Address to the NSW Farm Writers Association and Q&A with NSW Deputy Premier The Hon John Barilaro, 31 AUGUST 2018
Subjects: Farming; Scott Morrison’s visits to drought-affected areas; NSW by-elections; NSW government’s investment in infrastructure; Inland Rail
Thank you for hosting this luncheon. It’s important that we have sponsors. And I’d urge and encourage, if you’ve got the capacity to do so to have a look and see what GHD has to offer, and if you can, follow through with it and support them as they’ve supported you and us. GHD tonight is celebrating 90 years of service and I was just learning the fact that initially, when GHD started, it was involved in water projects in Victoria during the height of the Depression. And certainly water is very much front and centre of what we’re talking about today. We’ve been talking about it in the recent past and I know we’re going to be talking about it more and more in the future because water is our most valuable resource. And John Barilaro, as the Deputy Premier, I know he understands that. He’s a Nat just like I am and we share a bit of a commonality with GHD and that we too are in our nineties. Indeed next year, in federally, we are going to be celebrating 100 years, and they’ve been writing us off for 100 years, but we’re still there, well still delivering and the naysayers can say what they like. We’ll be there in another 100 years hopefully because regional Australia needs a voice.
Rural Australia needs people who are willing to campaign for, on their behalf and John might have mentioned my wife Catherine, who comes with me on the campaign trail and to various events, and it’s very much appreciated when she does. But perhaps one of my best mainstays in my family is my daughter, Georgina. I have three children, as John mentioned. I have a son, Alexander, who’s 23. When I get up and give a speech on the floor of parliament about the economy, Alexander the tax accountant then sends me five dot points via text about what I should have said. Nicholas is 20 and he’s a cabinet-making apprentice and so I’ve got three very different children. Georgina is a school teacher. She teaches at Caulfield Grammar and she drives around…she drives around South Yarra with a National Party sticker on the back of her car. And that might seem a little bit odd in South Yarra and Toorak, that area of Melbourne, but rest assured, everybody should be driving around, perhaps not with necessarily a National Party sticker on the back of your car, but if you want one, just see me afterwards. We can organise that.
But indeed, promoting regional Australia because as one Aboriginal woman told me just prior to me getting into parliament. She pulled me aside and she said ‘when you’re doing your inaugural speech’, she said ‘remember this’, she said, ‘you know, we cultivated this land for tens of thousands of years, and we left it in good shape’. And she said ‘the ones who leave it in good shape now are the farmers’ and she said ‘you might need a politician once a year or thereabouts’. She said ‘you might need a lawyer, hopefully not, but once a year or thereabouts. You might need a priest every now and again. But you need a farmer three times a day, every day. You need them at breakfast, you need them at lunchtime and you need them at dinner time’ and so true. Never a truer word said.
And I am the son of a generational farming family. My father was a farmer…unlike Cameron Hall over here, Cam’s got I think 26,000 acres near Tamworth. We had 1000 acres near Wagga Wagga. But we had water on every paddock. We had good fencing and we had first-cross merinos. Dad grew wheat and oats. He didn’t get into anything fandangled like canola or the like. But we had Hereford…well we had Black Angus until they knocked too many fences over and then we went into Herefords. Dad thought the Black Angus were a bit mad, but you drive around the Riverina now, as opposed to those years in the ‘70s when I was growing up, Riverina was all red and white. These days it’s all black and that’s through good marketing and, you know, the fact is that Herefords were a fine animal, but there’s so much more Black Angus now it’s not funny. It was good growing up on a farm. I could remember, I was the only one of my family who went and visited aunt Nelly, my mother’s aunt, my great aunt, and I went and visited her right up until the day she died. And on the day she died, she told me that I was the family failure. At the time, I was the editor of the local newspaper. Believe it or not and you’re farm writers so you’ll be impressed with this. In fact, we’ll have a bit of audience interaction. I was the editor of the Wagga Daily Advertiser and the group editor of the Riverina Media Group. How many, hands up, just a couple, how many journalists do you think I had at my disposal? Random….throw me a number. One, no I had a few more than that.
