Transcript - Press Conference in Rockhampton, Queensland

MICHELLE LANDRY

It’s great to be out here on the Bruce Highway today and see all these roadworks that are going ahead. The Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, is here, Scott Buchholz, who’s the Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Barry O’Rourke, the Member for Rockhampton from the State Government. And we’re here today to talk about road safety. The Federal Government is putting another $300 million into road safety across Australia and here in Capricornia we’re receiving over $40 million for road safety projects. And they’re projects around Rockhampton – Emu Park Road – up at Collinsville, out at Moranbah, Nebo areas, so there’s going to be lots of work done and it’s all to help with road safety. As we see over the Christmas period, there’s a lot of people being killed in car accidents. So things like those middle lanes, you know, to have the sound markings on the side of the road, all of those things help. And we’re seeing at the moment that there is a lot of road traffic. People are travelling in Australia, so anything that we can do in conjunction with the State Government is going to help this. So I’ll now pass over to Barry.

BARRY O’ROURKE

Morning. Barry O’Rourke, Member for Rockhampton. I welcome this funding. It is great to see, this initiative coming to Central Queensland. And anything to do with safety, to reduce the number of lives lost is so important. It’s also the jobs that this creates within our own community. We’ve had so many major road projects on the go at the present time – the Northern Access Road, the Gracemere duplication, we’ve got future works down the track with the Rockhampton Ring Road. This is supporting our local businesses and providing product and services, which is great for our local community and the jobs that it creates.

SCOTT BUCHHOLZ

Scotty Buchholz, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport. Great to be here in Rockhampton today and can I tell everyone from the Electorate of Capricornia: do not stand between a bucket of money and Michelle Landry. Yet again she has delivered for this region. On top of the roadworks we drove past getting to this announcement today, Michelle has secured another $40 million out of a $290 million first tranche coming to Queensland, of which the Federal Government is kicking in $225 million. It’s one of those ‘use it or lose its’ and as Michelle rightly said, these are simple investments that we can make to save lives. These roads are proven that once we make these investments we see a 30 per cent reduction in critical injury and life lost.

Can I say that the widening of shoulders so that we can put audible lines, so that when you drive off the road there’s that split second to remind you to get back on, the median strips placed into the middle of the road to give that room for error a little bit more are all infrastructure investments that we know deliver and save lives. Michelle Landry is doing an amazing job delivering for Capricornia and this, again, is yet another project where she’s bringing home the bacon and saving lives for Capricornia.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s great to be here with Michelle Landry, the hard-working Member for Capricornia. Also good to be here with Barry O’Rourke and of course, Scott Buchholz, doing a mighty job in freight transport, in road safety right across the nation. This is Queensland’s turn. We’ve got a $2 billion fund. Now as Scott has just mentioned, this is the first tranche. This is Queensland’s turn – $289.6 million. Importantly – very importantly – critically, 92.3 per cent of the around $290 million is being spent in regional Queensland – in regional Queensland. That’s what you get when you get a Liberal Nationals Government in Canberra committed to the regions. That’s what you get when you get a Liberal Nationals Government committed to working with the Queensland Government. And I’m happy to work with Barry. I’m happy to work with Mark Bailey, Mark Ryan – anybody – to get infrastructure built. And that’s what we’re doing. It’s a successful co-operation, a successful collaboration. It’s Governments working together for the common cause. And that is, as Scott Buchholz has just said, saving lives. That is, as Michelle Landry has just said, building better roads, better infrastructure.

And right across the nation we’ve got $110 billion – a record amount of money – we’re spending on infrastructure. And we’re doing it with Governments. Doesn’t matter the political persuasion; it’s getting work done to help communities. It’s getting work done. You can see it all around, work that Michelle Landry has fought for, has striven so hard for when she gets down to Canberra to save lives, to make sure that we’ve got those road safety measures in place. And whether it’s the Yamba Road‑Neilsen Avenue intersection, whether it’s the $40 million that will be spread across this region, across the Capricornia Electorate, indeed, top that on as well with the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure money and there’s millions upon millions dollars also rolling out in this region. And you can see why there’s a lot of roadworks going on.

