Darwin, Fitzroy and Mitchell catchments.

With the potential increase of 387,000 hectares to grow irrigated crops such as sugar and cotton, fruit and vegies as well, to generate more than 15,000 jobs and a $5.3 billion economic increase per year.

We must grab these opportunities.

Water is too important to our communities to base decisions around how we capture it, store it and allocate it made on the politics of the day.

It has to be about practicalities and the best-available information.

Right across our nation, our regional communities experience droughts and flooding rains.

They always have. They always will.

We need states and territories to work more closely with the Commonwealth Government to better capture and store water as well as protecting our communities from devastating floods.

As I said in my inaugural speech:

We need to better store, better harvest and better use water – our most valuable asset.

Our country has some of the most inventive minds, finest engineers, smartest entrepreneurs, willing people prepared to have a go, to try things. Let us have a vision, show some courage of the scale of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and the Snowy scheme to again show the world what a mighty nation of thinkers and builders we are.

That’s why today I am proud to announce the Liberals and Nationals in government will establish a National Water Grid.

The National Water Grid will be a statutory authority responsible for the strategic planning and project management for water infrastructure right across the nation.

The National Water Grid will:

Bring together the world’s best scientists to take the politics out of the way water is captured and stored in Australia. 

No longer will states be able to hide behind political games as to why they will or won’t allocate water to a valley or region.

No longer will future federal governments be able to strip funding from vital water infrastructure projects because they believe they don’t stack up purely based on politics.

No longer will our communities’ ability to unlock their potential merely exist in and around election cycles.

It has been too long since we built a dam.

We can’t even raise a dam wall.

And enough is enough.

This not about pitting states against states.

Catchments against catchments.

Communities against communities.

This is about the Commonwealth providing real leadership and real vision. 

Right across the country we are building the water infrastructure our communities expect and deserve and the National Water Grid will be responsible for developing the Water Grid and to identify missing links.

I can also announce one of the National Water Grid’s first orders of business will be to use the best available science to examine how large scale water diversion projects could be established to deliver reliable and cost-effective water to farmers and regional communities.

A re-elected Liberal and Nationals Government will also:

Seek agreement from states and territories to co-invest to make this truly a national initiative based on science, not politics.

And we are going to put a down payment of $100 million for projects supporting states to better understand their own water resources and kick-start investigation to water diversion projects.

The Liberals and Nationals have already been investing catchment by catchment to build water projects.

As my hard-working Deputy Leader, Senator Bridget McKenzie, often says, regional Australia produces around 70 per cent of the nation’s exports with only 30 per cent of the population.

And we want to make sure those 8.8 million Australians continue to be looked after, indeed better rewarded, for the contribution they make to this nation.

The Nationals always put locals first.

Things are really happening in regional Australia – drought notwithstanding — there is always hope and resilience amongst regional people, who remain optimistic, despite the ordeals they encounter.

Others would just pack up shop and walk away. Not country people. 

My Nationals’ team and I care deeply about enabling them to be their best selves.

We have done a lot. And we have done it together.

But I acknowledge there is much more to do. And we will do it together.

Families need more relief for household budgets. And we are delivering it with tax breaks. 

Locals need more secure, better paid local jobs.  We are backing small business to deliver it.

Regional people deserve quality hospital and school choices. And funding for both health and education are up 60 per cent since we came to Government.

But today is also about the future.

We’re investing a record $100 billion to build the roads, transport and infrastructure that works.

Sealing country roads. Building regional ring roads. Reducing red tape for truckies.

These make a real difference to people.

People like Will Wilson from a cattle station at Gracemere near Rockhampton. We sealed the Capricorn Highway and that means he doesn’t need to decouple his truck and saves up to an hour to get to the abattoir.

But it also about making practical policy changes that make it easier for our regional industries.

And I am proud to announce today that after extensive consultation with industry, local councils and states, the National Class 1 Agricultural Vehicle and Combination Notice comes into effect today.

What does that mean? 

It’s a game-changer for farmers.

If you have — as my dad did — a farm which runs over two shires and need to move the header over the road to the other paddock and the other shire, you will no longer need to get a piece of paper to say you can do it.

That’s practical. That means something. And it just makes sense. 

It will bring down the number of designated agricultural zones from 26 to just five, reduce the complexity for cross-border movements and generally improve the efficiency of agricultural operations.

Some of the key provisions of the new Notice include increased mass and dimension limits, standard operating conditions, and a consistent set of rules across state and territory borders.

The Notice will apply across designated roads in more than 260 local government areas that signed up.

And that is just the start.

Regional rail revitalisation. Inland rail. Fast rail to connect communities such as Parkes and Sydney, Geelong and Melbourne and Toowoomba and Brisbane. Getting people to where they need to be sooner and safer. 

We are investing in protecting our way of life for a safe and secure future.

Almost $10 billion for natural disaster assistance, such as drought and flooding. 

A future drought fund. Something which – shockingly – Labor, The Greens and some independents voted against. 

We will protect farmers from land lock-out laws. 

