RURAL PRESS CLUB QUEENSLAND SPEECH, 5 April 2019
Subjects: Rural and regional communities
Look, it is a great pleasure to be with you here today and acknowledge Mark, acknowledge Trent, acknowledge my colleagues in the room. We've got Keith Pitt, I know we’ve got Tony Perrett somewhere, and soon to be a colleague Susan McDonald, the LNP candidate for Queensland.
And I need Susan there but more importantly, you need Susan there, and of course Keith is doing an outstanding job in Hinkler. The fact is when you have an LNP member in there, particularly one from Queensland, they are the voice of the Maroons, they are the voice of the Sunshine State, and they certainly do get things done. I was with the Member for Wide Bay Llew O’Brien earlier today, announcing a $18 million irrigation off-stream project for Maryborough Sugar Factory. Now, that factory has been there since 1895 and they’ve had some heady days. They’ve also had some troubled and trying times. But today, well done. They’ve got $18 million and I know what a difference that is going to make. And I’m sitting close by Brent Finlay and I know he's got a little project that Commonwealth money is good for but I just need to get it across the line with the state. And when you have good intentions, when you have good projects, when you have willing workers and people who are willing to put their sweat and their blood and their tears down to a particular project and they want to get it across the line and they just sort of get into every hurdle and then it's so difficult for them to get it across the line, it is really, really hard. But we’re with you Brent. The Emu Swamp Dam in Stanthorpe or near Stanthorpe, good project. We've got $500 million, half billion dollars, on the table for National Water Infrastructure Development Fund projects, and I know Sir Frank and Sir Leo are most interested what we plan to do about water. I've been told and I can well remember my inaugural speech to Parliament, back in October 2010, how I talked about water. You add water, you add agriculture. You get agriculture going, get it happening, you add export opportunity, you add to those local economies, and that's what we want to do. As LNP members, as Nationals members, that's our focus. That's our driver. But not just agriculture.
I was asked by Kerry from Landline(*) just a bit earlier what does a National Party person represent, what does a regional LNP member represent? Well, we represent very diversified communities. But everybody here chooses not to live in the bright city lights and a capital city, they’re the people we represent and they are different. They are changing. But the fact is our regional and rural, remote, country, coastal communities, I like to think of them as big enough, those towns, to get a good cup of coffee, small enough to still care. So that when there are trying times, when there are troubles happen, when there's a tragedy, people still band around. They put their arms around others and they help them through those difficult periods, those sad times. And the rest of the time, well, there's always a good cup of coffee there and I urge and encourage anybody to make sure that they visit a regional community. How many of you are from capital cities, live in a capital city? Yeah, a few. Do you like looking at the brake lights in front of you when you’re going to work, to and from work? That's what I think of a capital city, and I love the capital cities. And certainly from a National Party perspective, well, I always see things not just in the Nationals’ interest but in the national interest and that's why our Budget commitment of making sure that the Urban Congestion Fund, which was $1 billion is now $4 billion. I want to see that rolled out. I want to see less congestion in our capital cities. But if you are sick of looking at the brake light in front of you, then- and you have the capacity to do so and there’s the job there for you and there are. And I appreciate some of you working bureaus of media teams that require you to be in the capital cities. But if you've got the opportunity to do so and you've got a love of the bush, and a love of the people moreover, then contemplate moving to a regional area.
I was a newspaper journalist and I was a newspaper editor, and when I was a newspaper editor of the Wagga Wagga, The Daily Advertiser, I was also the group editor of the Riverina Media Group. Now, in that group, we had a daily – from Monday to Saturday – we had a tri-weekly, we had a bi-weekly and a couple of weeklies and I had at my disposal 58 journalists. So I had 58 staff who went to be in that position. They were heady days and I'm sure that those of you who are running newsrooms in this room, you could only wish and hope and want for that sort of stuff. Fact is you do a great job. I’m the first to acknowledge it. I know how tough you work. When I was a journalist, we were only allowed to write the stories, to write the reports. We weren't allowed to – and Michael will probably back me up on that – there was a demarcation if we actually took a photo, well that didn’t get used because that was the photographer’s job. But these days, you poor old journos, you’re expected to come here, you’re expected to write the story, take the photo, tweet while I’m talking – m_mccormackmp – yes-
You are supposed to then do a video, which you then load up to all sorts of forms of social media, and it’s a difficult role. I understand that. I get that. And I want to say that it's great that you continue to do it and it's great that you rural and regional people have a focus on rural and regional issues because without you, how else do we get the word out there about what a good Budget it was on Tuesday? But how else do we also remain accountable, remain transparent? You keep us- you keep our feet to the flame, as you should. The fact is you do report the news and events in rural and regional areas. And for that, on behalf of the government, I say thank you, and the additional money that was in there for the ABC this week, I'm sure you're going to be writing all good reports about my speech because we've provided just that.
