Doorstop in Tasmania
Bridget Archer:… MLC Tania Rattray for welcoming us to your part of the world. I'm here with Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack and also with MLC Jane Howlett, who’s the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development, and my colleague Senator Wendy Askew as well, here on this magnificent North East day to talk all things water. And I know that the Acting Prime Minister loves to talk about water. It’s a favourite topic of his. And I think that Jane likes to talk about water too …
Jane Howlett: I do.
Bridget Archer:… So Jane, would you like to talk about some water?
Jane Howlett: Absolutely. Thank you. This is a fantastic announcement today for Scottsdale and regional Tasmania. We have $57.3 million of water infrastructure behind us. So this is part of our number 15 dam in the [indistinct] irrigation system. Now, we also have $25 million committed- this has been committed from the Federal Government; $20 million from the State Government; and $12 million from our local farmers. So this is fantastic for the area. This is all about creating jobs and securing our farmers in this local area.
Michael McCormack: Yeah, well done, Jane. Well done, Wendy. And well done, Bridget. Bridget Archer, as the new Member for Bass, is already making such an impact, such an impact here in Tasmania and such an impact in Canberra. A lot of members, when they go to Canberra, they might be lions in their own electorate but you don't hear squeak out of them when they go to Canberra. Not Bridget Archer. She's in there fighting fiercely, making sure that farmers are advocated for, making sure that the local communities’ interests are being served very, very well by her, and making sure that their voice is being heard in Canberra, where funding is actually on the table. Now, $1.3 billion as part of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund for projects just like that.
And isn't this magnificent? And what I'm impressed about mostly is not the $25 million that the Federal Liberal and Nationals Government has invested, not the $20 million that the State Liberal Hodgman Government has invested, but indeed the $12.03 million that the local farmers have backed themselves with for this project. Michael Coote and 86 other farmers backing themselves to take advantage of this wonderful environment, this wonderful project. And also, the local council, they're behind it too. Well done to the Mayor and his team. Well done to the local community.
These sorts of projects don't happen without hard work. They don't happen without community effort. They don't happen without people such as Michael Coote and these local farmers backing themselves, investing in their future, making sure that there is a pipeline to prosperity – if you don’t mind the line I borrowed from the Tasmanian Government. This is a fantastic announcement: 9300 mega litres. We've already seen, we've already got, 5300 mega litres already in this and it's not even finished yet. So, we're going to be opening it from February next year. The dam wall is complete and it's already half full. I want to see this replicated right around the nation.
Tasmania is leading the way when it comes to water storage infrastructure, and if only the other states and territories would come on board just like the Hodgman Government. I'm really, really impressed with what we see here today. I'm really impressed by the fact that the farmers, the local irrigators, are backing themselves and backing their future in. This is a magnificent, magnificent project. It's all part of the Federal Government's investment in Tasmania, and we've seen right across the top of Tasmania, indeed right around this beautiful state, where you add water, you can grow agriculture. Tasmania wants to grow its agriculture to ensure that it’s part of the overall federal push, the overall national push, to grow agriculture from $60 billion-a-year to $100 billion-a-year by 2030. And I know that Senator Bridget McKenzie, our Agriculture Minister, is committed to doing just that. We can't do it without water storage infrastructure and that's why next week, the start will be, therefore, of the National Water Grid Authority to take some of the petty politics out of building dams, out of heightening, lengthening and strengthening weirs, out of putting down pipelines. We want to make sure that the federal money that's on the table, $1.3 billion, is being utilised by the mainland states. Tasmania's here and it’s leading the way. If this model can be replicated throughout the nation, we’ll drought-proof our nation for future droughts, we'll make sure that we add water, growing agriculture to a $100 billion enterprise and we'll get the sort of spirit and resilience and endeavour of Michael Coote and the other 86 farmers from around this area and we'll make it a nationwide thing.
So, well done to Bridget Archer. Well done to everybody concerned with this project. It's fantastic. I'm really, really pleased to be here. The Vista is magnificent and I'm really delighted that it's got federal support.
Journalist: How many Tasmanian farmers will benefit from this?