But it’s also supporting, just in this road safety package, a thousand jobs for Queensland. And most of those jobs are going to be in regional Queensland. Most of those jobs are going to be local workers. And of course, that feeds into local businesses, local procurement. And so the café just down the road or just along that way, they’ll be selling more egg and bacon rolls. They’ll be selling more coffee for the workers who will be on site. That’s what it’s all about. And infrastructure, construction and regional Queensland are going to lead this nation and help this nation through the back end of COVID-19. And that’s what it’s all about – boots on the ground, shovels in the ground, jobs at the ready, building better roads for more road safety options.

JOURNALIST

Deputy PM, there’s been some concerns raised over the storage of the Pfizer vaccine and temperatures.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m happy to take any questions you like, but are there any questions about this particular strategy, this particular program or project today? Happy to take those first and then I’m more than happy to take your vaccine questions.

JOURNALIST

Can you specifically detail how many jobs, how many workers, this project will support?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’m going to say, given the fact that there’s thousands of jobs right across – or a thousand jobs right across Queensland, that’s many, many dozens right here. Of course, the Queensland Government in conjunction with the Federal Government are rolling the program out right now. And as Scott Buchholz has said, it’s a use it or lose it, so there’s a hard deadline of June 30 –

SCOTT BUCHHOLZ

First of three tranches.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Scott, first of three tranches. So when we get this first tranche out of the road and the $290 million spent, then we’ll get on to the second tranche. And I know that Capricornia and other electorates will benefit from that. But you can see here how many workers there are about. You can see how many are in hi-vis and that number will grow enormously in coming weeks and months as the Queensland Government, which does the tendering and contracting, they get the delivery out the door. They want to spend it. I know how keen Barry is and how keen the two Marks are to spend this money, because they know if they don’t spend it, it will go to a State which will spend it. So Queensland wants to get its fair share. I know, I’ve got every faith in Queensland’s ability to be able to deliver this program and happy to work with the Queensland Government to do just that.

JOURNALIST

Are these projects undertaken with flood mitigation into account?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, they take everything into account. Obviously engineering goes into these things. And I can say that the Commonwealth writes a very big cheque, the Queensland Government then does the tendering and the contracting. There’s always the right environmental impact statements, there’s always flood mitigation, engineering aspects taken into account for all of these projects and programs. That’s always the case. But what it also means is jobs on the ground, shovels at the ready. And that’s why these are shovel ready. The Queensland Government identified them last year. Very much worked hand in glove with the Queensland Department, the Main Roads Department, as well as the Minister to bring about this development.

JOURNALIST

How important is it for Central Queensland in particular to get such a large part of this funding when we’ve got one of the worst and highest rates of fatalities in the State?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, you’ve just summed it up. I mean, it’s about road safety and given the fact that the road toll is not anywhere near what it should be. It should be zero. It should be zero. But as we’ve seen last year, despite COVID-19 and a lot cars not even being on the road, a lot of travel not being done, the road toll was higher than the year before and that is very sad. That is very unnecessary. That is very unfortunate and that’s why we’re investing heavily. And part of our road infrastructure rollout, every dollar spent has a road safety aspect and component built into that particular investment by the Commonwealth. And that’s why Scott Buchholz works night and day with portfolio responsibilities for road safety to make sure that we work towards that Vision Zero and that we achieve those outcomes sooner rather than later.

JOURNALIST

As part of this planning, will anything be done about fatigue, especially when we’ve got such a large stretch between Mackay and our region and there is a lot of fatalities in that area, there is a lot of fatigue and there are a lot of deaths.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we are actually rolling out even more money. And Scott Buchholz has just reminded me – it’s $7.8 million for Driver Revivers – more sites, more people on the ground, more places for people to stop when they are travelling. We want people to take those breaks when needed. Absolutely don’t drive when fatigued. It’s as bad as driving when you’ve got substances in your system. Don’t drive when you’re tired. Pull over. Have that kip and because of the Government’s investment in this area, there’ll be more and better Driver Reviver sites to pull over, have that break, meet someone friendly from elsewhere in the State or the nation and get that refresh.