Look, I understand that there's a special type of editors gathered today from that fine division of Fairfax Media, the rural and agricultural publish team. Where are the publishing team? Where are you? Colin wrote that. Colin wrote that. I think that's probably from his days of Fairfax. But welcome, great to have you here. I'm from a community where there's Fairfax papers and I know- well, they’re [indistinct] now, but I know they're right throughout New South Wales and we welcome you here. But I really want you to know that you do a great job and we want you to [inaudible] not just our regional and rural areas but indeed right throughout the nation that Budget was very, very well received because it was the first Budget in 12 years to actually be in the black. It was the first surplus Budget for a dozen years, so that's significant. It would have been worth a round of applause but I'll let you go on that. It was probably-
Yeah, well done. Well done Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann because it is a difficult thing to-when you are handed a set of figures, when we took back government in 2013, that were not at all good and then to turn that around in six years and then to start paying down that debt. That was inherited, that we did inherit. But it’s not us as Liberal National members who inherited it. Ot’s actually the taxpayers of the nation and it's our job and our duty, as we always do, get the Budget back into surplus and pay down Labor's debt. That's our role, that’s our function, and we do it very well. But we do it also well by the fact that we actually spend the sort of money that we need to on the infrastructure that Australians want, need, demand, expect and most of all deserve because at the end of the day, it's also about getting people home sooner and safer. So whether it’s the $4 billion Urban Congestion Fund which is important for places such as Brisbane, or whether it’s the Roads of Strategic Importance and tipping more money into them - another billion dollars - into making sure that those feeder roads, those secondary byways feeding into the national highways are given the sort of recognition and importance they deserve. And none better demonstrated- where are our friends from Western Australia? Hands up. One. Well done. Give him a round of applause.
I was in- I don’t even know why I’m telling this story, because I’m in Queensland. I know you’re all parochial, but did I tell you that we hold the State of Origin in New South Wales? No, I shouldn’t go there. Sorry, Keith. Yeah. Yeah.
One in a row. One in a row.
One in a row, yeah. And one probably in about 20 years, Keith, because you’ll win it back this year and then hold it for another dozen years. But I was in a place called Laverton the other day. Now, the Outback Way is called Australia's longest shortcut. It extends 2720 kilometres from Winton in- where’s Winton? Of course, it is. Right. Because I want you to get that Queensland fervour going. You need to get a bit more animated. Where’s Winton? Queensland. And it goes all the way to Laverton in Western Australia. So, we were over in Laverton announcing the $160 million of upgrades that we're putting into the Outback Way. And if you go out 12 kilometres out from Laverton, you get to the westernmost point where the bitumen ends, and we were there and you just- that red dust soil that’s so synonymous in Western Australia. And then out of their $76.5 million, as part of that $160 million, they're going to put down 155 kilometres of asphalt, and this mining owner came up and pulled up and he said he said oh, this is fantastic. He said I heard that you were coming, he said, and I heard that you were making this announcement. He said my mine is 200 kilometres that away, so he said if you’re putting down 155 kilometres of bitumen, he said, that’s just fantastic because he said how long do you think it takes my trucks to get from where we are right here to my mine? Have a guess, somebody, anywhere in the room. How many hours?
Three. It takes 12. It takes 12 hours. Now, when they going on that corrugated road, that dirt corrugated road and you can just imagine what it’s like, it takes them 12 hours because they’re actually- they’re that rough, they snap the trailers and they’re carrying such heavy mining equipment they can only go 35, 40 k’s an hour. But he said when the when the road is all to his doorstep, so 50 k’s - and in West Australian terms, in outback Queensland terms, 50 k’s is almost to the doorstep - how many hours now do you think it will be up from that point on to his mine? You're right, three hours. It’s going to take a saving- it’s going to be a saving of nine hours’ travel time. Now that's really significant. That is amazing, and that's the sort of whether it's in Queensland, whether it's in WA, right throughout regional Australia, that's the sort of saves that business can enjoy. Let alone the grey nomads, and whether you are in Winton or Chinchilla or, you know, insert name of Queensland town here, they've got some many great things that attract business. So many great things in our regional areas that attract tourists, and with more people having the capacity, living longer because of our great health outcomes - did I mention that the Budget has record of spending, up 62 per cent for year on year.
