Doorstop at Hildasid opening

Journalist: Minister McCormack, tell us about today—how important this facility is to Wagga and the surrounding region.

Michael McCormack: Well, what a remarkable and exciting day, not just for Kurrajong, not just for our city but indeed for our entire region. This facility provided for with a $1.2 million National Stronger Regions grant by the Federal Government combined of course with community input; a $3 million facility going to provide hope and opportunity for the participants of Kurrajong who can have lifestyle options they weren't able to have before. This is going to be such a great facility for Hildasid Farm, and not only to be used by just Kurrajong, but also the entire community. They've been involved with this from the absolute start. And Cathie Smith has been an absolute dynamo to get this off the ground. And whilst it's dry and it's looking a little bit forlorn at the moment, how good will this facility be when we get a bit of water. It already looks pretty good. But when we get a bit more water, it's going to look absolutely remarkable.

So, well done to everybody involved with this project from local tradies, to the Kurrajong Race Day, to Penny Lamont's Long Lunch. All been involved, all provided valuable assistance, and now it's a remarkable facility for the whole community.

Journalist: Do you think there's room for facilities like this in the Riverina and [inaudible]…?

Michael McCormack: Well indeed, I do believe there is. This could be indeed a microcosm for the nation—getting community involved, helping to grow trees, helping to plant, helping to do things to involve the community. Now, I know we've got the National Disability Insurance Scheme and that's rolling out across the nation and that's providing so much help and so much opportunity for participants. But this is something that I know Kurrajong has fought hard to achieve. Sixty years—Kurrajong has been getting in, helping those disabled people in our community. And what a wonderful facility this is going to be going forward.

Journalist: Absolutely. Is this offering local jobs as well?

Michael McCormack: Well, it does provide local jobs. It provided of course many, many jobs in the formation; many, many jobs in the build and ongoing jobs. So there's going to be people out here helping participants, people out here in a voluntary capacity. It is job-building. It is job-creating. But it's going to provide so much hope for the future.

Alright. All good. Thanks guys.

Journalist: Can I just ask you a few more questions if that's alright?

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] Sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Go on.

Question: So I just want to specifically ask you a question. You've labelled the Government's decision- ACT Government's decision to legalise cannabis as dopey. Explain your reasons [inaudible].

Michael McCormack: Well [indistinct] I mean, the fact is that cannabis should be an illegal drug. Apart from the fact that obviously, under certain circumstances, for medicinal purposes, cannabis can and is being used. But for the ACT Government to come out and say that cannabis should be a recreational drug, I've never believed in the recreational drug. That's absolute nonsense. And ask any police officer, rookie or veteran, what they think about the decision and they'll quickly tell you they don't want drug drivers on the roads. This is an absolute madness, to go down this path. It's a dopey decision. We don't want Canberra having this sort of hashtag. Pardon the pun. But it is absolute crazy, absolutely crazy, to think that people will be allowed to use drugs. And then who knows what they might do. They might get behind the wheel of a car.

Many, many people, medical experts have shown, have proven, that cannabis use and prolonged cannabis use is not good for the individual and the ACT Government is sending the wrong message—the wrong message to young people, the wrong message to society—and I urge and implore them to reverse the decision.

Journalist: Are you sort of worried that other states such as New South Wales may try and follow their lead?

Michael McCormack: New South Wales surely wouldn't be that stupid. Surely, they would not be that stupid. And the Federal Government will look into provisions as to how we can make this decision get turned back in the ACT.

Journalist: I was actually going to say that it is possible for the Commonwealth Government to actually overrule because it's not in line with their own legislation. So is that something that you will pursue?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely. We will certainly look at that. I know the Attorney-General Christian Porter is doing just that as we speak. And this decision should be overturned for common sense and for just the right outcome. This isn't the right outcome. To legalise cannabis is just a dopey decision made by dopey people.

Journalist: So, in terms of the argument that this will prevent people from actually sourcing it on the black market, as you say, illegally.

