Doorstop in Toowoomba
26 April 2018
Subjects: Flood mitigation projects in Toowoomba; infrastructure projects in Toowoomba and the Darling Downs; regional development; NDIS funding
John McVeigh: Well, good morning everyone. It's fantastic to have the Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack here in Toowoomba this morning. Of course, he is our Deputy Prime Minister, and in terms of projects here in Toowoomba, most importantly, he's the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Michael and I actually share the same department—the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. He's obviously the senior Minister and it's been a pleasure to work with him in recent months finalising all of our budget bids for the upcoming Federal Budget.
To have Michael here today has given me the opportunity to really focus on some key priorities that the Mayor and I share for our city.
Back in 2011, I was still on the Toowoomba Regional Council. Our Mayor was then-Deputy Mayor, and we saw that terrible flood event that took us all by surprise, caused tremendous shock throughout our community and Australia and across the world, and of course, we lost lives here in Toowoomba as a result.
A lot of that happened because of East and West Creeks. Now, here we are in West Creek in Toowoomba today on James Street, which is the Warrego Highway as we all know, and this is one of the projects that the Council has identified over the years that must be upgraded as part of our whole flood mitigation effort since that big flood event.
I want to congratulate the Mayor Paul Antonio and Toowoomba Regional Council in particular for their leadership in the community over those years. Their programs of flood mitigation, detention basins, of course the significant flood mitigation in the CBD adjacent to the Toowoomba Railway Station, and significant channel upgrading here in West Creek and over in East Creek as well.
Now, the Mayor has reminded me a number of times that the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle is to upgrade these culverts on West Creek and on East Creek, and that's exactly what I've got the Acting Prime Minister here today to look at.
Now, I'll ask Michael to talk about the project as we've discussed it with him, and I'll certainly ask the Mayor to talk about Council's perspective as well.
But it's a great honour to have you here today, Michael. Thank you for showing Toowoomba the attention that I believe it needs and deserves in terms of flood mitigation, and I might just ask you to make a few comments about this particular project.
Michael McCormack: Absolutely. Thank you, John, and John comes with a wealth of experience to the Regional Development portfolio—local, State, and now Federal government experience—and I'm really pleased to be here at West Creek also with Paul Antonio, and I commend the Toowoomba Regional Council for the work it has done in this flood mitigation, this Gowrie Creek catchment flood mitigation project.
A little earlier today, John McVeigh took me to the East Creek culvert—that intersection there where, of course, here and both at East Creek as well back in 2011 we saw, no matter where we were in Australia, those desperate and despairing images of that flood, that awful tragedy.
Now, of course, something needs to be done. And the Federal Liberals and Nationals Government stands ready to work with the Toowoomba Regional Council, and with the Queensland Government, to fix this problem. To make sure the funding is available, working in conjunction with the Queensland Government to get this project done, to make sure the flood mitigation steps are taken so that a tragedy of that nature doesn't occur again.
I'm also looking forward to having a look at the Second Range Crossing and seeing where that project is up to, and also the InterLinkSQ project.
So, it's an important day. It's only a flying visit, but happy and ready and willing to work with John McVeigh, a fantastic Minister, but more importantly, a fantastic local member for Groom and for Toowoomba.
I might ask Paul, then, to say a few comments, and then I'll take any questions.
Paul Antonio: Thanks very much, Michael, and thanks John for the invitation to be here. And just say a few words.
Yes, 2011 was a defining moment for the Toowoomba region when we saw the impossible happen here. We lost lives, and following that, of course, we had about $200 million worth of road damage, which, thanks to the Federal and the State Government, we were able to gradually work through and get things sorted. We also had a lot of work done in the upper catchments of both East and West Creek, to make sure that we could hold water up in detention basins, and some of that decision-making process wasn't easy, because from time to time you learn in Local Government and in any leadership role that there are people who don't necessarily agree with the proposal you put forward. We did it.