Thank you. Yeah, well done. And more drugs on the PBS, which is absolutely fantastic and when you when you actually have a strong economy, you can put more drugs that are listed by the PBAC on the PBS, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and that's what we've done.
But you- more people are travelling, more people are on our roads, and what we want to do is have less of those people- we don't have anybody dying on our roads, but we want to have less accidents and therefore less cost to the economy because every accident costs the economy. But it also- there's accidents which cause 35,000 injuries per year, hospitalizations per year. That's way too many. But sadly last year, there were 11,000 people who got in a car and headed somewhere and didn't make it to where they were going to go. Now, 11,000 people, that’s 11,000 Christmas tables this year which for Christmas lunch will not have that loved one beside them at the table, pulling up where they should be and eating their turkey, eating their roast chicken and that's so, so sad. And we want to make sure that whether the spending is on the Bruce Highway, the Warrego, wherever it is right throughout Queensland, right throughout Australia that we get the money where it needs to go. And that's why in the Budget we've gone from a $75 billion infrastructure roll out to a $100 billion infrastructure rollout. So that's a plan for the next 10 years to make sure that we build the roads that we need to build where we need to build them, the rail, the ports. There's $100 million dollars for regional airports. Such a significant investment, such a necessary investment.
And of course for Sir Leo and Sir Frank we’ve got half a billion dollars there for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. Now I know - and I mentioned Brent earlier - and I mentioned the Emu Swamp dam project earlier, this $42 million dollars that we've committed to seeing that project up and running. We've got Hells Gate. We've got Big Rocks Weir. We've got indeed Rookwood Weir, which we've invested $176.1 million dollars in. And I know that wouldn't have happened without the fierce advocacy of Michelle Landry and Ken O’Dowd, and I know what a difference that’s going to make, and not just for agricultural production but also for flood mitigation. I know that the difference that, you know, projects for water make because I come from the irrigation district. I once represented Griffith. Now, Griffith was where the whole Murray Darling draft of the basin plan was turned on its head because they said no. The irrigators said we need the water to grow food and fibre. Now we do, you could argue, have enough water in this nation we just don't store enough of it and we don't harness it well enough. So, yes, we've got half a billion. I'd like to see that significantly higher, but we can only roll out projects and we can only roll out the infrastructure as we're- it’s like roads. With the right amount of workers in the right places, it’s a rolling series of projects.
That will unfortunately be to the side if we lose government because I don't believe- and in fact I know that the other side doesn't share our vision for more water infrastructure, and I appreciate that the Bradfield scheme has been in the news a lot lately. I understand that certainly Bradfield was somebody who was a proponent of water infrastructure in the north, in Queensland’s north. Delighted that the CSIRO has identified six key sites in particular catchments where we could potentially build more water infrastructure, and of course we've got to do it with willing partners. We've got to do it with state and territory governments who want to come on board and take up the vision that we have. And on 1 April, shame about the date, but that was the close off date for the lists through from the states and territories. And unfortunately Queensland’s list did not come through by the cut off. I'm really disappointed, but it has come through over the past 24 hours. I'll certainly be looking at that and certainly trying to work as best I can with the Queensland Government. I've got a good relationship with [indistinct] but I want to make sure that Queensland gets its fair share when it comes to more water storage infrastructure, just like we did today with the $18 million dollars for the particular project at Maryborough, on the Mary River- lower Mary River where they're going to now get a water storage build for 6000 mega-litres off-stream, so that in that early period of the sugar cane harvest, just after November in the early few months, that they get the right amount of water at the right time to be able to grow more cane, to be able to grow more sugar, and to be able to increase their domestic and export supplies because it like many other industries, particularly traditional industries, are under fire. They are.
