Coffs Harbour Press Conference

Pat Conaghan: Welcome everybody here today. I'd like to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and also Minister Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Services and Decentralisation. And what a great day it is today for Coffs Harbour and the Mid North Coast. Part of the decentralisation agenda, some 1700 jobs since the Coalition came into power in 2013, 1700 jobs going from Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra out to regional and rural Australia, putting money back into the economy. And today, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, it's a great pleasure to be with the DPM and the Minister to open the building; 50 jobs. 50 jobs coming to Coffs Harbour. There's seven already started, and we expect another 20 in the next month or so.

So it's not just 50 jobs; it's 50 families coming to Coffs Harbour. Bringing their families, going to the local community, to the local clubs, joining the Surf Life Saving, putting that money back into the economy, back into the Coffs Harbour economy, and building bigger and better businesses. So it's an absolute pleasure to be the Member here, to be able to open the new building for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

So I'll hand over to Minister Coulton, but it's just been a wonderful day.

Mark Coulton: Yeah. Look, I just briefly- it is a wonderful opportunity today to demonstrate the agenda of the federal government and decentralisation. One of the great myths that's around at the moment is that there's no real future in regional Australia for jobs. The truth of the matter is that there are opportunities right across the regions, and today there are more opportunities in Coffs Harbour because of the relocation of the Australian Marine Safety Authority. It's going to be a great asset to the town, it's going to be a great asset to the people who use this service, whether they're commercial, fishermen, tour operators, private boat owners—having that local knowledge and people they can deal with directly here is a great advantage, and it's a real tribute to Pat Conaghan, great to be here with the Deputy Prime Minister and well done to all involved.

Journalist: Can I ask questions or will we do that at the end?

Michael McCormack: I'll just do a little spiel, and then I'm happy to answer any questions.

Journalist: [Talks over] Okay, sure.

Michael McCormack: I think Ella summed it up best upstairs when she said this was the best move she's ever made, and certainly when we announced that the AMSA would be relocating, would be putting its regional headquarters here in Coffs Harbour, Gary Prosser—the Deputy Chair, Deputy CEO—he said he can smell the sea air, he can smell the sea breeze. Well you certainly can't do that in Canberra where it was -4.2 earlier this morning. Here, the overnight minimum was about 7 degrees, so already I know the seven workers and soon to be 27, soon to be 50, they will appreciate the fact that it's much warmer here than it has been where they previously worked. Ella moved up here from Melbourne, she said it was the best move she's ever made, and that's the feeling of all the workers here who've already relocated here to Coffs Harbour.

Coffs Harbour is a wonderful place. I know it well, I used to holiday here every single year, I used to bring the family up. These days, I don't get too many holidays, Mark, but not to worry. When next I do, I'll make Coffs Harbour the destination. But this is also something that Pat Conaghan has set out to do, set out to achieve. And he's already delivering in just a few short months that he's been the Federal Member for Cowper. He's already ticking boxes, ticking important boxes as far as creating jobs, ticking important jobs as far as decentralisation, as Regional Development are concerned. That's the Pat Conaghan I've known to come and respect. He made a magnificent inaugural speech the other day where he set out his agenda for Coffs Harbour, for Kempsey, for Port Macquarie, for Cowper, and he's committed to making sure that he builds this region, that he builds this region with better opportunities, more hope, better jobs, creating that opportunity that we know that regional Australians want, deserve, and most of all expect and demand, and he's already delivering.

So this is a fantastic move. AMSA, not only here in Coffs Harbour but elsewhere in Australia, in Airlie Beach, Mackay, Gladstone, Karratha. It's got several locations now thanks to our decentralisation agenda. Of course, it's still got people in Canberra, so it's got a footprint right around the nation. But particularly for Coffs Harbour, this is particularly important and prevalent today.

This is building upstairs where AMSA is located, had been vacant, had been dormant, for 10 long years. And I'm sure that the person- the local person who actually owns this building is also delighted, and as Mark Coulton, the Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Services and so many other things has just correctly stated: this just won't benefit AMSA, this won't just benefit the workers, it will also benefit the Lions Clubs, the Rotary clubs, the sporting clubs, the schools. Dare I say, the media outlets—I know The Advocate will get more newspaper sales out of this—there'll be more listeners for the ABC, even Moffee will get more listeners. So this is fantastic, great news for Coffs Harbour, great news for Cowper, well done Pat Conaghan.

Journalist: Of the 50 jobs that will be available here, how many will be advertised to locals? You mentioned Ella, she moved up from Melbourne; will all these positions be filled by people moving to this area instead of locals?

Michael McCormack: Well, there will be some local involvement obviously, we want people on the ground here. Obviously, there was already a presence here for AMSA. But of course, there will be some jobs for locals but you'd probably- for the details, you'd probably have to ask the AMSA authorities that. But the fact is we are moving people into Coffs Harbour. You're not going to grow Coffs Harbour with just making every job available for Coffs Harbour residents. The fact is we've got other opportunities also to build growth and to create jobs here in Coffs Harbour. But some of these jobs are very specialised. Some of these jobs require people who've already got the expertise in the field, who will relocate from a capital city to Coffs Harbour to take advantage of this new building, to take advantage of this new start.