Five? You’re the last one I’m going to ask. There’s dinner for two at Parliament House for a person of your choice if you get the answer right.
Fifty-eight. Close. Fifty-eight journalists. So they were heady days in the newspaper game. So I was heading up this newspaper with 58 journos and a huge budget and you know, heady days, we were going into colour, we had rural publications. Life was good and I went to visit Aunt Nelly and she told me I was the family failure because I hadn’t gone on the land. And I went home to dad very despondent, very disheartened, and I said, ‘you know what, aunt Nelly just told me I was the family failure because I wasn’t following in your footsteps and taking up farming’. Dad, with a big sigh, said, ‘you know, I never really liked aunt Nelly much, she’s on your mother’s side and do you know what, sometimes she makes a lot of sense’.
Thanks dad. Anyway, so certainly growing up on a farm was a great thing and it taught me respect for farmers and certainly what they do. And I've always said, I will always say, that our famers are the most resilient in the world and they are the very best environmentalists. And whether you have those farmers out in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, Coleambally Irrigation Area, they farm a lot different than just 200 kilometres, you know, further east to Wagga Wagga. They do it, they do it tough and they do it for and on our behalf, and not only that, they also feed so many other families in other nations besides Australia. And we can certainly rely on our farmers to be able to produce those goods, but again to be lapped up by the burgeoning middle class of Asia. Now, we’ve already god free trade agreements with South Korea, with China, Japan, Peru. We’ve got the Trans-Pacific Partnership which despite the fact that Donald Trump pulled out, you would think that given that would have been the end of it. But you know, full credit to him, the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and- you know, his New Zealand counterpart said ‘you know what, we’re going to go ahead with this because it is an opportunity for our farmers and for our small business people to avail themselves in the $12 trillion opportunity’. And so Australia forged ahead and we are now a leading player in that wonderful opportunity for our markets, for our farmers, for our small businesses in regional Australia and so that is fantastic. And I know that the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison- and I appreciate that John mentioned this afternoon that I will be acting Prime Minister. That’s a little bit unusual, we’ll have three in a week, but…
I might take spot polls on who you like best. But the fact is when I sat down with Scott Morrison last Friday, having him just been elected the Liberal leader, and we sorted through our arrangements, I said to him, ‘you need to, first of all, come to a drought-affected community’. And he said ‘yes that’s absolutely certain’. And we went to Quilpie in Queensland and I thought that was an important first step, an important first visit, and it was great to have him out on the ground, albeit not wearing an Akubra, albeit wearing his Shark’s hat. That’s fine, you know. Good as gold. He’s a fantastic Cronulla-Sutherland supporter and go the Sharks in the finals if that’s what floats your boat. My team Parramatta is actually holding up the competition.
And you rugby league supporters get what I mean. They can finish no further down than last. But mathematically somebody has to come last. But look, Scott came out and he talked to councils. He talked to local people. He got on the ground and I think that the best part about him I liked was when he actually lay on the floor of a local preschool and he had kids crawling all over him while he was looking at one kid who had an iPad there and he was showing him exactly what he was doing and I thought, ‘well this is great, he’s going to fit in really well’. But he actually understood the drought. I mean, certainly as Treasurer, he’s been in that role for some time, he will I think make a fine Prime Minister and he will certainly put the regions where they need to be and our farmers where they have to be, and that is front and centre of all the things that he’s talking about and our vision for Australia. And the drought is, as John Barilaro talked about, it is crippling and there’s no question. That’s why I’ve been delighted to work with John. I know the Agriculture and Water Resources Minister federally, David Littleproud, has worked with John’s Minister Niall Blair in forming packages of help and assistance. The farmers don’t ask for handouts. They do need a hand up and as John said, one of the best things that you can do is go and visit them. One of the best things you can do is go and spend a bit of money in rural economies to help generate that income. Now we, as a Federal Government, have put a million dollars on the table for local councils to give a local town hall a bit of a lick of paint or fix a roundabout, or do something to generate some money in the local communities. We’ve also obviously helped out with farm household assistance. One of the important things that we’ve done is for silos and for hay sheds and the like. We’ve made that investment instantly write-offable in the year of investment. So very important things.