We have built a number of detention basins that will, in fact, slow down and divert the peak water flow, but the thing that's missing from the puzzle, as John has so rightly said, is quite clearly these two culverts. We need to get them done. They're part of a significant road network—the Warrego Highway—we want that to happen.
One of the real problems in 2011 was the confluence of West and East Creek, where two creeks that were roaring came together at right angles. Well, that does create a temporary but quite efficient dam that held the water up and flooded the CBD.
We've solved that, thanks very much to the Federal Government of the day and the State Government in which John served as a Minister. The outer circulating in Toowoomba is not just a pretty road—it's not just a road with lovely lights at night that we colour any colour, particularly at time of State of Origin—and Michael, it's always nice and red over there …
Michael McCormack: You'll notice I've worn my blue shirt today!
Paul Antonio: [Laughs] Yeah, I noticed!
But the reality, of course, is that that's made quite a significant difference on getting the water away. Now, this is just one important part of the puzzle in solving the flood problems here in the CBD of Toowoomba, but it's an important part and it's great to have the Deputy Prime Minister, Acting Prime Minister, here in town today to actually get an understanding.
That is what we seek all the time is bringing people such as Michael to town, making sure they get an understanding of what we need. This is a very vibrant area, and none of us will ever, ever forget those images that came across the TV, the things that were happening right here: the red water; the tanks; the cars; the shipping containers floating off down the creek. It was just an incredible event.
So Michael, thanks very much for coming here. Thanks for getting an understanding, and we look forward to working with you to solve the flood mitigation issues that still remain here in this part of Toowoomba.
Question: Paul, what exactly does have to change here to make it safer? Can you sort of explain the works?
Paul Antonio: Well, obviously we need to change the bridge and open it up and allow the water to get away at a faster rate. Anywhere where there's an impediment—and that's an impediment—creates problems.
Question: So what sort of changes can we expect—getting rid of the stuff through the middle there?
Paul Antonio: Yeah, well I'd imagine that there will be a new bridge. It'll be wider and it'll have far more capacity, and it would hopefully be a little higher as well.
Question: Will that, in theory, be after the completion and separation of the [indistinct]?
Paul Antonio: Well, you know, it could be. It's not a bad idea. Thanks for telling me that. I'll argue that one, but the reality is, of course, it needs to be done. It really does need to be done and, of course, we're expecting the completion of the Range crossing in the not too distant future. So [inaudible].
Question: What about funding for that business case?
Paul Antonio: Well, that's what we're- that's what today's all about.
Today's all about making sure that we can get the funding for this further mitigation. But that isn't the end of the thing, because once we get that done, we'll be working on the- and it's a long-term process. I don't expect this to be solved overnight. I expect this to happen more quickly than the rest of it. But getting down to Bridge Street, along [inaudible] need to have more work done there too, to get rid of water, to allow it to flow quickly.
Toowoomba's changed dramatically in terms of any city that's growing like Toowoomba. The bitumen, the cement, the roofs and all that sort of thing. So, it changes dramatically the concentration of flows.
Question: So, is the Federal Government contributing any money to this, Acting Prime Minister?
Michael McCormack: Well, what we're announcing today is in-principle support. So, what we're announcing is in-principle support.
We stand ready to work with the Queensland State Government to fund this project. This needs funding. John McVeigh has told me what a priority it is. I know for the Federal Government what a priority is and I know that we're happy and willing to work with the State Government here in Queensland to make sure it happens.
It's an $18 million overall project. It's an important project. We saw, again, I can't stress enough, those dreadful and tragic and heartfelt images of 2011, we don't want to see that again and we want to make sure that these measures are put in place to make sure that we take the water away and we save lives.
Question: In-principle support is one thing, but money is what they need. How much of that $18 million are you [inaudible]?
Michael McCormack: Well we're, as I say, we're working towards the finalisation of this project with the Queensland Government. We're willing to put up a lot of money for this project, this $18 million project overall. Happy to talk to the Queensland Government, waiting for them to put in a submission, and also once again I commend the Toowoomba Regional Council for the work it has done to date.