JOURNALIST

There has been some concerns raised over the storage of the Pfizer vaccine at low temperatures. What impact do you think there will be for that roll in regional and remote communities?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We will take the best possible advice, as we have all the way through, through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, through Professor Paul Kelly who, of course, is the Chief Medical Offers and Brendan Murphy who was the CMO before him and is now doing a fantastic job in health. And Greg Hunt the Minister has taken all the way through the best possible medical advice. We will act on that advice. We will get the rollout happening, of course, to the vulnerable, to the aged, to Aboriginal and Indigenous communities. We want to make sure that abattoir workers are a priority. Because we all need food, we all need that food processing, those workers in that important industry, to be able to get the jab and to be able to get in amongst the first to be able to receive it. Of course, we’ve said, that when the Therapeutic Goods Administration approval’s done we will start rolling out the vaccine in February. We haven’t got all our eggs in the one basket. We’ve got other options. We’ve got several options. We’re working through the TGA, we’re working through the best possible medical advice to get those vaccines out as soon as we can, but when it is absolutely safe to do so. That’s been what we’ve done all the way through.

JOURNALIST

On that, there is some concern after approximately 30 people died recently in Norway after receiving the Pfizer jab. I mean, what is the health advice on that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s why Greg Hunt asked DFAT, asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration, to enquire of the company, enquire of Norwegian health officials, to see exactly the case there. These people who have unfortunately passed away – they already had longstanding health complications and issues. But we will not, we will not place Australians’ lives in jeopardy. We will do the vaccine rollout according to the best possible medical advice. We’ll be working through with the Norwegian authorities and with the company and through DFAT and through TGA processes at the moment to find out exactly what transpired there in Norway. And as I say, I know there are a lot of businesses, a lot of Australians, a lot of people, are relying on this vaccine, are relying on the rollout and relying on having a better 2021 than was, indeed, 2020.

So there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not easy. I appreciate there are a lot of things go on, but rest assured, we’ve done magnificently as a nation, as a country. And I say to Australians: thank you for being your best selves. Right throughout 2020, largely, Australians did the right thing – they isolated, they practiced social distancing, they wore masks. They did everything that was asked of them by and large. And that is why we’ve had only 909 deaths. And those 909 deaths are mourned, they are certainly not forgotten, right from James Kwan, the very first in Perth on March 1 right the way through. Very, very sad for those families who didn’t have a loved one around the Christmas dinner table this festive season. But we will continue to work with States and Territories. We will continue to work with the AHPPC and TGA and others to make sure that we’ve got the health implications sorted and to make sure that we keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST

What’s your reaction to the Premier’s suggestion to turn working camps into potential COVID quarantine hubs for travellers. Do you think this will be supported at National Cabinet on Friday?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, this is very much the remit of Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Queensland Government. I’ve been a proponent of other options other than just capital city quarantining. I think if we’re going to get seasonal workers into place to pick fruit and do other jobs – certainly the resource industry is an industry that could well do with workers as well – but those workers need to have proven negative to a COVID test, even before they get on a plane to come to Australia. The quarantining has to be rigid. It has to be absolutely above reproach. And that’s unfortunately what went wrong in Victoria and more than 800 of the 909 deaths occurred in that Victorian outbreak. So so long as there’s the right security, we’ve got Australian Defence Force personnel at the ready to assist. The Commonwealth is always happy to assist States and Territories. We’ve got 1,500 ADF personnel right throughout the nation at the moment assisting States and assisting Territories with quarantining and other measures.