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Oh, it's nonsense you can always find excuses to want to do something but that's just nonsensical. The fact is it's the wrong decision made in haste, made for the wrong outcomes, and it should be reversed.

Journalist: I just wanted to ask you about the Murray Darling Basin Authority socio-economic meetings that are occurring …

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] You don't mind if I keep this eye line, do you?

Journalist: Yeah, that's fine.

Michael McCormack: Good, good.

Journalist: Across the Riverina, and we've heard from some locals who have said this is the 37th review that is happening. How is this going to affect any difference?

Michael McCormack: Well obviously we're in a very, very prolonged dry spell, and obviously people—irrigators, river communities—do not have allocations, and that is heartbreaking for them. We understand that. But to go on pause the plan at this point in time, to go and blow the entire plan up, would be ill advised. Fact is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was brought in with the cooperation of the states and the territories. It's not a perfect plan. It is able to be adapted, it is able to be tweaked and we're doing that, but we need to do it with the right consultation. We need to do it with the right people having their say, experts and people who just need water, and we'll do that. We'll do that with the ACCC, we'll do that through the right process and protocol and we'll come up with the outcomes from those discussions, and then we'll look at what we can do to help not just the river communities, but also obviously the environment.

Journalist: So is your government concerned about the socio-economic impact of the Murray Darling Basin Plan?

Michael McCormack: Well, yes of course, and the fact is we can't make it rain, and we're in a very long dry spell. It will rain again and when it rains again it'll rain hard and heavy. And that's why I am putting in place the National Water Grid Authority to build more water storage infrastructure. We already have 5900 megalitres in the Scottsdale dam, the Camden Rivulet Dam in north east Tasmania, building up to a capacity of 11,300 megalitres. I inspected that just the other day. That work only began in October 2018; it's a magnificent, magnificent water storage. We'll put shovels in the ground before too long with the Emu Swamp Dam. Delighted that the Queensland Government has come on board with that particular project, already the irrigators there have backed themselves to the tune of $24.3 million, just like they did in Tasmania at the Camden Rivulet Dam with $12.03 million.

So when you've got local irrigators willing to back themselves, you've got states willing to put up priority project lists which the New South Wales Government has; we'll look at those, and we'll look at those in the next week or so to see where we can build more dam, more water storage infrastructure, more pipelines, heighten, lengthen and strengthen weirs, and we'll get on and we will do it. For far too long we've talked about it, but we're getting on and we're building dams and we're going to do it. That's going to be my legacy. I want to be the National Party leader remembered for building dams, and I'm doing it through the National Water Grid Authority. It's been established, it's up and running this week and we're getting on with the job that people expect us to do.

Journalist: So returning to socio-economic conditions—so obviously in the future that's a good thing to hope for in terms of building dams and getting that water capacity retention, but at the moment, would you guys- would your government consider any sort of funding or some sort of support for communities that are struggling with socio-economic losses? For example, we've seen that SunRice has cut another 32 jobs in their rice mill facilities because the national rice crop is so low, which rice growers are saying is attributable to low water allocations.

Michael McCormack: Yes, of course it is. And that's why we've provided a million dollars to more than 100 councils to help them through this process, to keep jobs in the town, to keep money generating around the towns. I spoke to Griffith's mayor John Dal Broi this morning about SunRice and other measures within the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, and I'm going to Carrathool today to open the new Carrathool bridge.

So we're building the infrastructure. It will rain again. And of course, we've already provided more than $7 billion of assistance to drought communities. That assistance is including $3.9 billion for the Future Drought Fund.

Of course, we've got $3.3 billion on the table through the loan facility, through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, and through the National Water Grid Authority, to make sure we build dams in the right catchments to store more water so that we can harness it and harvest it in future times.

Journalist: So speaking on that $7 billion of drought funding—on Twitter last night, Tony Windsor actually said if you assume 40 per cent of the nation's farms are in drought, and 35,000 of those farming families would each supposedly receive part of that $7 billion, that would mean they're each getting about $200,000. That obviously isn't happening. So I guess the question is for farming people on the ground, where is the money going?