Question: Will it be included in the Budget?
Michael McCormack: Well look, it could possibly be, but it's one of those infrastructure projects that it just needs to happen. Whether that's within the Budget framework of whether that's just a little afterwards.
I'm, as the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, I want to make sure that it happens. It's an important project. John McVeigh has identified it as one of his priorities and we will make it happen.
Question: You're going to inspect The Second Range Crossing today. Are you expecting big things from such a massive project for Toowoomba?
Michael McCormack: Well look, these are nation-building infrastructure projects. Whether it's the Second Range Crossing, whether it's Inland Rail, they all help the logistics, they all help the supply chain, they help move product to port.
They help, as Paul Antonio has just identified, cities like Toowoomba—the largest non-capital city in inland Australia—they help them grow.
That's what our Government is all about: making sure that that regional development structure is in place so that we can help business, farmers alike, employ more people.
1,100 more people were employed last year per day, every single day, than the previous year. We're building on that. We want to make sure that the fact that we've got the lowest tax rates—27.5 per cent—for small and medium enterprises. We want to build on that. That's the lowest the tax rate has been since 1940—78 years. We want to make sure that we've got those plans in place.
The infrastructure budget, which is coming, is going to be good for regional Queensland, good for regional Australia and good for making sure that we get the fantastic food and fibre that is produced in Toowoomba and elsewhere to market to take advantage of those trade agreements we've got in place.
Question: Can I ask you about the live export ban. The South Australian NXT MP Rebekha Sharkie's likely to support Sussan Ley's live export ban. She wants the government to look at processing sheep meat globally. Is that something the Australian Government's considering?
Michael McCormack: Well, countries overseas also want to have the sheep and livestock so that they can process at times convenient to them. David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister, has an inquiry in place at the moment and we're waiting for the results of that inquiry.
But rest assured, rogue operators who do not put animal welfare as their first priority, will be stamped out. We're the only country in the world with that export supply chain, quality assurance scheme in place. We're the only country which puts animal welfare standards as number one and if we don't, if we don't fill these markets, then countries which do not have animal welfare standards as number one will take the markets and animals will be treated poorly.
Question: Just on the Medicare levy. Disability advocates are saying that the government—well, the Treasurer's—decision to scrap it is a broken promise. What do you say to those disability advocates?
Michael McCormack: We're backing them all the way. We're making sure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme—and I know that Toowoomba was one of the first cities and regions where it was rolled out—we're making sure that it happens.
But we're also making sure it happens responsibly. That's why we've got a stronger economy now, with the increased tax receipts coming in and the economy growing, and businesses paying more tax because there's more confidence, we can pay for NDIS without having to put in place the levy that we suggested earlier.
Labor put in place the NDIS and I congratulate Labor for that. I was the first Federal Member in New South Wales to sign on to the NDIS when Julia Gillard announced it. But the fact is Labor didn't put them money down to pay for the thing.
We're not only paying for it, but we're not now asking for the people to make that extra levy contribution that we were going to previously. So, the economy's strong, and that's why the NDIS is going to be paid for and we're backing those people who are the most vulnerable in our community all the way.
Question: So, people with disabilities have certainty of funding?
Michael McCormack: Absolutely, and look, the NDIS is a good scheme. The NDIS is necessary and society and government and taxpayers have an obligation to make it happen.
Question: Thinking about the Second Range Crossing now, you're tapped into regional communities Australia-wide, do you think there's other regions looking at Toowoomba as a bit of a case of what can happen when different levels of Government work together? A big project like this also, I guess, shows what's possible in regional Queensland.
Michael McCormack: Look, absolutely. Toowoomba is booming. We've just heard the Mayor, Paul Antonio, tell me about how well Toowoomba is going. John McVeigh's telling me all the time what a great exemplar this city, this community, this region is, and it is a great example to other regional communities just what can be done when you've got all levels of Government talking together, working together.
