Regional Connectivity Program announcement

11:35AM

E&OE

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, I welcome the media to Willans Hill, the very top and the best vista in Wagga Wagga. And we’re meeting here other than perhaps in a regional centre because this is where the media wanted us to be and this is going to be an exciting announcement. And I’m so pleased to be here with my colleague, who’s got many portfolios, but regional services are so critical. Mark Coulton is somebody who understands the importance of regional health, understands the importance of regional education and understands the importance of local government. And speaking of local government, we’ve got three mayors as well – we’ve got the Mayor of Snowy Valleys, James Hayes. We’ve got the Mayor of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council, Abb McAlister and the Mayor of Hilltops Council, Brian Ingram. Together they are going to participate in a $479,000 windfall, a funding announcement for their councils which is going to provide black spot coverage, better NBN services, better telecommunications for their areas. So that’s so important.

But before Mark makes that particular announcement as far as the connectivity is concerned, I do want to, given the fact that we are in Wagga Wagga and given the fact that we’re approaching ANZAC Day and given the fact that yesterday the Prime Minister Scott Morrison made such an important announcement about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, reflect on that historic decision, reflect on the service and sacrifice of so many for so long. It’s been Australia’s largest wartime involvement – 20 years. They went and did the job for and on behalf of the nation. They went and did the job that they were asked to do. Forty-one of those men did not come home and today we pay tribute to them. We thank them for their service, for their sacrifice. So many of those men and women who fought in Afghanistan were trained right here in Wagga Wagga. They went through the gates at the Army Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka. They may well have served also at the Air Force. They may have also served here in the Navy in Wagga Wagga. This is a garrison city, a tri-service city, the only inland city in regional Australia where all three arms of the Defence proudly serve, where we’ve got three bases making sure that Australia’s security and defence interests are well served.

I’ve just got off the phone from Doug Baird who lost his son, Corporal Cameron Baird VC, in Afghanistan. For him it was a very sombre experience, yesterday’s announcement. But he said, “If my son’s life has helped others to have better life, to have a more secure environment, to protect the interests and freedoms and democracy of Australians, then that’s a price he was willing to pay”. And to that end he was very thankful of the fact that the Prime Minister made the announcement but also very thankful of the fact that people are saying to him, “Thank you for your son’s service”.

I messaged Mark Donaldson Victoria Cross – he’s a mate of mine and Mark Donaldson was one of the lucky ones who came back and is serving his nation very well working now for Boeing, working in the private sector. But Mark, of course, has not forgotten his mates. Mark often gathers with his friends, with his former comrades to talk about their service in Afghanistan. And today as we reflect on that 20 years of service we pay tribute, we thank them. We thank them not just for today, we thank them not on ANZAC Day just, we don’t just thank them on Remembrance Day, we thank them each and every day for their service, for their sacrifice and we’ll go on thanking them.

But I’d now like to hand over to Mark Coulton. He’s going to make a very exciting announcement about regional connectivity, about a program that is not just going to benefit the shires I mentioned, not just benefit Hilltops, Snowy Valleys, Cootamundra-Gundagai but indeed, regional Australia per se and it’s a very exciting announcement. I’m pleased – because I know having stood there [Inaudible] at Goobarragandra last Sunday when we opened that Mobile Black Spot tower, one of 900 we’ve built – we’ve funded 1,200 of them – this additional program today builds on that, enhances on that regional connectivity. So important for people to be able to do business. So important for people to have the safety measures to have, indeed, that service available when they click on to their computer, when they pull their phone out and want to make a call. It’s going to enable them to be connected to the rest of the world, connecting Riverina to the world. The Riverina is one of those areas just like Mark Coulton’s electorate of Parkes – it punches well above its weight when it comes to agriculture and everything else. We want to make these regions the best they can be. We want to make these shires the best they can be. I do thank the three mayors for coming today and they will add further to those remarks, but I also thank Minister Mark Coulton for coming here to Wagga Wagga to make this important national announcement.

MARK COULTON

Thank you, Michael. Certainly good to be here with my leader, Michael McCormack, in his hometown to make this announcement with telecommunications infrastructure as a prop. Today, I’m announcing the Regional Connectivity Program, which is a $90 million program that will deliver bespoke broadband and increased telecommunications to over 80 locations right across regional Australia, programs ranging from $80,000 up to nearly $8 million for individual projects.