But I think one of the best things I think that, sometimes, I could never understand why it received so much derision when the former leader, Barnaby Joyce, who we’ve just appointed, I’ve just appointed as the Drought Envoy for the nation, which I think is a special role and I know he’ll fill it well. But when he used to stand up in Parliament and talk about pest management, fencing, and the scourge of dogs and the effect that they had on rural communities, it was treated with some sort of derision from those opposite. But you know when you go out to these rural communities and you see the dog fences and you hear from a farmer that says he’s lambing rates have gone up from 15 per cent to 87 per cent, you just know that that sort of infrastructure is transformational for those rural communities.
You people play an important part in this room because many of you are farm writers, many of you are journalists and as John said, we thank you for the role that you’ve played in helping to convey the message about the drought. But there’s also a challenge to you, like there is to us as politicians, and that is to tell the real stories and to convey the real messages because our farmers aren’t all hapless people who are looking for handouts, they’re not basket cases; our rural communities certainly aren’t. They’re very proud, they’re very resilient and they’re very good at what they do. And this, I suppose, sometimes image that our farmers are on their knees and that they’re always looking for a handout is anything but the truth. And you have the ability, just as we do as parliamentarians, to convey the message that there is great hope out there; that there is a great story of positivity; and there is a fantastic message about rural Australia that our farmers can and will be strong. They must be strong for our nation because when our farmers are strong, so too is our nation and when our regional economies are doing well, so too does Australia do well. It all hinges on regional Australia and that's why I’m so fiercely proud of where I live and fiercely proud that I do come from regional Australia and I will live all my life in regional Australia. I love the place. I enjoy coming to Sydney. I enjoy being the Infrastructure Minister and responsible largely for a lot of the big projects that we're rolling out right across the nation.
I am going to say that we're rolling out a $75 billion 10-year pipeline of investment and John Barilaro will tell you they’re rolling out $87 billion in four years and that's what you can do when you get you get GST money from the Federal Parliament. I’m just glad that he hasn't got the last say. But I have to say that this is what you can do, as a state I’m talking about now, when you do have a strong economy that is in surplus. And congratulations to John and to the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, for what they've done to transform New South Wales into the engine room of the Australian economy as it is and some might suggest as it should be. It has long been a power house. It long will be a power house. And I was in South Australia this morning. I'm in three states today. I was in South Australia this morning unveiling a new project for Port Wakefield – an overpass and a road duplication, which is going to mean so much for that country community in South Australia. From here now, I’m going to address the Infrastructure Australia tonight in Brisbane. It’s an important job. It's a busy job. I love getting out and about not just in the capital cities but certainly the countryside to talk up what our Government is doing and to talk up what a great place Australia is.
We are also embarking, of course, on the…well, it’s more than $9 billion Inland Rail from Melbourne to Brisbane. Delighted that we've already signed intergovernmental agreements with Victoria, with New South Wales, and working on one with Queensland as we speak. But on January 15, the first 600 tonnes of steel was dropped off at a little place called Peak Hill in Central Western New South Wales to start that project off. Now that will also be a transformational project. We've been talking about it long before the Nationals were in existence; long before we were called the Country Party; and long before GHD even came on the scene. In fact, it was 1890 when Australians, actually as they were the colonies then, we’re talking about having a rail project of this sort, of this nature.
Well, finally, we're getting on and we're building it and it's not without, of course it's shares of bumps and lumps. Of course, when you build a 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce, it always is going to present its share of difficulties. But I want to be part of a government which doesn't have a banana republic attitude and when I say banana, I meant this attitude that way too many governments for way too many years have adopted. Banana being: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything; and you can use that if you want if you could remember it. But the fact is fact is we have had an aversion to, it’s NIMBY-ism I suppose. We have had an aversion to building things because of pressure being brought about by social media. We were once in a 24-hour news cycle – these days with Twitter and social media and the like, it's a 24-second news cycle. And politicians can cave in to those opinions, to those views – they’re not always generally held by the entire populace. You know, quite frankly, you sometimes, and last week was pretty messy in Parliament but by and large, the general public just expects our parliaments, expects our politicians to get on with the job of representing them. And even though you might sometimes see this clamour of activity and fervour of excitement on social media, it does not mean that it’s resonating right throughout the community and that's where, again, you as farm writers, as journalists, as people who are conveying messages of truth and hope have an obligation too, to look through sometimes what is trending on Twitter and to make sure that you get the real and right story out there. So there's an obligation on you. We have to, of course, as politicians as well be accountable always. And certainly, I know that sometimes you have to rise above what is trending on Twitter and make the right decisions, having taken on board all the consultation, having addressed stakeholders and done all that engagement. At the end of the day, you have to be able to build things which are going to make a bigger and better Australia and that's what we're doing.