John McVeigh is doing a fantastic job, not just for Toowoomba, not just for the electorate of Groom, but right around Australia as the Regional Development Minister. I've got every faith in him to make sure the regions get their fair share and more so that we can build the sort of infrastructure, so that we can build the jobs that we need to, to grow as a nation.
Question: You've just had a glowing endorsement there, Mr McVeigh. How do you feel about this weekend's pre-selection? Do you feel as though LNP members here in this seat will vote to keep you in?
John McVeigh: Look I think it's tremendous that we can have the Acting Prime Minister here in Toowoomba, only a couple of months after the Prime Minister was here back in 1 February.
As Michael McCormack has said, Toowoomba is an exemplar for the rest of regional Australia. In terms of regional development, job creation, in terms of any issues within the Liberal National Party in Queensland here in Groom, I leave commentary on that to our party President.
In the meantime, I'm on with the job. A great honour to work with Michael in Cabinet, and certainly great to have him here in Groom today.
Question: Isaac Moody has been very vocal about letting the people of Groom down by voting yes for the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Have you betrayed voters here in Groom by voting yes?
Paul Antonio: I leave any commentary about party matters to the party President. I stress today we have the Acting Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, here in Toowoomba and in the Darling Downs.
Question: [Interrupts] With respect, though, your view on…
Paul Antonio: We're talking about flood mitigation here in our city, we're talking about the magnificent Second Range Crossing, we're talking about inland rail and we'll be having a meeting with the Wagners at our new airport before Michael leaves today. So this is very much an infrastructure visit. It's a great honour to have him here and we are getting on with the job for regional Australia, whether it's here in Toowoomba, but right across the country as well.
Question: Your view on same-sex marriage is not a party one, so do you think you've let down members of Groom by voting yes?
John McVeigh: I will leave any commentary on party matters to the state president Gary Spence. As I said, in the meantime, I'm on with the job of representing Groom and being part of the Turnbull Cabinet in terms of regional development right across our great country.
Question: On Second Range Crossing, are you happy with the State Government's intervention?
John McVeigh: Well, the Second Range Crossing—the biggest inland road project in the country at the moment—is funded 80 per cent by the Federal Government. It's funded 20 per cent by the State Government.
Of course under the contract, under the arrangements, the State Government manages the project. They appointed Nexus the contractor who are on with the job, and of course the State Government needs to keep an eye on progress.
I'm pleased that the relevant State Ministers have in recent times been investigating and following up on commentary around safe initiatives. Until they advise me as the local member otherwise, I have total confidence in the completion of the project. It will be a tremendous boon for our region. It will be a tremendous boon for the whole Eastern Seaboard, that on top of our new internationally-capable airport.
Of course, the magnificent inland rail project that our Deputy Prime Minister is managing at the moment means that we will be very much the logistics hub of Australia as the Mayor has said.
Question: You're not worried about safety at all.
John McVeigh: I leave that to the State Government have responsibility for managing implementation of the project and I'm pleased that they seem to be keeping their eye on the completion of the project.
Question: John, it seems that Toowoomba has everything, but I was going to say Groom [indistinct], what else has been identified as the [indistinct] this big project?
John McVeigh: Well, the Acting Prime Minister isn't here in Toowoomba with me because he didn't have anything else to do, I can assure you. He's a very busy man.
We are talking about this piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the Toowoomba Flood Mitigation activities led by Council, led by our Mayor Paul Antonio.
I'm looking forward to announcements in the Budget about this, other transport linkages in our region given our growing population. I'm not about to pre-empt or second guess the Treasurer, obviously, but as a local member I'm very anxious to see that we get our fair share.
And I guess I make the point that for Groom, for Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, the opportunity for us now having got road, rail, air infrastructure well and truly underway is to make sure that all small businesses, all families, all individuals in our community have an opportunity to participate in that prosperity that's coming our way.
It will be an exciting phase. We've all got to step up. We've all got to leverage this magnificent investment private and public partnership that we've now got in place.