The fact is they're also under fire from- our agricultural and rural industries are under fire from animal activists and we've just endured- enjoyed a- hands up all those who had the chicken? Hands up all those who had the beef? See I knew, I told myself I could get everybody to put their hand up if I stood here long enough. But the fact is that chicken about beef - somebody probably a vegetarian meal, but anyway …
Yeah, well done. But that too came from a farm, and now you’re not going to need- Mark in his introduction said great that we've got the Deputy Prime Minister, we're really privileged to have him and, you know, that's fantastic. The fact is, yes, you have but you probably only need a politician every now and again. You need a lawyer every now and again. You need a priest every now and again, a schoolteacher- well, you need those more regularly than you needs all those aforementioned. But you need a farmer three times a day every day. You need him at breakfast, you need him at lunch, and you need him at dinner. They’re the most valuable person we've got in this area and I’ll always steadfastly defend them. And given the fact that I come from a generational farming family, I’ll always back them to the hilt. My great aunt told me on her deathbed that I was the family failure. I at the time was the editor of the-
She did, and you laugh. Yes, it’s worth mocking, but I wasn’t quite Deputy Prime Minister then. I had ambitions to be, but I hadn’t quite reached those lofty heights. But the fact is I was the youngest editor of a daily newspaper in Australasia at the time and I was the only one of the family who visited Aunt Nelly in her retirement village. There I go along, she’s on her deathbed and she tells me I’m the family failure, I go home and duly report this to Dad. I said I can’t believe it, Aunt Nelly just told me I was the family failure. And he said why? And I said well because I hadn’t taken up the land like you and your father before you and his father before him. And Dad said well, you know, I never really liked Aunt Nelly. He said she was on your mother’s side.
And he said you know, now and again she has made some sense. But the fact is, when you have times of drought and times of struggle, in times of hardship, you understand that I probably did make the right decision, and the fact is they haven't seen too much hard work, have they Keith over the years as far as manual labour. Trouble is, manual labour …
[Talks over] Speak for yourself.
… according to Bill Shorten is probably a Mexican bandit. But we in the LNP like people who put their hands to the task. He’s just got that. We put our hands to task. We put our elbows to the grindstone and we want to make sure that all of those people, whether they're in a mine, whether on a farm, that they have the capacity to be their best selves, and that's why we've also put down on the table money where there are troubled times. Money for the Future Drought Fund of $3.9 billion, building up to $5 billion. And somebody said well, you know, we’ll to take a $100 million off it each year to put down as help, as assistance to those farming communities which are struggling each and every year. And somebody said well, how do you know that there's going to be a country community in drought each and every year? And they really should take a look at a map of Australia, because it’s a big, big place and unfortunately, at any given point, any given year, there's always somebody in drought. But we’ve also put down $3.9 billion on the table as an Emergency Disaster Relief Fund so that when we have future incidents such as we had in North Queensland – and our hearts and prayers and our financial assistance goes out to those in North Queensland cattle farmers and those regional communities.
And I have to say, Scott Morrison, as a Prime Minister, responded magnificently when the call came for assistance. And I was in a particular teleconference with the Prime Minister and a couple of other ministers besides and the mayors of those communities, who were shell shocked. Let's face it, they were just shell shocked by the ferocity of the rain that hit, the fact that many of the cattle if they survived the flood, were then drowned because they couldn't get off the ground they were on and they ended up getting [indistinct] in the soil, or indeed, they died of hypothermia. It’s just a dreadful situation and 500,000 cattle are going to be difficult to replace. But of course, when you have those assistance measures being rolled out, there's all sorts of conditions and criteria over them. And then farmers have to put in receipts and dockets and bank account details and all that. Well, the Prime Minister Morrison said no. If you got their bank account details, just put $75,000 into their account. We’ll worry about the details later. And that, to me, was leadership. That, to me, was somebody who wanted to get the help out the door as quickly as he could and that we humanly could.
And I have to say the Social Services Department did a magnificent job and $39 million went out the door in the first week; I’ve never seen that before. I’ve never seen such a rapid response. And that was the right response and of course following on from that, and I know Keith and Susan certainly all their Queensland friends and Tony too, advocated for better radar facilities for those areas to ensure that if there are those sorts of incidents coming that at least the communities will be better prepared. And we've put down that assistance in the order of many millions of dollars to ensure that they have better radar facilities so that they can put stock if need be under cover or to higher ground and prepare for the next time that something like that happens.
