Doorstop: Southern Cross Station, Melbourne

Michael McCormack: Well, good morning. It's a very historic day today here in Melbourne, and just in the last few minutes with Jacinta Allan, the Victorian Minister for Public Transport and Major Projects, and in the presence of Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie the Deputy Leader of the National Party—Jacinta and I have signed the bilateral agreement for the Inland Rail. I'm so excited about this because this is the first state that the Commonwealth Government has signed up to agree to the Inland Rail which of course, as we all know, is going to go between Melbourne and Brisbane, double-stacked freight taking product to port, Melbourne to Brisbane, in just 24 hours. So by 2025, after a seven year or so build, we're going to be seeing the first train operate on that momentous historic rail line.

So today is a very momentous day. As I say, we've signed the bilateral agreement. The Commonwealth has provided $9.1 billion worth of equity for this project. It's going to create, at its peak, 2,800 jobs for Victoria alone at its peak of construction, and of course it's going to build so much in the way of gross domestic product, gross state product, for Victoria. Billions upon billions of dollars. So I'm very excited that Jacinta has signed the bilateral agreement. This is so exciting. I look forward now to New South Wales and to Queensland also signing an inter-governmental agreement so that we can get this project, which is the largest rail project that the Commonwealth has been involved in for more than a century, up and underway.

Already, on 15 January, the first lot of steel was dropped off at a New South Wales town called Peak Hill. It's actually in my electorate, but 600 tonnes of steel were dropped off on 15 January so the project is underway. It's certainly underway today.

Very historic day with the signing of the first inter-governmental agreement, so that is tremendous. A tremendous relationship between the Victorian Government and the Commonwealth Government. I'm also very proud to announce as part of this arrangement $135 million on top of the $100 million that the Commonwealth provided last June for better rail services for the north east of Victoria, the North East Rail Line. The Nationals have fought hard for this. I know Jacinta is very pleased about this. We all know how important it is to have better rail, better passenger services for those people who live in north east Victoria, in and around Wodonga, so they can feel safe on their rail lines. And of course, the freight line, the inland freight rail, is so important too, because it's going to be taking trucks off the Hume Highway. It's going to save lives, it is going to be a huge boost to jobs.

Our government, our Federal Government, is all about creating jobs. Last year alone, 403,000 jobs or 1,100 jobs a day—many of them full time—right through Victoria, right through the nation. That's exciting news. This is only going to build on that, and I'd ask Jacinta to say a few more remarks as well.

Jacinta Allan: Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. It's terrific to join you and your colleague Bridget McKenzie here at Southern Cross Station, and I'd like to start by thanking the Deputy Prime Minister for making visiting Victoria, coming to Victoria, a priority, and also as a priority securing the release of the Regional Rail Revival package of funding. That's what we're also here to talk about this morning; the finalisation of the funding agreement that will see the $1.7 billion in federal funds flowing to Victoria and seeing upgrades to every regional passenger line across regional Victoria. This has been a significant priority of the Andrews Labor Government, to secure these funds—firstly for Victoria, and then secondly to secure them for a program of works that we've been developing across regional passenger rail in regional Victoria.

And so I do thank Michael for his commitment in getting the finalisation of both funding and having those funds released. What that means, is that the significant amount of development work and planning that's been underway can now really ramp up into the construction phase, and it is across every regional passenger line. Its work on new tracks, new signalling that means we can run the new trains to places like Warrnambool to Bairnsdale. Its upgrades to Echuca to Albury Wodonga. It's improvements in and around Geelong and on the Ballarat line. It's a big program of works—it's also going to create around a thousand jobs during the construction phase as well.

We're really excited about this. It's a big day for us in regional rail and I'd also like to acknowledge the work that's being done by the Deputy Prime Minister, his office and his department, with our team, in terms of understanding that we needed to do a little bit more on the North East line, to get the improvements that we want to see. There's a shared desire to see improvements to the condition of the track on the North East line, there has been additional funding secured that will take to $235 million, the program of works on the North East line. And as the Premier has indicated, as we've indicated on a number of occasions, now that we've got this commitment to upgrade the track to the level required, we can get on with the order of the new trains to run on that track once the works are completed. So, this is a great day for us in regional rail.

I just also would like to make a comment on our signing of the intergovernmental agreement. The inland freight project is a big project for the country, it's a big project for Victoria, as well, when you consider around 70 per cent of all containerised freight movements between Melbourne and Brisbane start here in Victoria. And so, we understand as obviously the Federal Government, the Deputy Prime Minister does, as well we understand well the economic importance of shifting more freight onto rail, of improving the time and the efficiency of our freight movements along the eastern seaboard and also how it connects to other parts of the country as well. And so, we're pleased to also have finalised the agreement on the intergovernmental agreement on Inland Rail from a Victorian perspective, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Federal Government on delivering this big infrastructure project—another big rail infrastructure project for the state and the country.

Bridget McKenzie: Thanks, Ministers. It's absolutely fantastic to not only be the Deputy Leader of the National Party, and be here with my leader with his push and drive to actually get this project delivered, that the number one thing he wanted to see, as a National Party leader, was the North East rail line and the Inland Rail delivered. In Victoria, Jacinta, you made mention of the importance in regional Victoria around our shipping, our iconic dairy industry—the $13 billion dairy industry in this country—we are its heartland. The number one product shipped off the Melbourne docks every day is dairy product, to those ports around the world, employing tens of thousands of Victorians right across our state. Eighty per cent of the national pear crop comes from the Goulburn Valley. So it's about getting those products out of regional Victoria on to the Inland Rail and to the ports and markets of the world. It's no good signing free trade agreements if you can't actually grow jobs at home. So, that's something both Ministers have had front and centre as their thought to sign this agreement. But thank you, on behalf of the north east, I had the opportunity to travel the line with the former Minister and local MP Steph Ryan. When I head up to Wodonga, Wangaratta or Benalla—the number one, two and three thing that they've wanted to see fixed in my entire six years as Senator for this great state—is the North East rail line. So, thank you very much.