And that's why I was delighted today that the CSIRO unveiled its plan and its policy, which came about through the Developing the Northern Australia White Paper. Now, when we got into government in 2013, we appointed, the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed Josh Frydenberg as Minister for Northern Australia and that caused a little bit of consternation by some who said: ‘well, what is the boy from Kooyong going to know about Northern Australia’. I thought it was a rather grand and bold and quite a good move on behalf of the government of the time because I thought it was great that we had somebody who was going to make a real imprint and a real impression in federal politics going forward with a fresh set of eyes, completely independent, and unbiased to take on that portfolio. And he did a very, very good job. Then, of course, as Josh only could, he’s gone places – he’s now the Treasurer. So how good is it that our Northern Australia Minister is now in charge of Treasury in the Federal Parliament? But we've now got Senator Matthew Canavan, who’s also the Resources Minister doing that portfolio and of course Senator Canavan was front and centre of the Developing the Northern Australia White Paper.
And the Northern Australia Water Resources Assessments – that plan that has been unveiled today delivers a wealth of new data to inform future policy as far as water resources to help states and territories plan their water arrangements. But it also has undertaken assessments in the Mitchell, Queensland, Darwin, Northern Territory, and Fitzroy, Western Australia river catchments. Now, if you read The Australian today, I recommend that you do, there's the prospect of building dams and I've never shied away from the fact that we should store more of our water. I’ve never shied away from the fact that we should build more dams to use them for irrigated agriculture; to use them for flood mitigation; to use them to drought proof our nation; and this will go a long way to doing that. I think it was Franklin D Roosevelt who said that a nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself. He was so right. I think that's all part of this and certainly, when John Oxley the explorer in 1817 went to the area that is now the Murrumbidgee Irrigation and he looked out at what he described as a ‘hollowing wilderness’. And he said at that time that ‘no man would ever want to set foot here, let alone try to develop this area’. Well, add water and you can see the food and fibre bowl of the Murrumbidgee and Coleambally irrigation areas are now and it rings true. In Australia, we’ve got the soil, we’ve got the know how, we’ve also got the water, we just have to harness it. And generally speaking, if you add water you can throw an iron nail in the ground and you’ll grow crow bars and that’s what Australia’s like. It is a fantastic place…
And you may well laugh and yes, you’ll use that again, I know.
You’ll claim it’s your own. But the fact is it is true, whether it’s in Tasmania or the black soil plains of the Liverpool Plains, but even in Northern Australia. And that’s why we’re so keen about this plan that has been unveiled today. CSIRO has done an incredible amount of work on it. So, we’ve got the right plan, we just need the economists to get behind it, we need the investors to get behind it, and we can grow Northern Australia, we can develop it at the way it ought to be. Because that is the future of Australia and certainly with those free trade agreements, those arrangements that we’ve been able to put in place with those countries I mentioned beforehand and with Scott Morrison going to Indonesia this afternoon to engage with them as far as trading arrangements are concerned as well, the future can only be bright.
I say again, thank you for the job that you do to report accurately on the role that agriculture plays in Australia, the fact that it is a story of vision and hope, the fact that it is a story of productivity. And I know that together we can only build a better Australia.
Thank you very much.