Labor calls this law ‘vegetation management’ but all it does is lock up land. 

Dictating to farmers what they can and cannot do. On their land.

And it devalues properties. 

Bill Shorten wants to nationalise this. The laws in Queensland which have caused such anger and resentment, he wants to roll out across the country. 

I live in regional Australia and as a son of a generational farming family – every single day farmers and communities tell me how outrageous it is.

Labor forgets that farmers are our best environmentalists. That farmers are the best carers of country and they are the best carers of our rivers.

They have to be. Their livelihoods depend on it.

The Nationals will always stick up for farmers.

We are investing in biosecurity. 

We are investing in better weather radars for planning, better GPS tracking on farms for better use of fertiliser and better soils for greater yields.

We are making sure city school children are taught where their food and fibre comes from to enhance agricultural appreciation in metropolitan Australia.

We have had enough of animal activists breaking into farms. Family farms. Attacking innocent people. 

Ratbag mobs, using a misleading title like Aussie Farms, will be treated with the full force of the law.

As they should be.

Jobs not mobs. Jobs not snobs. 

And it is also about calling activists out when country people are used as a political toy, a play-thing, for the Labor Party and the Greens. 

Take inland rail. It is a game-changer for regional Australia. It will connect country communities to overseas markets they could have only once dreamed about. 

It will create jobs. It will grow our economy.

Labor’s vague statements on the project turned into calls for an inquiry last week.

There have been inquiries. Many of them.

There are processes underway, including an Environmental Impact Statement to narrow the corridor from five kilometres to around 60 metres which will lessen the number of farms on the corridor.

And there are community consultative communities which will continue listening and engaging with local communities. 

CSIRO research shows Inland Rail will slash freight costs by up to $94 a tonne.

That is why the Victorian Labor Government – hardly a friend of this Government – was first out of the blocks to sign up to Inland Rail weeks after I became the Minister. 

Inland rail will allow our producers to take advantage of trade agreements. It will get product to market sooner along this 1,700-kilometre corridor of commerce. It will create jobs along the line and complete a century’s worth of vision for the future of this nation.

When you build game-changing infrastructure, when you build for the future, when you connect country and coastal communities like never before, something else happens.

You create jobs. Construction jobs. Ongoing jobs. Direct and indirect jobs.

This budget took our infrastructure pipeline of investment – our vision for this country – to $100 billion. The most in Australia’s history.

It’s investment like that which made the Pacific Highway one of the biggest employers up and down the North Coast.

It will also save lives.

So jobs and connectivity are central to the next part of this chapter.

Northern Australia has jobs being created through things such as the Northern Australia Road Program, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the Bruce Highway investment, the Outback Way sealing projects.

This means jobs for locals, including First Australians in some of our remote communities.

Jobs through small business. 

As I met with small businesses around Australia – to around 80 electorates – on my roadshow as Small Business Minister, I was amazed at the number who told me how helpful the instant asset write-off was to growing their businesses. 

So we have taken it up to $30,000.

Last Saturday I was with the Prime Minister near Dubbo at the West’s family farm, where son Trent had just the previous week bought a $26,000 vehicle for his auto-repair shop which he can now instantly write off.

His is a small business which creates jobs, just like the millions of small businesses around this country.

Our plan will create 250,000 new small and family businesses in just five years, through our plan for a stronger economy. 

We’ll establish a $100 million Australian Business Growth Fund to help small and family businesses to grow into bigger and better businesses and create more jobs. 

We are cutting income taxes to help grow the economy, because that’s what good economic management can afford. 

Jobs. Tax cuts. Easing pressures on the cost of living. Investing for the future in regional communities big and small.

That’s the vision.  

The Nationals in Government are transforming regional communities by investing in the things that matter.

Just the other day I was talking to the Mayor of Mildura, Simon Clements, about the new Instrument Landing System  — which helps planes land in low-visibility — at the Mildura airport.

He told me it is probably the best investment Mildura has ever had because it feeds growth in the whole region. It opens Mildura’s skies and it transforms Mildura’s and surrounding towns’ opportunities.  

Jobs in aviation. Training for future pilots locally. Connectivity for health, for business, for tourism. 

Here with us today is Temora Shire’s Mayor Rick Firman — a vibrant community in my electorate — which has a regular air show that attracts thousands of visitors to Temora, filling hundreds of motel rooms and generating millions of dollars for the local economy.

So we are investing through the Building Better Regions Fund to upgrade taxiways and runways and to help grow Temora’s premier tourism event.

This is the bucket of funding Labor will take from country communities like Temora and funnel into peri-urban suburbs in our major cities. Labor did it last time and it will do it again.

It is simple: regional funding goes to the regions thanks to The Nationals. 

We also have John Seymour in the audience, with his wife Margaret. John’s the Mayor of Coolamon Shire which this week received $1 million through the Drought Communities Program.

So we are investing $1 million to each of the 110 councils throughout drought-stricken Australia to keep money generating in these shires and employment in these communities.

This is what looking after people looks like. This is what we need to do to help grow country communities and to keep them strong when times are tough. 