And what it will do is, through a variety of mechanisms, deliver high capacity broadband and telecommunications into the less populated and more regional parts of this country. The Sky Muster satellite is doing a sterling job but what we’ve discovered is that regional Australians and regional businesses are very good at inventing a use for capacity for data. And quite often regional Australians, whether it’s in the agriculture or the manufacturing or the mining sector, are actually leading the way in innovation. So to be able to have high capacity data delivered into regional communities puts the people in less populated areas on the same footing as their city counterparts.

It’s in conjunction with the NBN’s business fibre network where towns like Wagga Wagga now can get metropolitan-priced broadband with zero connection charge to large parts of the city. This program is for looking outside the larger areas into the smaller. And I welcome the three mayors here. They all represent highly productive parts of Australia and it’s important that their constituents have that ability to be connected not only to the rest of the world but we’ve seen more and more remote monitoring. One of the programs in this is in the Murrumbidgee area to allow a lot of that remote controlling and monitoring of irrigation and other farming practices, to have the capacity to do that. So areas right across this region, with these three councils, right across northern New South Wales around Moree, Gunnedah, Tamworth, places like that, where large parts of the regional productivity areas of this country are now going to be covered by high capacity broadband.

JOURNALIST

And what sort of projects will this benefit? Can you give us some examples?

MARK COULTON

So, a good example would be, say, a large farm in northern New South Wales. They might have 20 or 30 employees, they might have an office where they’re dealing with commodities internationally. They might be, you know, 100 kilometres from a decent sized town. It means that they can operate that business from that location rather than traditionally where they would have to have an office in town. But also the people that live on that property will be able to then have the same access to what people in Wagga Wagga would have. Take, for example, Netflix and all of those sorts of things. So what’s happened with the data explosion is that there’s a lot of pressure now on the telephone network and so the idea of this is to take the data off that network so that when people are on their tractors or in their ute in the paddock they’re not competing with someone watching Netflix on the same tower.

JOURNALIST

What’s the difference between the technology types with some getting fixed wireless broadband and others getting the mobile voice and data? What sort of difference in speeds?

MARK COULTON

Yes, so, some of these sites depending on where there are – a couple of these sites are actually upgrading maybe a 3G tower to a 4G tower, so using that 4G and those sites are generally sort of lower populated areas. I think one of those sites might be like out at Mossgiel out on the plain. That’s the sort of ones there. I was at Boggabilla on Tuesday and there’s a small company, a start-up company, four or five years old, putting a couple of towers across that border region where they’re getting connected on to fibre optic cable to the towers and then beaming that out in a wireless way. So there are different ways. Some of these will be connected to the NBN network for backhaul, I think some will be on to the Telstra network but ultimately they are innovative ways, they are projects that we wouldn’t have been able to fund before under the Black Spot Program.

JOURNALIST

With the Snowy Valleys projects, how will they help that community in times of disaster, such as the January 2020 bushfires that took out a lot of the mobile phone infrastructure in that region?

MARK COULTON

There is a possibility to grow off these to have voice as well. But even with these towers with Wi-Fi calling, that will have the ability to bring voice. So if a telephone tower goes out and this network stays going, you can still communicate through voice on Wi-Fi calling. But with regards to that, we’ve also got a program that we’ve put aside $37 million to increase the durability in those areas. And one of the things that let us down last time was the lifespan of the batteries. And so a lot of those towers in bushfire-prone areas now will have a battery life of 12 to 15 hours rather than two to three. So we are recognising that quite often it may be not the tower that goes out in a bushfire but it can be the electricity connection to it.

JOURNALIST

So what triggered the proposal of this? What kind of issues do you hope to solve?

MARK COULTON

Basically, regional Australia has led this country through the COVID pandemic, whether it’s agriculture or mining. And these businesses are large businesses and they have been – you know, the Sky Muster connection is what I use at home. It’s fine for me. It’s just my wife and I and I use it back to my office. But if you’re running a business, intensive agriculture or something like that, you need to have that higher capacity because we are working in a global market now. We do have people right across this region who are working in jobs in the city somewhere but living in the regions and so to get more and more people working remotely they’ve got to have that capacity. And what COVID did was show that regional Australia is a good place to live and with suitable connection you can be connected to a capital city or internationally and work from a farmhouse or a small village in western New South Wales.

JOURNALIST

How were these projects and why were they chosen and also how was the funding divvied up?