Fact is, on Tuesday as I said, we produced a surplus Budget. It was a Budget for rural Australia, it really was a great regional budget. And I know that all the sorts of things, whether it was the Inland Rail which we’re building; whether it was the better roads, such as the Roads of Strategic Importance; whether it was the more money for dam storage; whether it was the tax breaks which we provided for all Australians who really need it the most. What we did the Budget was that we didn't penalise one sector of the community at the expense of someone else. So we weren't robbing Peter to pay Paul. And that was, I suppose, always significant from a Budget that we produce to a Budget in response that Labor will deliver. Because when we give tax breaks, when we give assistance, when we provide the sort of infrastructure that we know that Australians need, whether they live in remote Australia or whether they live in a metropolitan area, we're not taking it from someone else. We're not penalising someone else to pay for it. And the fact is we are good managers of money, so we know what we’re doing, and I've got every faith that this is the first budget of a series of budgets that can only be in surplus - providing the LNP, providing the Liberals and Nationals are in power - that are going to continue to roll on. We will pay down the debt by 29/30 and we will make sure that when you have a lot of money, surplus money, you can spend it on the things that are needed, such as mobile blackspot phone towers; such as better health services throughout the bush; such as better schools, providing record funding.
The Budget provided record funding. And I’m delighted also that there were an additional 80,000 placements for apprenticeships throughout Australia, particularly regional Australia because I know how significant that is and I've heard any number of speeches given by my friend, the Member for Hinkler, about just this. And he, like me, I know, believes the fact that just because you haven't gone to university and you don't have a tertiary degree, if you have a TAFE certificate or a trade certificate or something that following on from yours years of an apprenticeship, that is worth every bit as much as a tertiary diploma, every bit as much as a degree. I've always believed that. I’ll always will believe it, and the fact is that 80,000 additional apprenticeships with that $525 million skills program that Josh Frydenberg announced on Tuesday night is a good announcement, particularly for our rural and regional areas. Added to that, of course, is the thousand scholarships for regional universities which is also backing our kids in, making sure that for our rural and regional towns that our best exports aren’t always our young people. We want to make sure our best exports are the sort of goods we produce, and in some cases, the services we do. But we don’t want to make- we don't want our young best and brightest to be leaving town. We want to have them to have the capacity to stay in town and make a reasonable quid.
And that’s why I know my colleague Mark Coulton is working so hard as the Assistant Minister for Tourism, Trade, and Investment. And just recently he, along with Simon Birmingham, signed a new arrangement with Indonesia, going on from our Trans-Pacific Partnership 11, a $13.3 trillion opportunity; going on from our free trade agreements with South Korea, with Japan, with China, which have provided such a boost and bonus for our regional communities, for that farm sector, for those small businesses. And when I talk of small businesses – I know Larry Anthony will be delighted to hear this – we're extending the instant asset write off from $25,000 to $30,000 and we’ve extended the eligibility for that from $10 million to $50 million. So that's really significant and small business was already paying the lowest tax rate it has since 1940, so it’s a 79-year low and we're getting that down to even lower rates. And we want to make sure that more of that money and people earn, whether they're in business or whether they're working for someone else, they get to keep. Because they probably should have the appreciation that they can spend it on themselves, not necessarily give it to the Australian Taxation Office, as good as those people are.
And of course we're continuing the decentralisation agenda. I know that that has benefited certain country communities in Queensland. I know even with the Murray-Darling Basin, how the authority there, how that's benefiting. And there are jobs that have been split up throughout Victoria, throughout South Australia, New South Wales - in Griffith, 30 jobs just recently announced - as well as Queensland to make sure that those people who work for the MDBA actually live and work in an environment where they're going to bump into the people and interact with the people for whom their decisions directly affect. And so that's so important, because I don't see too many irrigation channels when I'm driving to Parliament from Kingston and I don't see too much wheat grown in Barton. So that's why we're trying to get out some of those regionally rural, agriculturally based government agencies into our regional areas.
But the challenge is also there to business. The challenge is there for business to also [inaudible] because you don’t have your employees stuck in traffic. You can get a good cup of coffee and the people out in rural and regional Australia, I believe – maybe I’m biased – are always that little bit more friendly because we love, we care, we respect one another I think just a little bit more. It comes with the fresher air, it comes with the fact that at night you can see so many more stars, and what we want to do is make sure that people that we serve, whether it's Keith, Susan, Tony or myself, or any other LNP member in the room I’ve forgotten to mention, we want to make sure that the brightest stars come out of the bush. We've always known that. That's why it was a Budget for the bush, that's why it was a surplus Budget, and that's why as the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport – and perhaps most importantly – Regional Development, that's why it was a Budget for the regions. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.