And this is exactly why we need The Nationals in Government to get things done. 

But we compare that to the choice for this country at this election. 

Bill Shorten’s new tax hit on you will raise $387 billion. Of your money with very little or no commitments to the regions. 

But everywhere you look there is another tax.

Like Labor wants to tell farmers what to farm, it’s a repeat with electric cars – Labor wants to tell you what you can buy.

Take Labor’s 45 per cent emissions cuts and 50 per cent renewables target.

All that will do is take away the vital off-road Diesel Fuel Rebate – essential to country communities and families.

And The Greens will make sure Labor shuts down the coal industry — $66 billion a year in crucial export income, 55,000 jobs and two thirds of our energy supplies.

Of course The Nationals stand for proactive development of energy alternatives and meeting international agreements for climate change – like the Lockhart solar farm, backed by a forward thinking Council, which could take the entire town off the grid in due course.

But it is about having a balance.

But there is no balance with Bill Shorten.

Labor in Queensland is tearing itself apart over the approvals process for the Adani mine – but they won’t tell you that.

Bill Shorten makes an art form of telling North Queensland one thing when he pops his head in – but then tells an entirely different story around the rest of the country. He checks out the aeroplane window to decide which script he will grab for the day.

But Labor won’t tell you any of that.

Balance comes in our approach to energy. It comes in our approach to the Budget. And it comes in our approach to migration.

The Nationals know some regions – not all, but some – want to grow their population.  

This Government has built an effective mix of population policy that will bring people under our national migration scheme into the right regional communities.

Our population strategy must be and is targeted and strategic when it comes to the regions.

Pyramid Hill in Victoria has proudly been turned around by a hardworking Pilipino community.

There are many country centres, particularly in irrigation districts, which are crying out for workers and we want to join the dots with the right mix of the right skills in the right community.

Our Government is making substantial reforms to the immigration system and this will continue until we have the balance right – ensuring we don’t have overcrowded cities and under-skilled regions is where the balance lies.

The Nationals in Government deliver, and we’ll keep doing just that. 

We truly are getting on with the job for regional Australia and regional Australians.

Good economic management means doing things that will deliver real benefits, on the farm or inside the shop door.

So let’s reflect again at the questions this election is about.

Do you want better access to a local doctor? We are delivering the Murray Darling Medical Schools Network – with more life-saving drugs made affordable on the PBS. 

Do you want better roads to get you home sooner and safer? We are delivering record investment into infrastructure.

Do you want more and better-paying jobs to keep skills and opportunities in the region? We are getting the balance right on migration and backing small business to create jobs. 

Do you want country sporting clubs and facilities to have basic services like female change rooms at local sporting fields? We are building them.

Do you think we should harvest and harness water when it does rain to support communities when it doesn’t? We are building dams and are creating a National Water Grid.

Do you think we should save and better prepare for drought, by putting money away so we can support farmers, small businesses and communities when they need it? Yes we are and we will stand should-to-shoulder with our farmers while Labor, Greens and some independents voted against our future drought fund.

Should a farmer be able to produce whatever he or she thinks is best for that season, or should they be told from afar to draw a line through commodities in some country and coastal communities? We are making it easier through the new Class 1 Ag Licence.

In regional Australia today, no one should be left behind. 

Regional Australia’s best days lie ahead and with a ‘can do’ Government like ours – with The Nationals front and centre — there is so much more on our agenda!

Australians, especially regional Australians, have a very clear choice on May 18.


... with the candidate Steve Dickson resigning from the party?

Well, you have to do what it takes to get votes and to win an election. And the fact is, the National Party policies probably closer align with One Nation's than they ever will with Greens or Labor's. The fact of the matter. I appreciate that some members of One Nation have done some rather interesting things lately and said some things that are quite unpalatable. I understand that. We're not One Nation. We are the Nationals. We are in coalition with the Liberal Party. My advice to people is, get a ballot paper, with the National Party candidate on, put a one beside it, then make sure you fill out every box.

If they get a ballot paper with only Liberals on it, put a one beside the Liberal candidate's name, and make sure you fill out every box. The fact is, I very rarely get asked when I'm out and about, about preferences by punters. I've probably been asked twice. I've know journalists are obsessed by it, but the fact is, polling started yesterday, it's going to continue for the next three weeks, pre poll, and on May 18, vote one Nationals, think local, vote National, that's the best opportunity, that's the best option that you have to build a better regional Australia.

It’s Graham Richardson philosophy, whatever it takes.

Well, it's all well and good to be pure and altruistic after May 18 if you're in opposition. If you're in opposition after May 18 and you think, "Well, gee, I should have perhaps thought a little bit more carefully about how the preferences flowed in local seat by seat." That would be rather stupid, because then you can't get on with doing what you want to do for regional Australians. And the fact is, I'm not planning on too many of the preferences being counted in National Party seats. I'd like to think we'll finish first or second, but our preferences won't be distributed.

Other minor parties' preferences will be distributed, hopefully they'll be distributed to the National's candidate.