MARK COULTON

Okay, so there was a lot of applications. More than double the number of applicants than we had the funding for. And so it went through a very, very intensive process by the Department of Communications under set guidelines that they had to meet certain benchmarks. I am very hopeful with the success of this, we are looking very closely at this because we have round six of the Black Spot Program funded but not yet designed. And so we have the ability to fine tune the design of that program and also the opportunity for further rounds should this one prove successful. And from the response that I’ve been getting not only from the proponents but from mayors and other business, I think this is going to be very popular.

JOURNALIST

So how was the funding divvied up? Was it just like whatever required more money?

MARK COULTON

So, in a priority, whatever ones gave the best value for money or, in some cases, may be showing a higher degree of innovation. So we can put a ruler over some of these projects and see, “Well, this has worked well. We can invest more into that,” and future rounds can be fine-tuned.

JOURNALIST

With regards to that, would you say to people who are unsuccessful in this round to stay poised and ready to apply further? Do you think that they need to go back and do any more work?

MARK COULTON

We will be keeping in touch with people who weren’t successful in this round. And if they weren’t successful because maybe their projects needed tweaking or maybe it’s just that we didn’t have enough money for that round, certainly we will be keeping in close contact with those people.

JOURNALIST

So how were some people chosen over other people. What particular criteria did they have to meet?

MARK COULTON

That would be delivery. The fact that they can actually deliver a product or a service in an area where they haven’t been before. Value for money for the taxpayers and the level of innovation would be sort of the – you know, there was more than that, but they were the key criteria.

JOURNALIST

Is it up to the councils to apply for this?

MARK COULTON

Councils are partners in some of these – some they’re not. What I’m excited about is that there’s a lot of smaller telcos, start-up companies that are really showing innovation and are stepping into the gap. And so, you know, up until recently it’s sort of been a two-horse race, maybe a three-horse race in some cases with the major telcos. This project has opened this right up and broadened the field right out into people – companies – that are interested to work in that space for rural Australia and that’s probably the bit that I’m most excited about.

JOURNALIST

What’s the Federal Government doing to help bring fibre optic connections to areas such as Wagga Wagga’s Bomen industrial area?

MARK COULTON

I haven’t seen the exact map, but I would imagine that the Bomen industrial area would be part of that broader map for the business fibre zone. So in those areas, in these larger regional centres it’s the same pricing as CBD capital city pricing with no connection charge. And so that’s going to put those industrial parks in regional areas on exactly the same footing as if you’re in Pitt Street in Sydney.

ABB McALISTER

As you said, it’s a great vista and any vista’s good when you’re giving out money mate. We’ll go anywhere for it. Look, as we know, communication’s now is such a big part of our life and our life revolves a lot around communication. Just with this money, a couple of things – safety. You know, in our area, I know from Wagga to Gundagai, Gundagai to Tumut, there’s a lot of black spot areas. And, you know, when there’s an accident or a farm incident, response is a big thing and the quicker the response is very important in life or death. So from the black spot funding, you know, we really appreciate the money there. But also, as Mark said, just now from what you can do on your farm, you don’t have to go running into town. The productivity of these farms will be so much greater.

So, that is a really, really big thing, and especially the further you go west, the big expanses of land and the bigger gaps between the towns, so we really appreciate – as I said, it’s a big part of our life, and we appreciate any money we can get towards communication and Gundagai-Cootamundra Council really appreciates the money they’ve got there. And also, as Mark said, I know a fair bit of that money is going to a local communication company, which is great too. It’s spreading that dollar all back over the community to gain the money in the community, you know, really boosts our economy. So on behalf of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council, I’d really like to thank Michael and Mark and the Federal Government for this funding that they’re giving today for communication. As I said, it’s a big part of our life and the better communications we get, the better our lives will be. Thank you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The Mayor of Hilltops, Brian Ingram.

BRIAN INGRAM

Look, it’s great to be here today. It’s always very pleasing when you hear of organisations who are willing to and courageous enough to invest in rural and regional New South Wales and indeed, Australia. As mentioned by one of my colleagues earlier, we are the backbone of Australia, so it’s really rewarding that this funding has been announced. And to the three councils that are here today that have been mentioned, safety factors, business factors. Everyone talks about decentralisation. It’s been talked about a long time, bringing business to the bush. Things like this can make that happen. When we get the extra data that people can have and businesses can use, we can safely say we’re in a better position to attract people to our rural areas.

I’d like to congratulate the organisations who’ve received the funding. I’d also like to pass on Hilltops Council’s thanks to Mark and Michael and especially to Michael in his role advocating for funding for all regional and rural New South Wales and indeed, Australia. We do know that we need every bit of funding we can have in our hands, so thank you very much for today.