Michael McCormack: Well done. Any questions?

Question: Deputy Prime Minister, how confident are you the other states will sign up to this?

Michael McCormack: Well look, given the fact that Victoria has now signed on the dotted line, and I thank Jacinta Allan for doing that, I will now obviously work with my other state counterparts and colleagues in New South Wales and Queensland to get them to also sign up. I've already had initial discussions with both Melinda Pavey and Andrew Constance in New South Wales, and looking very much forward to also catching up with the Queensland Minister and get the Palaszczuk Government to also put pen to paper. This is important. It's nation-building, and the Liberal-Nationals Federal Government wants this project to proceed as quickly as possible. Obviously it's going to take quite some years to build, but to get the paper work done, and as Jacinta indicated, there's been some very, very good work between our departments. So, we thank them for their diligence. We also now need to, obviously, get the political happenings underway and make sure that we get these intergovernmental agreements signed and the project underway.

Question: How long will it take to get those political happenings done?

Michael McCormack: Well, hopefully more weeks than months, but we'll have to see how it goes.

Question: Just on another matter. South Africa's calling on Peter Dutton to retract his comments about white farmers receiving special attention. Do you think he should?

Michael McCormack: Well look, that is a matter for Peter Dutton. Peter Dutton has made those comments in good faith. And I appreciate it's a delicate situation there but I think it's a little bit rich to go always asking Ministers to retract comments. As I say, he made those comments in good faith.

And Peter Dutton is doing an outstanding job in the immigration portfolio. We have stopped the boats, we've made sure that those people who come to our nation, come to our nation according to our very, very generous immigration policies and settings. I know from a regional perspective in Wagga Wagga, we've just welcomed 55 Yazidi families; 55 families who are now offered hope and opportunity thanks to the fact that we haven't got 55,000 people arriving by sea who perhaps shouldn't have been doing that. So, we've tightened our borders. Border security is number one; Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have overseen the tightening of the border policies. I support Peter Dutton in what he's doing, and as I say, I think it's just a bit over the top to continue to ask people who are doing a good job, to make apologies for everything they're saying or doing.

Question: But do you think this will damage our relationship with South Africa?

Michael McCormack: No, I don't. And look, and on that we are having a cricket tour at the moment in South Africa. And whilst there's been also a few things happening on that tour, relations between the two nations are very strong, and I'm sure our cricketers too—and I've got the Minister for Sport here—I'm sure our cricketers are getting on with the job of contesting in the best possible way and making sure that we continue to build relations.

Question: Jacinta, can I just ask you what the North East track improvements mean?

Jacinta Allan: The additional funds for the North East line mean significant improvements to the track. It means that we can do the work that needs to be done to bring the North East line up to what's called a class two track, which is the same class of tracks that run to places like Ballarat to Bendigo to Geelong, it means that we can run the new modern train, and that's why the Andrews Labor Government has pushed to get this extra funding and to have it as part of the program of works with Regional Rail Revival. And it's come off the back of some joint work that's been done between the federal, and state departments.

A technical working group was established to look at how we could spend initially the $100 million that had been targeted for the North East line. And the advice from that group was that if we wanted to really do the job properly, if we wanted to get the work done to a standard that the north east communities have been deserving and should be receiving in terms of their passenger rail services, we needed to spend a little bit more money. And so I'm very pleased that we've been able to secure this additional funding off the back of the technical advice that we've received from our departments that this is the work that needs to be done so that we can run the new VLocity Trains. And we've been making this case to the Federal Government, I'm very pleased to see that we've secured this funding. I too have spent a lot of time in the north east over the years and I understand very well that we've needed to make improvements to the passenger rail services on the North East Line.

The Andrews Labor Government has made a commitment to order the new trains but the clear advice has been that until we fix the track, we can't run those new trains on the existing track because it's just not up to scratch. And so, that's why we've been wanting to bring the track works and the train works together. We've now got that and we can get on with improving the line to the north east communities.

Question: How much is that package worth and when will it be delivered?

Jacinta Allan: So, it's now a $235 million package of works, and we'll be working closely together to see those funds moving as quickly as possible, because there is a shared desire to get this line improved. We do acknowledge that we need to make improvements to the North East line; it's why our responsibilities around the rolling stock, around upgrading stations, around improving the safety around level crossings. We've been getting on with those parts of the project, and now we've got the funds we need to improve the track to the sort of standard that the north east passengers and communities need and deserve.

Question: And when can they see works get underway?

Jacinta Allan: I think it's fair to say that we're keen to see those works move as quickly as possible. Certainly the scope of works is being developed up, and now we'll be moving to the delivery phase. And we'll want to see those works done as quickly as possible. But can I say there already has been works undertaken along the line. We've been improving safety around a number of level crossings along the North East line, and we need to do this in order to run the newer, more modern train. So, there's already been work underway, but now we can ramp it up to a whole new level to get on with improving the passenger services on the North East line.

Question: Jane Garrett's announced that she won't be running for Lord Mayor, what's your reaction to her not pursuing that?

Jacinta Allan: Look, I'm pleased that Jane's made—obviously it's a big personal decision for her—Jane's made the decision to continue in the State Parliament, she's got a great role to continue to represent the Brunswick community until the end of the year. And it's great to see that she's committed to do that.

Question: Do you think she's made the right decision?

Jacinta Allan: Look, ultimately it's been her decision, and obviously she's taken quite a bit of time to consider it, taking soundings and support from family and friends. But personally I think it is the right decision, and it will be great to be able to continue to serve in Parliament with her.