Next question

Sorry to continue to pile on about preferences Mr. McCormack, but as you just said, you do whatever it takes, and while National Party preferences won't be distributed, as you said, they will be, the minor parties will. Are you comfortable with One Nation preferences could help you win those seats up in Queensland, is it a good look for the party, the National Party to get close to a party where One Nation are cosying up to the gun lobby, where the party leader in Queensland feels it quite good to hang out in strip clubs and do not very nice things to women, what sort of values does that send, or messages, values, to the bush, particularly when your voters are socially conservative.

Well, thank you Andrew, and I think those principles and values that were shown in that television program last night were, of course, abhorrent. The fact is when I used to go to north Queensland they used to talk about JT. They used to talk about JT as though he were some sort of deity. Johnathon Thurston, helped north Queensland to its first premiership win by kicking that memorable field goal in that memorable grand final.

These days, JT for Labor, and the Greens, means just transition. It means transition from a coal job, from a mining job, into another job. We can't be a nation of coffee makers. We can't be a nation where we tell our resources sector, that you don't have a job. And what really annoys me, is that in metropolitan Australia, they think of mining workers, they think of that blackened face, of the soot, of coming out from deep underground with a torch on the front of their helmet and a high vis dirty albeit uniform, and that's what they think of the coal mining industry. What they don't think of is the many engineers and geo tech people, and executive assistants and people who are working on behalf of the resources sector in many capital cities in Australia and certainly in many of the regional areas and towns.

And what they don't think of is the $66 billion of exports which helps pay for many state schools. Which helps pay for many state hospitals. What they don't think of is the fact that there are 55,000 people working now.

Bob Brown went up there with his convoy of no confidence in the coal mining industry, and was greeted with the derision that he deserved to be. The fact is, they drove up there in cars made of steel which came originally from coal. The fact is, every time we use our mobile phone, it comes from rare elements coming from the ground. We need a resources sector. We need to be able to make sure that we have a strong mining industry and the Nationals will always do that. And I will always stand side by side with those mining people. The Greens and Labor don't, and that's why they're coming last in our preferences.

Talking about JT, is it a little annoying to you that he likes to go on morning runs with Bill Shorten?

Well, what was probably annoying was the fact that he actually slowed up to allow Bill to keep up.

But Australia does not need to keep up to Bill Shorten. Australia does not need to keep up to Bill Shorten. Australia needs to send Bill Shorten a lesson and make sure that, and I don't even mind Bill Shorten as the opposition leader, I hope he's the opposition leader for many, many more years to come.

Ben Packham.

Hello Mr. McCormack, Ben Packham for The Australian. It's been a turbulent time for the Nationals for the past 18 months or so, there's been untidiness, there's been division and there's been leadership rumblings. One of your colleagues described the Nationals leadership to me today in this way: it's like watching a nature documentary. The gazelles always get eaten by the lions. Michael McCormack is a gazelle. He's a lovely looking animal. But there's always a lion lurking.

Mr McCormack, are you a gazelle? Is Barnaby Joyce a lion? And is there an inevitability to him taking the leadership?

Well the fact is, I've got out and worked very very hard to build a united team. Under difficult circumstances, I've made sure that some of the things we weren't able to tick off on, such as the Murray Darling medical school network, was made possible. The fact is, I've got on with the job of making sure that we had money for a Collinsville, $10 million potential, business case for a coal fired power station there to help the cement factory, to help the aluminium smelter, to help the industries and factories of Gladstone, to be able to have a future. So that they didn't have to pay high power prices.

And I did that. I did that, as the Nationals leader. The fact is, I've got on with the job of making sure that we had an extra $500 million in the National Water Infrastructure development fund. And I don't get out on the mountain tops and scream about how good I am or how effective I'm doing. The fact is I'm getting in behind the scenes, and Scott Morrison and I have got a very good relationship, a very very good relationship, and I hope that continues long into the future.

But the fact is, in a democracy, when you're in a party, positions become vacant after an election, that's the case with every political party, the fact is if someone wants to put their hand up, they're entitled to do so. But I'll stand on my record, I'll stand on the fact that what I've done for regional Australians. Whilst I might not go out and spruik my case in the national media, the fact is I'm getting out and meeting real people in country towns, in town hall meetings and actually achieving real results for them.

The fact is people are actually very very happy with my record of delivering, for doing just that.

Kath Sullivan.

Thank you Mr McCormack, you said today that no-one in regional Australia should feel left behind, but heading into this federal election, we're seeing more independents challenge coalition MP's in a way that we haven't seen in the cities, certainly far more independents considered a likely challenge come May 18. Do you think that that points to you failing to represent those rural constituents and how are you going to encourage people not to vote independent?

Well, independents won't deliver too much at all in a situation where there is a majority government. We will see that in the majority government that Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro lead in New South Wales. Yes, sometimes there is a protest vote. I understand that. I understand the clamor for independents are heightened when you have a particularly prolonged dry spell. My predecessor Kay Hull told me that everything will go reasonably well, until there's a drought. She was the member during one of our most terrible droughts, the Millennium drought. And it is difficult, because country people are hardest hit when there's a drought. They are the hardest hit, because their small businesses suffer, their farm's income depreciates and drops considerably.

