Doorstop Interview in Parkes With: Cr Alan Ward, Parkes Shire Council

Michael McCormack:: … Council’s airports sub-committee, and Alan knows full well how beneficial this project is going to be, not just to Parkes but indeed to the region. By upgrading the airport and certainly upgrading and establishing a new business hub here, a new business [indistinct] it’s going to mean so many more opportunities for Parkes. Parkes already has 33 air movements into the airport each and every year. We want to build on that. We want to make sure that the 46 per cent of international travellers who come to a regional area when they visit Australia, that they put Parkes on their bucket list. As Alan well knows, the Parkes Elvis Festival, when he was in the tourism hall of fame, was a recipient of an award three years running. So there’s plenty of reasons to come to Parkes, whether it’s for tourism, whether it’s for business opportunities, whether it’s to visit friends or whatever it is.

There’s plenty of reasons to not only visit Parkes but to do business in Parkes, and we want more businesses to decentralise here. Not just government agencies – and I announced a Government agency actually leaving Canberra and going to Coffs Harbour this morning – but we want more Government agencies, we want more private entities to see and to realise the opportunities that are in regional Australia, are in the Riverina and central west, and are here right at Parkes.

The Shire Council is one of the most proactive councils in Australia. They’re only going to build on that with upgrades like this at the airport, $1.5 million worth of federal funding on the back of what Parkes Council has also done. This is Federal Government working collaboratively and cooperatively with a Local Government. As I say, there’s no better council than Parkes Shire to get out there and push itself, to promote itself, and that’s what it’s doing with this airport upgrade. I’m delighted to be here with Alan. He knows full well the employment opportunities and the business opportunities this is going to create and fantastic to look at this and also have a look at the update of the wastewater treatment plant. And that’s also an important thing for Parkes residents, so it’s good to be here in Parkes; always fantastic to be here, Alan.

Question: I just also wanted to ask you, we’ve been talking to a lot of farmers around this area out [indistinct] way who’ve been trying to apply for Federal Government funding assistance through this drought. They’re finding there’s a lot of hoops to jump through, really long processes. Is there any hope of the forms being cut back or made shorter [indistinct]?

Michael McCormack: Yes. We have reduced the amount of paperwork that people have to do and we’ve also added dozens and dozens of rural financial counsellors who can sit around the table with farmers and their partners and help them fill out the forms. We want to get the assistance out the door of Government and into the farms and the farmers who need it most. We want to make sure that that funding assistance is there for farmers to be able to access it easily. We don’t want to make people jump through hoops or put barriers in the way. We want to make sure that the farmers get the recovery assistance that they need to help them get on with the job that they do, and that is growing the very best food and fibre in all of the world.

So that’s why we’re also putting $1 million into councils such as Parkes, such as Forbes, such as Bland Shire, to make sure that these councils have employment going forward so that if farmers are struggling and there’s not much money coming into the towns because of the downturn of crops and not much stock about to be sold, then at least there can be jobs being created and being generated and being kept in these towns by local governments. So that’s why Parkes was one of the councils of the original 61 or so in the original round of funding the we made available, and we announced that right here in the central west and indeed at Forbes.

And that’s why we’re as a government putting also $3.9 billion to a future drought fund. So that’s going to build up to $5 billion in future years, but we’re out there on the front foot. We’re making sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder and side by side by our farmers, and we’ll continue to do so as this drought continues. And even though we might get a bit of rain here and there – and we have had some decent showers in recent weeks – it’s not going to ease the burden, the economic hardship that these farmers are suffering and they’re going to be suffering that for months if not years because of this prolonged drought. So we will be there with them. We are with them now, and we’re certainly making sure that the assistance measures that we’ve got are available and are accessible.

Question: We’ve been told on the forms for the Farm House Allowance have been reduced by a third [indistinct] spending more than two weeks trying to fill out those forms and say that a few different Question:s were repeated multiple times. Is there scope for those forms to be reduced even further?

Michael McCormack: Well there is, and that’s why we are consulting all the time. That’s why we’ve got Major General Stephen Day out on the front foot as out drought coordinator nationally, working with rural communities such as those in the Riverina and Central West. And we’ve also put more rural financial counsellors on the ground, dozens and dozens of them – in fact more than 100 – to make sure that if farmers need the assistance and need someone to actually help talk them through or indeed sit around the kitchen table and work with them to get their forms filled out, then that’s what we’ll do.

Question: Thank you.

Michael McCormack: Do you want to get Alan to make some comments?

Alan Ward: Alan Ward:, Councillor, Parkes Shire Council.

Question: Good. Can you tell us a bit about this project, what it is and what it will do?

Alan Ward: Yes. Firstly I wanted to thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his comments and his support for the Parkes Shire Council and all the projects that we have. What’s happening in Parkes at the moment - what’s happening out here at the airport is - it all interlinks with everything that’s happening into Parkes at the moment with our freight presence, with our international freight hub. It’s just in its early stages, and so this is the grassroots of us improving our airport facilities: putting in better entrance roads; kerb and guttering; putting on the facilities like power, sewer, and water; and now we’re doing apron expansions to the amount of $3 million which is a wonderful [indistinct] asset for us to be able to build on. Our Federal Government is supporting us with this project, and it will enable us to have our airport ready and ready to go for what the future will bring for us in Parkes with how our airport will connect with the freight hub.

Question: So how is the progress going down at the site there? We see a bit of action.

Alan Ward: That’s right. Our first stage is now completed, which is an access to our future business park. All the kerb and guttering and bitumen is now complete and the next stage is our apron and taxi-ways which should be finished in February next year.

Question: After that are there more stages to come? I can imagine there would be with all the growth that’s happening in Parkes?

Alan Ward: That’s right, yes. Our economic development committee in the Parkes Shire Council has done our master-planning and we’ve forecast what our freight presence in Australia will be. We have another two stages after this which will include hangars. After this stage is finished it will be time for us to sit down with investors and businesses that want to come to Parkes and work out how they can be accommodated in this area.

Question: So there really is opportunity for a lot more growth here beyond this?

Alan Ward: Definitely - a lot more growth, and we’ve already got a lot of interest now so we have to start with doing the foundation to what we can then build on over the next 30 years.

Question: Do you think with the special activation precinct kicking in, all of those developments like [indistinct] the Inland Rail, this is [indistinct]?

Alan Ward: Yes, and I think that’s something that not just the Parkes Shire will benefit from but this is a full regional experience that central New South Wales hasn’t felt for many years. It’s a very exciting time for all of regional New South Wales with what the Inland Rail can bring with our freight presence. It’s quite exciting. We’re really looking forward to the economic growth and what will happen to rural New South Wales.

Question: What about new growth in jobs as well?

Alan Ward: That’s right. And what comes with that is jobs and we’re seeing that now in Parkes already through the Inland Rail employment, and even local [indistinct] presence and other businesses that are being activated, that that will associate a business that comes with that.

Question: Yes. I suppose it’s just another option [indistinct]?

Alan Ward: That’s right. The presence of an international freight hub is becoming more and more of a reality, with what that means to central New South Wales.