JOURNALIST

I’ll just ask some questions, sorry. In terms of this announcement, in substantial terms, how does this affect your area?

BRIAN INGRAM

Well, as we mentioned with the black spot funding and I could talk in our Hilltops Council, our main areas are Young, Harden, Boorowa, Jugiong and there’s 70 other small communities and I go down to Rugby and Rye Park and they’ve had issues for years trying to get funding to eliminate those black spots just for simple things, let alone safety in case of an accident and they need to get emergency services there. So there’s plenty of areas in the Hilltops Council – and you don’t have to go right out to the fringes – that lack the ability to do that and the necessary infrastructure to have that extra data.

JOURNALIST

And this grant will change that?

BRIAN INGRAM

My understanding with the number of towers that are going up now, it may not solve everything but it will go a long way towards what needs to be solved and when future rounds come around hopefully they can tack on to the end of that.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And last but by no means least, the Mayor of Snowy Valleys Council, my good friend James Hayes.

JAMES HAYES

Thank you, Michael and thanks to the other two mayors there’s nothing left for me to say. Look, this is wonderful and I know that in our area there’s a tower going in at Tumut and they’ve been working very hard that community to get that tower up and running. So thanks for that and that’s an area that has been impacted by fire twice recently and it will be a great help there.

Wi-sky is another organisation that’s benefitting in our area, and as Abb said, they’re a local company. And they provide small cell internet into areas where maybe only five or six people might live in a valley and they can access that. And we do know that after the fires or when the fires came through the assets of Wi-sky that were impacted by fire continued to operate through the fire. So they’re a proven company and they’re a young company and we wish them all the best and we thank them for everything they’re doing for us. I thank the Federal Government for the funding and that’s about it I think.

JOURNALIST

Are you satisfied with this, James, in terms of –

JAMES HAYES

Great start.

JOURNALIST

It’s been a big issue for you.

JAMES HAYES

It’s been a big issue and certainly that’s one of the big things following the fires that communications were an issue. Communications were an issue before the fire, but then during the fire a lot of our assets burnt. And it took a while to get up. For example, I was in Tumbarumba on Wednesday and just getting the power back took 28 days for some communities. So you don’t run one of these towers without power. So we need the power and we need the telecommunications.

JOURNALIST

You mentioned it’s a start. Is there anything else you’d like to see?

JAMES HAYES

We’ve got some other areas, for example, Maragle is another area we’re looking for some funding. And certainly when we were fighting those fires there were quite a lot of black spots that we had in the area. So, yes, it’s a good start. We’ll be applying for more and I’ll be writing letters of support for other communities.

JOURNALIST

Can you give us an indication of some of the things you heard during the fires? You mentioned people couldn’t get in contact with fire brigades. What have you heard from your constituency?

JAMES HAYES

Heard lots of stories like that, that people couldn’t get in contact. Even to the point where people weren’t receiving the text messages to get out. So, you know, mostly that works, but when it doesn’t work and people are relying on it, it’s an issue. Thank you.

MARK COULTON

I just will add, we’ve got a round 5A of the Mobile Black Spot Program which is under assessment at the moment. And so there’ll be some towers and that’s under the Black Spot Program which is different to this one. And so we would expect probably in a month or so – six weeks maybe – we’ll have those ones announced as well. I don’t have that list at the moment, but that’s another program that’s in.

I might do a vaccine update when you’re finished, if you like.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Sure. Questions without notice. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST

Yes, so the Prime Minister, sorry, has said that he predicts that we’ll soon be able to travel if we’re vaccinated and then the travellers can come home and quarantine at home. When do you envisage this happening?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, I’m not going to set a timeline for it, but it’s going to be reliant on, of course, other nations having their vaccination program rolled out. It’s going to be reliant on Australia having our vaccination program well underway. And it is. And it is underway. And so we’ve already got that travel bubble with New Zealand. We’re already working very much towards a travel bubble with Singapore and we’ll work towards other travel bubbles – perhaps Japan, perhaps South Korea. But certainly some of those countries have been very good as far as keeping the number of COVID transmission cases very, very low, as has Australia. Australia is the best place in all of the world in which to live and regional Australia more so. During the whole global pandemic it has proven that, you know, the number of case rates have been at a minimum and we’ve done very, very well. We’ve worked hard through the National Cabinet process with the State Governments, with the Premiers, with the public health departments that the various states and territories have and we’ll continue to do that. And we’ll continue, of course, as well to take the best possible medical advice. We’ve got the world’s best authority in the TGA – the Therapeutic Goods Administration – they have provided the advice about the vaccines. We’ve relied very heavily, of course, on Chief Medical Officers and Chief Health Officers as far as making sure that we’ve kept Australians safe and we’ll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST

But the PM doesn’t have a vaccination target. Do you think he’s just getting people’s hopes up by announcing this?