But the fact is that independents can put their hand up, and that's our democratic system. And good luck to them. But the fact is no-one will deliver like the Nationals for regional Australia. The fact is we do hold significant and important portfolios around the cabinet table. An independent will never be able to do anything other than just throw stones at the tent. They will genuinely be a voice in the wilderness. The Nationals are in there, and we are in the portfolios of infrastructure, of water, of resources, of agriculture, of regional development, of Aboriginal affairs. We held portfolios such as Small Business, we hold important portfolios like Bridget McKenzie does, in regional services which includes rural health, and rural telecommunications. Mark Coulton holds the job of trade, tourism and investment, an Assistant Minister. And doing a wonderful job in that regard. Matt Canavan has resources in northern Australia. They are the key portfolio areas for regional Australia.

What is an independent going to be able to do? They might be able to pick a phone up, they might be able to send an email, or they might be able to tweet about it on social media. But they're not around the table where the funding is going out. They're not around the table when the decisions are being made for and on behalf of regional Australia. But you know what? The Nationals are. We always will be.

Kerrie Yaxley.

Mr McCormack, Kerrie Yaxley from the Nine Network. The Nationals Party has run into trouble with Section 44 of the Constitution in the previous parliament, can you give a guarantee to voters today that all of your candidates are constitutionally sound?

Our processes and protocols have been very, very much tightened since the last round of Section 44 of course rose its ugly head. The fact is, my Executive tells me that everybody, the bona fides of everybody have been checked and I welcome every one of those members who currently holds a position to be re-elected, I'm welcoming them back into the National Party room, I hope many other candidates who wear the green and gold, are elected to sides, and I'm sure they all will be, appropriately signed off, and of course the parliament has decreed that we have to sign a very regimented document to ensure that we are all above board.

Thanks for the question.

Matt Coughlan

Matt Coughlan from Australian Associated Press. Thanks very much for your speech Deputy Prime Minister.

Thanks for joining us on the Wombat trail for the last few days.

Thanks for having me. In recent days we've spoken about the divide between the city and the bush and how it's deepening, yet you and other Nationals MP's regularly used terms like "latte sippers", "greenies", to describe people in the city, do you think you've contributed to that divide, and will you commit to a more respectful dialogue with people who are essentially farmers' customers in the city?

Sure. I think everybody should actually be a little bit more respectful of each other, and I think we were talking yesterday about Van Badham, and the language that she uses and yet, Tanya Plibersek and Bill Shorten are happy to be situated beside her and pose for photos. I think her language is far worse than calling some of the metropolitan people latte-sippers.  They're drinking milk, comes from a country cow, they're having coffee beans which no doubt comes from a regional centre. The fact is we need to be more respectful in our dialogue. One thing I will say about Kevin Rudd is that when he retired he talked about the politeness that is in politics and the need for more of it. And he was probably right, he was right. And he's probably still to this day correct.

But the fact is, Twitter, there's a lot of people, and particularly the left side of politics, which use Twitter as a weapon against people, who stand more and represent regional Australians. The Great Dividing Range is not just a geographical barrier, sadly these days it's also a metaphor for the differences between metropolitan cities and the great sprawl that is regional Australia. Warren Truss said to me one day that back in his day, when he was a young fella, a lot of people would come and visit the country farmer, country cousins. That doesn't happen these days, we're so busy! We're so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that city people forget where their food and fibre comes from.

And that's why I was delighted to stand beside Scott Morrison, last week and announced a new arrangement by which country kids and city kids are going to be drawn closer together because metropolitan kids are going to know where their food comes from. It just doesn't come from a fridge, it just doesn't come from a supermarket, it actually comes from a farm. And we will always stand up for farmers, we will always make sure that their hard work and their endeavours are respected, and we'll get on with doing that. Maybe I shouldn't tweet about latte-sippers in the next few weeks, hey?

What is your commitment though? In the next parliament, regardless of whoever wins, what's your commitment about lifting standards giving that people have pretty much bemoaned the last, really, decade of politics?

Well, I think if you had a good look at my Twitter feed, and I've done about six and a half thousand tweets...

it’s more than twitter.

... And there's probably half a dozen, some journo will go and do this now, and they'll look through it, but, there's not too many negative tweets. It's always usually, as most National party people are saying, it's about where we go, who we meet, what we do and how we deliver. That's what National Party people generally tweet and I think if you look at the Liberal and National's social media and compare it to those on the other side, it's always negative. It's always opposing. It's always putting up a stop sign. Look at Bob Brown and his crowd. There you go, there's something negative. But, look at what they say. It's always stop this, stop that, resist from doing that. We're more, get on with the job, build something, do something, achieve something. And that's what I'll continue to talk about. The sorts of things that we can do to build a better Australia. And that's why I'm getting on with the job and doing it.