Journalist: I was just going to ask the Minister this one, but- I mean, you touched on it. Decentralisation is great in theory but in practice, I mean, what's the reality of filling all of those jobs with specialised- I imagine some of them are specialised, filling them here in Coffs Harbour.

Michael McCormack: Well, yes, some of them are specialised jobs and roles and that's why it's great that these people who've previously worked in Melbourne, previously worked in Canberra, will relocate to a regional centre and bring their expertise here, right here on the coast. They'll be able to work face to face with people for whom it's very important to have a maritime safety authority representative here so they can talk to them instead of having to drive down to Newcastle, instead of having to perhaps do a teleconference with somebody in a capital city. So, it's important that they can meet face to face. That's why AgriFutures, the former Rural Industries Research Development Corporation, was moved to Wagga Wagga; that's why the Grains Research Development Corporation has moved to parts in Mark's electorate, towns in Mark's electorate, as well as Toowoomba and Northam in Western Australia; that's why indeed Inland Rail is opening up centres in Parkes and Moree and Narrabri and elsewhere. We're making sure that if it's local people needing that local face to face contact, then they can do it. Now, they don't have to actually get on the phone and be waiting via a call centre to get hold of somebody in a capital city a long way away.

Journalist: So just to clarify—50 jobs, how many have been filled?

Michael McCormack: Well, seven people are already moved here. Twenty people, as Pat Conaghan has just said, will be moving here within the next month and overall, there'll be 50 jobs.

Journalist: Do you see that number growing? Will it be cut to 50?

Michael McCormack: Well, look, I'm not going to say yes because I don't want to be held to that. But the fact is I know when AgriFutures moved to Wagga Wagga, it was just going to be around a dozen jobs. It's expanded now to 20 because they saw the opportunities. The actual work that they did increased in conjunction with the university and other local stakeholders, and then that created in itself more jobs, more opportunities, within the organisation. So, AgriFutures has gone from about a dozen to now 20, already saving about half a million dollars in rent a year alone, and the fact is this will save a lot of money in rent alone. Risks- and notwithstanding also, the benefits for the workers. They won't be actually waiting in accusing traffic in capital cities. They'll be able to get to work in a matter of no time and that gives them even a better feel when they start the day, let alone when they finish the day and they're heading home to loved ones and families and sporting events and Rotary meetings and all the sorts of things that they will be doing. They've just got so much more time available to themselves.

Thank you very much.

Journalist: Do you have an update on the EIS for the Coffs Bypass?

Michael McCormack: No, I don't, but I am waiting for the State Government to provide me with more information. We will build, as Pat Conaghan said many, many times in the election campaign, we will build the tunnels. We will work cooperatively and collaboratively with the State Government, and we will build the tunnels. That's what the community wants. I welcome the community engagement. I welcome the State Government providing me with more details, and when we get those details, we'll certainly make sure that we build the Coffs Bypass that the community wants, the community expects, and most of all, the nation deserves.

Journalist: Do you have any idea when you'll be able to get that information given the EIS has been delayed on a number of occasions now?

Michael McCormack: Well, we want to work as fast as we can. The fact is we have to do the right work. The fact is we have to get it right. This has been a huge project. I appreciate just how important this is. We've got to get it right. I work cooperatively with Andrew Constance and with Paul Toole, the ministers, all the time in New South Wales and when I get that advice, we will work together to find the necessary funding to make sure that we get this Coffs Harbour Bypass built.

Journalist: Do you think it will happen within the next month?

Michael McCormack: I'm hoping it's going to happen within the next week, within the next few months, yes. So, the next few weeks, I'm hoping that I get that advice on the table. But the fact is these things do take time. I appreciate the forbearance of the local community. When we put down the $971 million as part of the Commonwealth's 80 per cent contribution to this important project, this important nation-building infrastructure project, fact is we thought that that was what we requested to provide. That's what we provided. Of course, the community and others then wanted tunnels, so we're happy to look at that. We said we would. Pat Conaghan campaigned on that, and we will build the tunnels. But of course, having changed, I suppose, the guidelines a little bit and this has become part of the mix, we're happy to work with the State Government as we always do. Luckily, we've got a Liberal-Nationals government in Macquarie Street who have a focus too on building the right infrastructure in the right place. So, I'll work with the ministers-

Journalist: [Interrupts] We keep getting delays in getting the EIS out. Are you still confident we'll be able to start work in 2020, given you've still…

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] I'm very hopeful.

Journalist: … got to put the EIS out for public consultations?

Michael McCormack: The answer to that is I'm very hopeful.

Journalist: Why is that?

Michael McCormack: Well, because I know the New South Wales Government wants to work cooperatively with us and I'm very hopeful it'll happen.

Thank you very much.