MARK COULTON

I’ll change hats now as Regional Health Minister with regards to the vaccine rollout. Obviously, there’s been a readjustment with the advice we received from our medical authorities about people under 50 with AstraZeneca. There’s still eight million Australians who are eligible to have AstraZeneca. Obviously, anyone that has any concerns should consult their GP beforehand. Anyone that’s under 50 that’s had their first shot, they mainly are health workers. If they haven’t had any adverse reactions there’s no issue about them having their second AstraZeneca shot.

We already had a contract for 20 million Pfizer doses. We just this week secured another 20 million. So that gives us access to 40 million Pfizer doses. Many of those will be towards the end of the year. But I just want to point out that a lot of the concerns earlier on about Pfizer being at a low temperature wasn’t going to be eligible for regional Australia, we are finding out that it can be. Michael and I were at the DHL distribution point probably about five or six weeks ago and the technology in their containers to move this around is quite sensational. And they can move it long distances at minus 70. It can now be stored in a freezer for a couple of weeks and then in a vaccine fridge for up to five days. So that gives plenty of flexibility to get the Pfizer dose around when the time comes.

And the other misconception is that regional Australia is somehow lagging behind. But the roll-out, we’ve vaccinated up to 1.4 million people, just under now. Many of those are in regional Australia. I’ve been to four or five GP clinics and a couple of Aboriginal medical services in the last two or three weeks and they’re finding that regional people are still quite prepared to have the vaccine. They understand that some of our smaller, more remote communities are at risk of COVID and they want to make sure that their communities are protected. So, you know, it has been disappointing that the changes had to be made, but what’s kept this country safe from the start is that we’ve taken medical advice all the way through. And sometimes that medical advice is not always the most convenient way forward, but it’s the safest way. And so when we got the advice to change tack on the AstraZeneca we’ve taken that and I believe that we can pick up the slack towards the end of the year and we won’t be far behind our original targets.

JOURNALIST

Still on the vaccine theme, but sports, Olympics. Would you support prioritising vaccines for Australian athletes competing in the Olympics and their staff so they can safely travel to Japan?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’ll take the best possible medical advice from the medical experts. Of course, we’ve got Professor Paul Kelly and Brendan Murphy who are the Chief Medical Officer and Departmental Health Secretary, respectively. If they say that that’s appropriate to do so for the athletes’ safety and conditions then that’s what will happen.

JOURNALIST

I suppose it’s a matter of priority and who gets what vaccines when. So, having athletes vaccinated is sort of in isolation going to the Olympics is one thing but when you put it into the context of other people also being vaccinated one Labor MP argues athletes should not get vaccines before all of the vulnerable frontline workers and residents in disability and aged care. Would you agree with that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s one Labor MP. Everybody’s got an opinion. Sometimes Labor MPs have a different opinion in the afternoon than they had in the morning because that’s what Labor MPs do. But, look, as I say again, we’ll take the best possible medical advice. If they determine and they decide that in the athletes’ interests, in their safety and health interests, then it’s best for them to get vaccinated before they go to the Olympics, then so be it. But, again, we’ll take the best possible medical advice, as we have done the whole way through. We’ve got a vaccination program. We’ve got health workers and aged care residents and aged care workers listed as priorities. And that’s important. Of course, vulnerable Australians, Aboriginal Australians. One of the things that I am most proud about as being Deputy Prime Minister and being part of a government that has kept Australians safe is the fact that we haven’t had, to my knowledge, any Aboriginal deaths particularly in those regional communities, remote communities, from COVID-19. Now this could have been absolutely disastrous, because many of these communities are a long, long way from the medical care and attention that you’d see in Pitt Street or Swanston Street in Sydney or Melbourne. But they have kept their communities safe. And we thank them for doing the social distancing, for wearing the masks and for doing everything that they’ve been asked to do, just like I particularly and especially thank and acknowledge those people in regional Australia. Because sometimes the decisions made in far-off capital cities came at great expense to regional business, to regional people who didn’t have a coronavirus case at all and, if they had, it had been many months since they’d had one. And yet they still had to wear face masks and they still did all these things. That’s so important. I say to them again thank you for doing that for yourselves, your communities and your nation.