But it has to be the right health, it has to be the right security measures over any quarantining because we don’t want to place, as Michelle Landry has quite correctly pointed out, vulnerable regional communities which don’t have perhaps the health and medical services at the ready, we can’t place them at risk. So if we’re going to quarantine in regional areas, it has to be above reproach. We have to make sure we get those right outcomes. Yes, it will be discussed at the next National Cabinet meeting, I’m sure. And is very much the remit of the Queensland Government.

JOURNALIST

Are there any locations that you can flag with us that these mining camps are potentially being considered?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Again, it is the remit of the Queensland State Government. So I’ll leave the Queensland Government to perhaps answer that question.

JOURNALIST

Should the Victorian Government have allowed international tennis players and coaches to quarantine in Melbourne when there are still tens of thousands of Australians stuck overseas?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I know that we’re doing everything that we can to get returning Australians home. And since March 13 last year when Prime Minister Scott Morrison implored, encouraged and perhaps even begged Australians to come home before we had very much a shutdown of international aviation, since March 13 we’ve had 143,000 Australians return. Since September 18 we’ve had more than 71,000 return when certainly the Government has helped with then and now with 20 more Government facilitated flights from places such as India, Europe, indeed, Asia and other places where vulnerable Australians are. There are 37,000 registered with DFAT. We want to get as many of them home as possible. Of course, we’ve had to restrict quarantining. I know the States and Territories have reduced quarantining by half because of the UK strain, which is very virulent. I know that the 20 Government-facilitated flights are going to Howard Springs, Canberra and Hobart and that will be above the cap for the quarantine that has been in place in recent weeks.

But we’ll work with States and Territories to get as many Australians home. The matter of the Australian tennis open is very much a matter for the Victorian Government. I appreciate that the Australian Open tennis is a big event for that State – a big event for our nation. But I say, too, to those tennis players who are complaining – and I note that there was one from Romania who was complaining about being stuck behind, you know, behind closed doors. And, yes, it is tough. It’s tough for all of us. But if you look at the situation in Romania, they’ve had a lot more deaths than have had Australia. So that’s why I appreciate her plight, I appreciate the tennis players, it’s hard when they’re stuck in a room and unable to train and get all that and then come out and play in, you know, a grand slam tournament, that must be very, very difficult. But far better to be stuck behind closed doors and being forced to endure those conditions, which many Australians have, than being in an ICU bed some weeks from now.

So we want to keep Australians safe. We want, of course, to make sure that we keep all Australians safe. And I say again, too, it is also very frustrating if you are a stone fruit grower in Mildura, for example. I’ve spoken to many farmers in the Sunraysia whose fruit can’t get picked because the Victorian Government has placed those restrictions on seasonal workers and won’t allow on-farm quarantining as the Queensland Government has done. And they’ve been very hard and fast about that and yet $38 million of produce has been left to rot whilst, yes, tennis players have been allowed into the country. It’s very hard. I understand this is a matter for the Victorian Government. Perhaps they’re best to answer those questions.

JOURNALIST

Going back to those 20 repatriation flights, can you confirm that these flights will be facilitated by Qantas or other commercial airlines and where are they flying in from?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Australian airlines will be given first priority, of course. But we want to make sure that we provide that ability to get as many Australians home. And as we’ve done all the way through, we’ve looked at the aviation sector. We’ve provided $2 billion of assistance and we’ve tweaked our measures of assistance all the way through, whether it’s through the domestic services support that we’ve put in place, whether it’s the regional support that we’ve put in place, we’ve tweaked it all the way through to ensure that vulnerable communities which would otherwise not have received airline services have been able to do so.

Yes, we will put Australian companies first. They will be coming from, as I said earlier, Asia – (yelling from passers-by) see all the support we’re getting for the road projects investment we’re putting in place. It’s great to hear motorists very appreciative of it. That often happens in these sorts of interviews where motorists sing out their support and their cheers for what we’re doing as a Government.