Michael McCormack: Well look, Tony Windsor has long been a critic of anything that this Government has done. But the fact is we are getting on with the job of making sure that we've got water storage infrastructure. We are getting on with the job of building drought resilience. And Tony Windsor is a former member of parliament. Yes, he Tweets a lot, some of his tweets are interesting to say the least. We're just getting on with the job. Tony can do what he likes, Tony can Tweet what he likes and good luck to him.

The fact is we're getting on with building dams, we're getting on with building resiliency in drought communities, we're looking at what we can do as far as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is concerned, we're looking at what we're doing as far as water trading is concerned and the buying and selling of water, we've got the ACCC involved there, we've got Mick Keelty involved there. I know we've put in place measures to actually monitor those sorts of things. David Littleproud spends every one of his waking moments making sure that we've got the right measures in place for the drought. We can't make it rain—if we could, we would but the fact is we are supporting our farming communities, we are supporting our regional communities and we'll continue to do so.

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Journalist: Do you think that the Reserve Bank cutting interest rates will have an effect on disposable income levels on the general economy in the Wagga Wagga and the Riverina?

Michael McCormack: Well, of course the Reserve Bank makes its decisions independent of Governments as they should. [indistinct] weighs up all those facts and figure and makes its decisions [indistinct]. The banks need to follow certain, the banks [indistinct] the Reserve Bank [indistinct] and ensures that they pass on any necessary rate cuts to customers. The fact is the Riverina is hurting at the moment through the drought—I understand that. That's why I was out at Winton yesterday announcing a number of projects for Grenfell making sure that that drought Community Support Program is being spent in the right areas, not just in the Grenfell's but also in the little towns around those regional major centres.

That's why that in those 13 additional councils which received the million-dollar support Temora was included, and we'll certainly look at—if the dry period continues—to look at other shires in the area. Already seven out of the 12 local government areas I represent have received that million dollars' drought support, but obviously there are other shires—Lockhart, Junee, Cootamundra, Gundagai—which are also very, very dry. Wagga Wagga too. Whilst the canola fields look out okay, whether or not there's much seed in the head, whether there's much oil seed is to be debated. I know a lot of the farmers already to already cut their crops to hay and that's disappointing although at least they still have something as food and fodder.

But we'll continue to monitor obviously the situation as far as the drought is concerned and obviously as far as disposable income is concerned well we're doing our part with tax cuts. We're making sure that the tax cuts that we offered have been legislated and already people have taken advantage of that. We're making sure that as far as businesses are concerned they're paying the lowest tax rate they have since 1940 at twenty-seven-and-a-half per cent on a downward trajectory to 25 per cent by 21/22.

So certainly we're getting on with the job of making sure that if you, that people keep more of the money that they in fact earn.

Journalist: A million dollars in a council area doesn't go very far, especially if you have a large geographical area with a lot of roads.

Michael McCormack: Sure. You ask that to Mark Liebich, the Mayor of Weddin Shire yesterday, and I think he'd dispute that. Yes, it does go a long way and it provides upgrades to child care centres, it provides lighting for sporting ovals, indeed watering the rugby field—the very, very dry and barren rugby field in Grenfell yesterday—that's going to provide a much softer surface. So, they've already increased the number of juniors from 50 to 100 and as Mark Liebich and indeed as Mark here is one of the Grenfell Panthers Rugby Club mentioned, he said: this is a game changer for us.

And I spoke to a number of businesses, a number of individuals, and even the show society yesterday where they were delighted that they're going to get an extra 86 horse stalls for the showground there. So I think the money does go a long way—a million dollars for a local council is a significant amount of money. And obviously if the drought continues we will look at either a top up or more assistance as needed.

But, you ask the Mayors who received the million dollars and they'll tell you that it is a lot of money and it's helping keep employment in the town and helping money generate around the town because a lot of that money is being spent with local tradies and put through local businesses.

Journalist: Wonderful. Thank you

Michael McCormack: Okay. Thank you very much.