JOURNALIST

You spoke about it just being one opinion, the opinion of one Labor MP. But, of course, your opinion is the one we’re asking. You spoke about taking medical advice, but, in the end, who gets vaccinated and when is a political decision made by government. So what would you say to the people who haven’t yet been vaccinated in aged care who may be –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Be patient. I’d say be patient.

JOURNALIST

In terms of potentially having elite athletes vaccinated before them and those vulnerable groups?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, I say the vaccination program, we’ve taken the advice of the medical experts. That’s what we’ve done the whole way through. We don’t want our athletes going overseas and being placed at risk. And I’m sure that the Olympic officials don’t want that either. So we’ll take the best possible medical advice. Yes, whatever the case might be as far as athletes perhaps being put further up in the queue than some Australians, you’ll always be able to find an Australian who feels as though they should have received that jab first and foremost. So, we’ll work through the best possible medical advice as the vaccination program rolls out.

JOURNALIST

On the subject of the derailment of the freight train outside Wagga on Thursday morning, as Transport Minister, are you being briefed on how this is affecting the movement of freight through that line?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, I have and I know the clean-up operations have been well underway since the mishap. And I understand that the ARTC is obviously, as you’d expect, doing a full inquiry as to what went wrong and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

JOURNALIST

Is there any indication of how much volume of freight has been affected by this incident?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No.

JOURNALIST

In general terms are you aware of how much freight moves through that particular line?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

A huge amount. I mean, this is the Sydney-Melbourne line. Bomen was opened, as I understand, in the late 1870s, early 1880s. It is part of what we’re very proud of – and Mark and I will speak volumes about it all the time – and that is the Inland Rail network. We’ve got the special activation precinct there. We’ve got the RIFLH – the Riverina Intermodal Freight Logistics Hub being constructed there as we speak and we’re very excited about what is happening out at Bomen and what is happening out at North Wagga Wagga as far as the Inland Rail, as far as the freight task is concerned. And, of course, any accident there, any mishap there, we want to make sure we identify what actually went wrong to rectify it ever happening again. But these things do happen, unfortunately. I mean, human error comes into it. There’s also infrastructure failings sometimes when line buckles. But who knows what happened. The ARTC, well they’ll fully examine it and we’ll certainly find out the reason.

JOURNALIST

So, are you aware of whether this would be investigated by the New South Wales Office of Transport Safety Investigations?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, they’ll have their say, too, as you would expect. I mean, this isn’t just one entity that looks into these things, it’s several and it’s across several jurisdictions. And we’ll come up with a report as to what went wrong and try and rectify any problems that may be identified as a result of that.

JOURNALIST

Is there any freight that can’t be moved on to other forms of transport that might be held up by this incident?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that’s being taken care of at the moment by the ARTC as to see what needs to be moved, how soon it needs to be moved and making sure the logistics is right to do that moving.

JOURNALIST

Sorry, just back to today’s funding, any plans to expand it and how important do you think it is for us to have following phases for more organisations in the community?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I can speak from my point of view as far as the infrastructure portfolio is concerned with what we’re doing as far as roads and rail and ports – airports, seaports, whatever the case might be – and just basically community infrastructure. When I took over in February 2018 as the Deputy Prime Minister and took the infrastructure portfolio on, we had a $50 billion rollout over a decade. A third of that was for regional Australia. Now it’s $110 billion. So we’ve increased it in three years from $50 to $110 billion. That supports 100,000 workers. That supports 100,000 jobs. I just look at the Inland Rail project and I look at the Western Sydney Airport project and I look at the Echuca-Moama Bridge which I visited yesterday. Everywhere I go from those big jobs to even the smaller jobs, the smaller suburban and country roads that we’re funding under the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, a $1.5 billion program I put in place last year. Then when I look around at the $2 billion Road Safety Program which I put in place not that long ago, I see workers out there and I see excavators moving, I see shovels in the ground and I see activity happening. That’s saving people’s lives, protecting people’s lives and building the community capacity of particularly the regions which they’re serving. And as far as the Telecommunications Program, that just gives you an idea that once we as Nationals in government put something in place we then grow it. We expand it. We have a rolling program. We have further rounds. And I know that Mark Coulton is determined to make sure that we have better telecommunications, that we have more funding rounds. That’s what we do. We serve our communities. We work night and day to make sure that we get better telecommunications, better infrastructure. That’s what we do. Thank you very much.

ENDS 12:11PM

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