Deputy Prime Minister. Robert Hardie from New South Wales Farmers. I understand you met our state president a couple of weeks ago who again bailed you up about your $10 billion Inland Rail project and the lack of transparency that has dogged this project basically from the time back in probably the 1890s when it was being considered. You referred today to the NIMBY-ist approach that’s being considered in relation to some infrastructure projects. With the onset of the drought in this particular part of regional New South Wales, the impact of mental health and other concerns, why is the ARTC – the agency that you are responsible for as a Minister of the Crown in the Australian Government – still refusing to give the answers to questions that farmers believe are legitimate in relation to the selection of the route through 300 kilometres of prime agricultural land in Western New South Wales?
Yeah, sure, Robert. And I appreciate your concerns and you and I have had these discussions quite a few times. I’ve been to Narrabri and to Narromine – Narrabri and Narromine – and several other places as well, talking to farmers. That’s why I also appointed Warren Truss, a former, very well known and renowned and measured, considered Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure to the role of Chair of the ARTC to engage with stakeholders. We’ve had 10 years of negotiations with farmers and stakeholders. We have settled on the route, appreciating that in some places it still needs to be narrowed down to a 60 metre corridor. But the fact is, the route is where it needs to go according to engineering experts. It’s always going to, I guess, run into areas where some people would like it somewhere else. But the fact is, we do need to get on with the job, we have had 10 years of negotiations, we’ve had 10 years of looking at the alignment and it’s time to build the project.
Richard Heath, Australian Farm Institute. David Littleproud said recently that it was a big call to connect the current drought to human induced climate change and that really it was actually irrelevant to how we deal with this drought that’s in front of us. Now, that’s fine for this drought, we have to deal with what’s in front of us now. But for long-term drought policy it’s actually pretty important to your position on climate change science because the climate change science says droughts will happen more frequently and they will be move severe. And policy that takes that approach is going to look different to policy that says that drought patterns will be the same as they always have been. So, what is the National Party’s position on long-term drought policy in terms of whether you believe droughts are going to be happening more frequently and be more severe?
Well, look, it is said that we are getting more severe weather events and the climate is getting drier. The climate has been changing since day dot. I understand that. And we need to make sure that we do everything that we can to drought-proof our nation, to make sure that we are investing from pipes and troughs right through to weirs and dams. And we will be doing that. We’ve got a National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. We need to make sure that we utilise that in the areas where we obviously are going to need to store more of the water to using in dry times. Also, of course, we’ve had the Productivity Commission release a report today on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. We’ll look at that and make sure that that works in. But we need to obviously try and build a more resilient drought-proofed nation going forward. And we’ll be having those discussions. Time is, perhaps, of the essence here because it is dry, it is terribly dry and these drought communities are really feeling the effects. So, we as a government have to show leadership and we will.
Mike Foley from Fairfax Media. Just for both the Deputy Premier and Prime Minister today, drought policy – and we’ve seen Federal Government focussing very much on- solely on, resilience measures, preparedness and funding. I’m wondering what the philosophical stance of both governments is in relation to future use of direct farmer payments, direct subsidies, as opposed to investment in preparedness measures?
Well, I think you need both. I think, look, there’s no question that Australian farmers are the most efficient and they’re competing on a global market against tariffs and in some cases, sectors that are propped up by government and we’ve got to recognise that in a global market. But the reality is that the reason that farmers are innovative, efficient and they can survive through some of the toughest droughts, or some of the other issues that we face as a nation, is because that resilience is built in because we play in a global market without protections. And now as a Nat, I would always advocate for some sort of protectionist approach. But the reality here is we want to build resilience and the best way to that, of course, is to invest through – in New South Wales – the Farm Innovation Fund, which in one way tries to drought-proof, as best as possible, for when you get to a period like now. But the other part of the conversation we should be having now while the drought is on is taking on the big corporates that are screwing our farmers when it comes to price. When you’re having the dollar a litre milk war, it means during the good times our dairy farmers aren’t actually putting money aside for when it’s tough. When we’re actually screwing our farmers of commodity prices, you’ll never get the resiliency that you need. Now, if we get that sorted and if we actually are able to make sure that our farmers are paid a fair price for produce when things are going good, you’re building resiliency and therefore you’ll be able to survive when things get a little bit tougher. But we also have to touch on the issues about…and I back the Deputy Prime Minister….about water security. We’ve got to have those conversations today about water security. And that means building dams and pipelines. And that’s never a conversation piece that we seem to be able to have a conversation about and a genuine debate around the facts. But if you want a viable, efficient and long-term agriculture sector, you need to invest in water security, you need to invest in infrastructure that drought-proofs our farms. You need to make sure that the market place pays the right price in relation to our farms’ produce. And then we also have to look at parts of the state where maybe we need to move on from the type of farming practice that we have, and that includes some exit plans for farmers and how do we get young people back on the land. So, there are a range of things that you’ve got to do without actually having to worry about tariffs or duties to protect us from the global market.