Michelle Graton

Michelle Graton form The Conversation, Mr McCormack one reason why One Nation is strong in Queensland and now Clive Palmer is- The Nationals have not been successful enough in appealing to those disillusioned voters. Do you believe that the Nationals will be in a better position in Queensland if the LNP was diverged and went alone in those regional areas?

Look, the LNP went that way more than a decade ago and they went that way for reasons that were probably very much Queensland reasons. I like the fact that I represent the Nationals as a separate party in New South Wales and I'll always resist attempts to merge the parties here in New South Wales.

Fact is, the LNP has been a successful merger. The fact is the members of the LNP who were in seats that were once represented by a National Party, who still represent, they still sit in the National Party room. Michelle Landry, Ken O’Dowd, George Christensen, David Littleproud, Llew O'Brien, Keith Pitt, you start naming people you always forget one. But they're getting on with the job of making sure that we are represented, and the National Party now still flies strongly, and the people in Queensland, they discern the difference between the Liberals and the Nationals. And let me tell you, I know that the media does too, and let me tell you, the Prime Minister does too because sometimes the Nationals in Queensland who give him the most grief when it comes to our Prime Minister's past, but you know what they fight for their constituents. The National Party members who come down from Queensland, they wear the LNP banner, but let me tell you they fight hard for the people of central and north Queensland, they fight hard for the interest of regional Queensland and they will continue to do that.

Mike Foley.

Thanks Mr McCormack. On dams, actually, just with the hundred million investment into a new statutory authority. You've outlined already projects that are underway and as recommended by the existing statutory authority, Infrastructure Australia. So I'm wondering why the need for such an investment. And also, other than the Commonwealth going in and bankrolling entire dam projects, how can the Commonwealth realise your vision for more dams given state governments haven't been keen to invest? I mean, for example in New South Wales, Neville Rand built the last significant dam for Split Rock in the 80’s.

And, look, very, very good question. The fact is, and I'll see Bret Finlay over there from Emu Swamp Dam. He is a proponent of that granite build of Queensland. The fact is, he wants to get on with building that but as part of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund criteria rules, it's only part of the Commonwealth to invest in up to 50%. So, we have to work with the states, and the states are the ones who allocate the water. The fact is, we want to make sure that we partner with states, willing states, and the states put in their list of projects. Early April, just before we went into caretaker mode, that they wanted to partner with us, so looking forward, when we're re-elected, to seeing which projects we can feasibly fund in the future and get on board to doing it. I was with Warren Entsch in Leichardt the other day in Cairns, talking about the Lakeland irrigation scheme, having a look at the dam there. Centenary Dam in 1958, it started in 1953, finishes in 1958, costs 12.6 million dollars. That's the feasibility study. That's the business case that's needed, now it's required, the amount of money to actually get on and build that dam.

The fact is we want to build. So I look forward to working Anthony Lynham, I look forward to working with Melinda Pavey, any other water minister in any other jurisdiction of any political persuasion to get on with building dams because it's the one thing, the one thing that people in regional Australia want, expect, demand and deserve.

Where will this national water commission be housed?

I'd like to think it'll be housed in a regional centre, we’re all for decentralisation, so why not? The northern Australia water infrastructure facility, the authority, we're going to base that obviously in north Queensland. Fact is, they don't grow a lot of food and fibre in Canberra. That's why we moved agri- futures to Wagga Wagga. Fact is, some of those agricultural jobs, the government paid jobs, can be very easily moved to a regional centre. And moving agri-futures to Wagga Wagga saw that actual organisation, it had a different name before we moved it, but it actually ruled a research development corporation. It actually went from 12 jobs to now about 30 jobs and it saved a considerable amount of money, a million dollars in rent. And it's getting on and doing the job that it was tasked to do.

Max Koslowski

Thank you Mr McCormack, I'm Max Koslowski from Sydney morning Herald and The Age. You told me after the New South Wales state election that at the end of the day, National Party can't make it rain. You said that as a way to absolve the party of guilt from the pain felt by farms that are suffering through the drought. Since then, and in this speech in particular it seems that you soften your rhetoric. You mentioned that enough is enough, it's been too long, since building a dam is more work to do. I'm interested in hearing a clear line from you on this. Does the National Party take any responsibility at all for the anger of drought-stricken farmers? If so, how much or was it all the droughts fault?

Well I'm disappointed that we haven't built more dams, so if that is a failure of everyone in government and everyone in the parliament, yes, that is such a shame. But the fact is, we have been [inaudible] by state governments, and that's why the national water grid is being established. Fact is, we want to put the politics aside and make sure that we use the best available sites, local stakeholders, best engineers and the best people possible in the right place to make sure that we build more dams. It's not enough to say, and it's not good enough to say to some of these regional communities, well, it's dry, and so there is no water available. There's plenty of water going down the river in some systems for environmental flows. There's plenty of water, and the rivers, in some cases, are running the bank up. And yet there's no allocation for people in Deniliquin, and cotton farmers in northern New South Wales and some areas of Queensland, not having allocation for three years.