But just in final answer to your question, they’ll be coming from the UK, Asia, Europe and anywhere elsewhere there are vulnerable Australians we can put on a plane to get them home.

JOURNALIST

One final one from me: the regional tech hub that helps people with broadband problems launched late last year has already been swamped with massive inquiries. Do you think it needs more funding?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We always look at making sure that we provide more funding for telecommunications, whether it’s mobile black spots, whether it’s broadband. I know Paul Fletcher has done a sterling job in this regard considering the mishmash it was when we first took Government in 2013. And we’ll continue to do that. One of the bright upsides of what we saw last year with so many people having to work from home was the fact that the internet service held up pretty well and many people were able to actually do Zoom meetings and other teleconferences from their lounge rooms and other places from home. And, indeed, they might as well have been in the boardroom in Brisbane. I say to those people, come to a region. Look at the options out here in the regions, because they are – you can have a great lifestyle. You don’t have to actually be stuck in banked up in traffic and looking at the taillights in front of you, the brake lights in front of you, for hours getting to and from work. You can live in a place like Rockhampton. You can have the very best of lives. You can have a great home and a big backyard and a swimming pool and your kids will grow up in the very best of environments. These communities out here in regional Queensland are large enough in which to get a good cup of coffee and small enough to still care.

JOURNALIST

Sorry, Michelle, just a quick one for you – apologies everybody – just coming in from down south, can you tell us what shovel-ready major projects there are for the broader Mackay and Morangay area that you were touching on before?

MICHELLE LANDRY

Yes, so up in Mackay the Wolviston Bypass has started up there. And there’s also money being put aside for I believe the Nebo area and also the Collinsville Road. So they’re safety upgrades as well as upgrades like the Wolviston Bypass is a $120 million project and that is proceeding. That had to wait until after the Mackay Ring Road was completed before that got started. So certainly a lot of work and there’s also been more passing lanes between Rockhampton and Sarina, which is very important. I know that we talk a lot about we like to see four lanes, you know, from the top of Queensland down to Brisbane and that would be great. I’ve been travelling a bit over the break on the Bruce Highway and you certainly see the difference it makes when you have four lanes and lots of passing lanes. So something that, you know, we’re always pushing for because it’s all about road safety.

JOURNALIST

And, Michelle, I’ll also just get your reaction to also the Premier suggesting that mining workers camps in regional Queensland should be COVID hubs. I mean, how do you support that?

MICHELLE LANDRY

Look, I know the Deputy Prime Minister is talking about people coming in with, you know, with agriculture is very important. But the feedback that I’ve received from the mining community and the tourism community is that we don’t want people up here with COVID. Okay if people test negative, but I think that there is a lot of difficulties in this area with, you know, lack of health resources and also how many flights they would have to take to get here. So, you know, I’m elected by the people of Capricornia so I stand up for the people of Capricornia. So, no, I don’t want to see any of the mining communities with COVID camps.

SCOTT BUCHHOLZ

Can I just offer one last comment about road safety issue as we lead into the Australia Day long weekend we’re going to have additional traffic and that on the road and given this is a road safety announcement this morning. Can I just say that Governments of all persuasions – Federal and State – do their part to ensure that the roads that we drive on are of the best possible quality with the amount of money we’ve got. Never before in history has a Government – Federally, State – spent more money on road infrastructure than what we are doing right at this moment. More subtly, the cars that we drive on the road, the engineering standards, the Australian standards for importers are now higher than they have ever been before. So as Governments of all persuasions, we can provide road infrastructure and safer cars. But ultimately we’re still losing lives and those lives are unfortunately they can be prevented – or fortunately they can be prevented. So when you get behind a car or a motorbike, make sure that you’re not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, seat belts on, keep to the speed limit, drive to the conditions. What we’re seeing more and more is driver distraction is playing its role in fatal and serious injuries. So when you get on your motorbike or get behind the wheel of a car, remember, it’s a long weekend coming up. It’s your opportunity to take responsibility for everyone in a motor car to get them home safely.