Yes, I agree with John. We have to do both but what we don’t want to do is what Joel Fitzgibbon said the other day and suggested that ‘we’ll start telling farmers what they need to do, where they need to do it and how they need to do it’. They’ll make those decisions on their own, based on how they’re going themselves. But the fact is we’ve also lowered the tax rate – as the Federal Government – to 27.5 per cent. That takes in most of our farmers, that’s the lowest the tax rate’s been for 78 years. And so, that’s been a help. Of course, we’ve provided other water infrastructure write offs in the year of investment, we’ve just done that we’ve silos and with fodder storage et cetera. So, they’re big helps too but we’ll also open up new markets to enable them new opportunities. And look, it will rain again. We can’t make it rain, if we did, gee, we’d get re-elected every time. But we can provide the assistance to get them through to the next shower. And look, it could rain an inch tomorrow and then for every day for the next six weeks and these farming communities, they’re not going to get over it in weeks or months, this is going to take years. Many of these farmers have de-stocked. That’s a problem. It takes three years to build up a herd in some instances.
But it’s not just the farmers either, it’s also the cafes, the little stores in those real communities. I was in Quilpie the other day and all the little businesses in the main street are doing it tough and John mentioned that before. It is as well, for them, they don’t always get the financial assistance that’s made available by governments, per se. And so they’re doing it tough too so we need to always remember that as well.
Dave McKeon from Grain Growers Limited. One for the Deputy Prime Minister. I guess when we’re looking at our international competiveness, which you’ve just talked about, as an industry, in your portfolio responsibilities directly is infrastructure and freight as a key component there and for grains particularly, particularly in New South Wales, up to 30 per cent of the grain cost at port is caught up in freight. We know that internationally comparisons where we’re paying up to four times more per cent per kilometre for rail freight in Australia and particularly in New South Wales. National freight strategies coming up here and now. It’s part of what you’re working on at the moment. Can you give us an insight into what you think some of the priorities are to take some of that handbrake off from a freight perspective that the federal government can do to I guess reduce that cost and increase our international competitiveness?
Well I suppose of the aim, the objective, is to bring costs down, David, so that rail, freight rail, can be more competitive for more of our farmers and it actually, and more of our businesses as a whole. It actually makes good sense. We went through an era where many of the rail lines were being ripped up and now communities are urging and encourage us to not only lay them back down again but in fact to build more on greenfield sites. So that, you know, there’s a big push for more rail use. It also takes more trucks off the roads. That’s got to get our roads safer. The freight task is going to double in Australia in the next 20 years and we need to be ready for it and so we’ve got, as part of our $75 billion investment pipeline, a real emphasis on rail. That’s shown by the Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail but there’s so many more projects that we will do in conjunction with the states as well to make sure that more of our goods can be shipped on rail.
Brigid Glanville from the ABC. I’ve got a question for both of you, but I’d like Michael McCormack to answer it first. Today the by-election in the seat of Wagga, former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer today came out and said that the Nats should have run a candidate in that seat. Do you agree with him?
I would have liked to have run a candidate. I can understand why we didn’t, but I would have liked to have run a candidate. I think we would have stood a good show. The fact is Julia Ham is the Liberal candidate. The fact is, I think despite what has happened, despite the fact that the former Liberal member had to give up the seat in certain circumstances in which he did, the fact is the Coalition and the Liberal Party have held that seat since 1957 and I’ve seen just in recent years the delivery that the Liberal Party has done in and around Wagga. New hospital in conjunction with the federal government, new fire station, new police station, new ambulance station. Wagga Wagga has done very well out of a very good and sound Liberal Nationals government in New South Wales and to continue that representation I’ll urge voters to vote, one, Julia Ham on Saturday week.