So what we need to do is we need to, when it rains, and it is raining in some parts of Australia, to store that rain. To pipeline it if need be. But to make sure that we store it and harvest it, harvest it when it's most needed, that's when it's dry. It's a cri- I want to know it pays for people of Menindee and it's a crying shame to see what they've endured. The fact is too, the Darling River doesn't flow regularly all the time. So it's gone dry and gone in the billabongs, 57 times over the past 57 years. Fact is, there's been 600 fish kills there since 1980. Now, they weren't all caught on a video and uploaded to social media, and they didn't go viral in the past, but they have this time. But we need to do more. And if that means taking the blame for something, well yes, I think a lot of politicians on both sides of the fence need to look at themselves. But the fact is, where now, from this vision today, we want to get on and we want to build dams and we will.

David Spears.

David Spears from Sky News. Mr McCormack, can I also ask about water in your announcement of this national water grid. You said that it will examine how large scale water diversion projects could be established. Where would the water be diverted from for these large scale projects? And about water buybacks, what do you honestly think, are they worth while?

I think water buybacks is lazy politics. I really do. And I was somebody who crossed the floor against more water buybacks in 2012. The Murray Darling Basin Plan, it's a bipartisan plan, it's an environmental plan, but it went through the parliament in a bipartisan way. I said that, it's not perfect, it's not perfect. No water policy ever will be perfect. Mark Twain said, 'Scotch is for drinking and water is for fighting over,' and he was right. He said then and it's still right today. Fact is, we do need to divert water, catch it in the valleys and catchments where it falls, and potentially divert, and I named- the three valleys, the three catchment areas in northern Australia, where the CSIRO has developed a whole- independently, agreed that we could harness so much water. Up there it falls in meters. I know in my hometown, and I'll talk inches, it rains about 19 inches a year - in a good year. Fact is, in Northern Australia it rains metres. So it just makes good sense to get some of that fresh water and if possible, divert it to areas or grow agriculture in those particular regions to start with, to make sure that we can protect our rivers and protect our ecosystems by diverting.

Now I know there's been a lot said and talked about the Bradfield Scheme. John Bradfield wanted to, in the 1930s, make Lake Eyre a big inland sea. Well, you're not going to be able to turn rivers back on each other these days and you're not going to be able to make Lake Eyre, it wouldn't pass the cultural test, it wouldn't pass the environmental impact statement needed. But the fact is, we can be more sensible about this. We've got enough water, we just need to harvest it and we just need to harness it.

Catherine Murphy. Hello, Michael.

Michael McCormack: 
Hi, Catherine.

Forgive me if I'm dumb, but I still-

I've never said that, Catherine. With a name like that, how could you be dumb?

No. Well I still can't quite fathom how your new statutory authority sits with the existing water infrastructure in the Murray-Darling plan, in terms of where the water comes from and how this statutory authority interacts with the existing infrastructure. And also, just on buy backs, you said it's lazy policy. I think, what is that affect-

No, no both are correct.

Where's the effect? Whether or not we should stop buy backs. And can I be pretty [inaudible] for a second?

I think this is the third now, but otherwise keep going.

No, it's just because I don't quite understand your water announcement. It would be really good to understand it better than I currently do. But there's also a second question and it relates to a clip that was broadcast on the project last night involving Barnaby Joyce, who was at a function, who reflected on the sacking of his departmental head, Paul Grimes.

He said, "They sacked Grimes to remind him where the authority starts from and then he noted that he got a lot more sense out of this bureaucrats after he sacked his departmental head." I've been in Canberra twenty years, that's a pretty extraordinary thing to say. Do you support that?

Well the fact is, all the buy backs, the purchases, the selling of water is going to be subject to an Auditor General’s inquiry. And that is appropriate, back to 2008. Now Labor only wants it during the time Barnaby Joyce had jurisdiction over water. But it's appropriate it goes back to 2008, so the purchases of Penny Wong for instance, are looked at, examined, fully investigated by an independent authority.

And then the government of the day, hopefully that will be Liberals and Nationals, can look at those recommendations, can look at those findings and then act appropriately, accordingly, as the tax payers would expect and want us to.

The fact is, the statutory authority- water policy is water policy and I don't believe, and there's a big clamour at the moment to pause the plan, to stop the plan, to burn the plan. I don't believe in that. And I've said earlier that the plan is not perfect. But if you go putting the Murray-Darling Basin plan back through the Parliament and get someone like a re-elected Adam Bandt and get a hostile Senate with their grubby hands on it, they could well make sure that farmers never get the allocations that they need. They could make it 100% environmental document.

There are elements of the Murray-Darling Basin plan which agree on that triple bottom line approach: economic, social and environmental implications. Now it leans heavily towards the environment, some might argue as it should be. We need a healthy river system. We need it in times when there's plenty of rain and in times like now when there's not hardly any rain. But the fact is, I do think buy backs are lazy policy.

The fact is, you look at the Murrumbidgee and the Murray at the moment, they're running reasonably well because they've got environmental plays going down to South Australia. Yes the Darling, I was pleased to see photos from the ABC website, I look at the ABC website every day, it's my go-to website first thing in the morning.