As a member of New South Wales Nationals, I of course for me I made the decision that we wouldn’t run and why. I think the past ten days has proven that disunity destroys governments. The success of the New South Wales government, the Liberals and Nationals government has been strong unity between the Liberals and Nats and in this case now between myself and the Premier Gladys Berejiklian. The circumstances of why a Liberal member of government left, of course, his post, is well documented and it’s been a Liberal seat. So we can be focused now, rather than focus on the drought and delivery for drought and delivery for the state, I could have been more focused on a three-cornered contest in government against the Liberal Party at a time when the focus should be actually on the issues that matter. And for me that was an easy decision that we don’t run a three-cornered contest. Status quo wins government in 2019 for us, disunity kills. We are united. Gladys and I are strong on this and we’ve made a decision that it will be the Liberals that are running for Wagga Wagga.
But that decision made, you now may lose the seat because of it?
Well I think what played out last week in politics actually doesn’t help any party. It’s not just what was played out in the Liberal Party, the disunity, the tearing down of another prime minister, the infighting, the navel-gazing that we’ve now seen for ten years in this nation is a lack of leadership, actually, doesn’t play well for any politician of any colour of any party. So even if it was the Nats running today and that played out last week that would actually impact on the outcome. The people of Wagga will make a decision based on the issues that are local. Never underestimate that all politics is local. They’ll make a decision next Saturday in relation to the by-election. So there are some independents, there’s the Labor Party but we’ve also got Julia Ham the Liberal candidate. We’ll be judged next week. The reality is, post that by-election, and Gladys Berejiklian will still be Premier, we’ll still be in government and we will continue to do what we’ve always done is be focused on our citizens and dealing with the issues that are at task.
Hi, Danielle from the Daily Telegraph. This is a question for you both again. The New South Wales government has admitted it’s at risk of losing Wagga Wagga at next week’s by-election. Do you think this is a message to you state and federal governments that you are losing the regions or you’ve forgotten the regions and are you at risk of seeing this pattern repeated at general elections next year?
Well that’s a good question and I sort of answered part of that in relation to the issues why there’s a by-election and what can possibly come out of a by-election. And if you look on average in by-elections there’s a swing against the government of about 15 or 18 per cent. We hold the seat of Wagga Wagga by 12 per cent. But I’d also remind you that last year we were told – and it’s great that we are going to be celebrating 100 years as a party – that the Shooters were going to be the end of the Nationals because post the Orange by-election, yet in the seat of Cootamundra and the seat of Murray we were able to run successful campaigns and return to you National Party members to the fold.
So again, whatever happens next Saturday is a snapshot in time. You know what? We’ll be judged at the general election on our eight years of delivery as a government. Have we been a good government? I say we have. Have we got it all perfectly right? No, we’ve made some mistakes. But in contrast to the ten years of the Labor government, we’ll be judged against that and I believe the Premier has a great vision, not only for the future. We will be able to look back to the delivery over the last eight years to back our words with actions. Regardless of what happens next weekend, a by-election result is an opportunity for communities to send a message to the government of the day because post that by-election regardless of the result they still end up with Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the Liberal National government in control of a state that now has no debt, budget surpluses, an $87 billion four-year infrastructure plan, the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. We’ve got our citizens focused on our citizens and I think that we’ll be judged on in 2019.
And I think too, after the by-election the fact is Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro will still be in government and the person, if it’s Julia Ham, and I hope it is, she’ll be able to have direct access to the ministers each and every one of them around the Cabinet table, around the full ministry and make demands of them for their time, for their funding. The fact is if you vote for somebody who’s not in government, or indeed an independent, they can just stand outside throwing rocks at the tent and yelling. The fact is if you’ve got someone inside the tent they can make a difference. They can really influence outcomes.
Thank you. We’re out of time for questions but the ministers have other commitments. So everyone, please join me in thanking both…