The fact is there was some good photos of the river flows in the Darling River. It will flow again. The rain will come again. It will probably rain that much, we'll be cursing it. But when it does, we need to be able to harvest that water. We need to be able to store that water and that's why the National Water Grid will do just that.

Fact is, I don't want to delve too far into the water policy because it's going to create arguments. It's going to give the Greens an opportunity to make it an even more environmental document than it already is and hurt our farmers even more. I would not stand for that. I would not encourage that.

And so for those asking to pause the plan, or to look at the plan, or to revisit the plan and put it back through the Commonwealth Parliament, well that might get something worse than what they've already got. And that's the unfortunate situation of our current politics and the environmental movement. Fact is, our farmers need water and it will rain again. We can’t as Max indicated, quite correctly quoted me, we can't make it rain. It’s National Party policy for it to rain, but we can't make it happen, but we can store it when it does.

So sorry, just to follow up on that, so that's buy backs continue and on Paul Grimes' sacking?

I'm not in favour of more buy backs, additional buy backs. That's the Tony Burke way. Tony Burke wants to buy even more water out of the system and what that does, it sets communities against one another, and it sets farmers against one another.

And what it does, it takes away water from a community and then what happens is that farmer doesn't have their children in the local primary school anymore. They often leave town. They don't invest money going to the local hairdressers or the local cafes because they move to the Gold Coast, take their money and run. And it leaves what was once called a Swiss Cheese Effect.

So you have an irrigation system, a pipeline where there's a farmer- there used to be farmers right up and down the line and these days there's only a farmer every so often. And it's not good politics, it's not smart politics. It's not sensible. And it destroys country communities like Griffith, like Coleambally, like Glebe. And I don't want to stand for that.

We've always stood up against buy backs, as far as taking too much water out of the system, to just give it to the environment as part of the ramps, water requests and demands. The fact is, the environment will always bounce back quicker than our farmers. The bird life will come back. The frogs. The fish. They will always come back, far sooner than our farmers ever will.

And once they leave a country community, they don't come back. And once they stop growing food and we should be proud of what our farmers do. They grow the very best food and fibre in all of the world and they are the best environmentalists. And I don't care what anybody says, our farmers use world best practice. These days in Coleambally world state-of-the-art system by which every drop for farmers is accounted for.

The environment doesn't always account for every drop it has and uses. But our farmers have to. What's more, they pay for it and more. So I'll always be on the side of farmers.

Alright, you're side-stepping the Paul Grimes question.

Well, the fact is, as I say, the Auditor General is going to look at all of those buy backs, all of those purchases, all of those sales. And they'll do that back to 2008 and we'll see what the ANAO comes up with.

Alright, last question. Tim Shaw.

Thanks. Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Shaw, Radio 2CC Canberra. Bill Shorten commended Scott Morrison and your government on your approach to mental health investment and doing the best we can for Australians. Drought, flooding, rain, it's been very hard in regional Australia.

And just following on from what Matt said about that city-country divide, what do you want to say to the men and women of Australia the regional, small businessman, the farmer doing it really tough. You can't have the uni graduate going into every community and saying, "Hi, I'm fully trained. I'm the guy who knows about mental health."

What's your message to those men and women of regional Australia particularly, who are doing it really tough at the moment? Who do you want them to get help? And whatever result after the 18th May, can we see a bipartisan approach from all parties towards the better mental health of all Australians?

And I think you would find, that anyone who’s ever visited the Parliament, when the words 'mental health' are raised, you find that the Parliament goes quiet. It's probably the only time. In question time, or any other time besides, the Parliament goes quiet and listens and pays the person on his or her feet the due respect they need when talking about mental health.

And I love the fact that our country communities such as Wagga Wagga, our regional capital's population of 70,000 and all those towns of a similar size. They're big enough to get a good cup of coffee, even latte sippers are welcome. But they're also small enough to care. And we should always make sure we ask each other, "Are you okay?"

And it doesn't matter who they are, whether they are our mortal enemy or whether they're someone we're competing with, whether it's on the sporting field, in business, whatever the case. Ask them, "Are they okay?" Make sure you reach out. Whether that's country or city, it doesn't matter. We're all Australians. We all the best for ourselves and our kids.

And you hear so many soul destroying stories of farmers and small business people, particularly during this time of drought, which are just so heartbreaking. And people who are- you know, they've reached the end of their tether. So to those people I say, call Lifeline. Reach out and seek help. If you need help, seek help. If you want help, there's help there in country communities.

And they're not always just for the university graduates. There are a lot of older Australians who want to help, who are trained to do just that. But there are also a lot of Australians who are practical counsellors.

I dare say, my mother-in-law Beverly Shaw, who has been trained in none of those things, but she does so much good work in the community to put a listening ear to those people as a marriage celebrant and as somebody who buries a lot of people, to make sure they are treated well, to make sure they are listened to and make sure that they can lead better lives in the future.

And that's what I say to all Australians, particularly regional Australians at this time of drought. Reach out. Say to somebody today, "Are you okay?" And listen to their stories.

Shane Manning