Michael McCormack: Well, as I said, there's 87 farmers just in the local area. What we're going to see here is agriculture grow by up to 13,000 hectares. So what we're already farming; that can only grow to, potentially, more than 13,000 additional hectares of irrigated agriculture. And that's going to grow the local economy by nearly $14 million. And that's a significant amount of money, and that can only increase in the future as more farmers come on board, as we utilise the wonderful environment here and the wonderful climate here to ensure that we grow and diversify our agriculture, grow more fruit, grow more vegetables, grow more crops, grow more stock and export it to the world. Tasmania is beautifully placed to be able to take advantage of those free trade agreements with South Korea, with China, with Japan. I know Simon Birmingham and Mark Coulton are working on even more free trade agreements at the moment. And of course, we've got Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the United States at the moment talking up trade. Australia is wonderfully, wonderfully placed geographically and everything else. We diversify our agriculture, we can export to the world; fantastic opportunities and Tasmania is brilliantly placed to do just that.
Journalist: Just onto some national questions …
Michael McCormack: Sure.
Journalist:Do you understand frustrations in some drought-impacted communities, with the PM spending a week in the US, they could be feeling forgotten about?
Michael McCormack: Certainly, the Prime Minister, whilst he’s been in America and on the world stage talking important trade negotiations with the US, you would expect the Prime Minister of this country to be in the US at this time. I mean, imagine if Bill Shorten was there, for goodness sake. I mean imagine, had the result of the election gone the other way, what an embarrassment to the international community Bill Shorten would have been had he been leading Australia in such important talks. So I’m pleased that Scott Morrison is over there. I’m pleased that he is talking about pragmatic, practical solutions for climate, making sure that the ocean’s pollution and plastic is being addressed. That’s something, that’s an initiative that he is leading the way on, leading the charge on.
And certainly, whilst he’s been over there, he’s also been talking about the drought here in Australia. And I know that tomorrow, when he arrives back in Australia, drought will be again first thing on his mind. I know that he’s going to be talking drought tomorrow and I look forward to, of course, continuing my daily discussions with him. Because the first thing that we talk about every day when we have our phone hook-up is the drought –how it’s impacting upon our rural and regional communities. Scott knows that. He's been out to those communities in New South Wales, in Queensland. He understands full well just how bad this drought is. And we've put more than $7 billion on the table as a Liberal-Nationals Government, a federal Government, and working with the states. I don't want to play politics with the drought, but we've worked with the states to make sure that we support our farmers through this prolonged dry spell, and we'll continue to do that.
Journalist: So will Mr Morrison be visiting some of those drought-impacted areas tomorrow?
Michael McCormack: I believe he will. And I know that for him, I don't want to pre-empt anything that he might or might not do, but I know just this morning, again, we've been communicating about the drought and about what further measures we can and must do. You know, like I say, we've put $7 billion on the table.
That includes a $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund; a Future Drought Fund, I have to say, was opposed for quite a long time by Labor. It was only after the election that they came on board, kicking and screaming to the table, to support that important initiative that's going to grow to $5 billion, and then there'll be an annual draw down of at least $100 million, because it's a big country. It's a big, big country and there's always part of Australia which is feeling the effects of the dry. And so, when the Prime Minister touches down I know that the drought will be top, front and centre of his mind.
Journalist: UN, saying Australia is on track to meet its emissions reduction targets, but an IPCC report on oceans predicts sweeping and severe climate change. Do we need to listen and do more? Michael McCormack
I believe the Prime Minister before I believe the IPCC.
Just one on Jock Palfreeman, who’s been released from a Bulgarian prison: DFAT says Jock Palfreeman had all the documents he needs to travel to Australia but his release is now political in Bulgaria. What, as the Government, are you doing about this?
Michael McCormack: Well, we're providing consular support to him and his family at this difficult time, appreciating the fact that he's been released and the full consular services and support that he needs is being given. Journalist:
How do you respond to the AAA report finding that a lack of leadership is to blame for too many existing roads not being safe enough?
Michael McCormack: Well, we've committed $100 billion to a record amount of spending on infrastructure across this nation. That is a record amount. No government, no federal government has ever spent that amount of money on infrastructure, and a lot of that money is going towards roads; and a lot of that money is going indeed to regional roads where regional people, indeed, are being overrepresented in the road toll statistics. But it's not just governments that need to do better when it comes to the road toll and road trauma, not forgetting the fact that there are more than 30,000 people injured on our roads each year and 1100 people who lose their lives. It's also drivers and passengers, and that's why I always encourage people: if they are a passenger in a car and the driver is doing the wrong thing, tell the driver to slow down, tell the driver to put their belt on, tell the driver not to use their mobile phone. I mean, driver distraction is one of the biggest killers on our roads. And I can’t, to that end, I cannot – cannot – fathom why the ACT Legislative Assembly has yesterday decided that it's okay to smoke pot, to legalize marijuana in the ACT. Sure, they might say it's for private use. Sure, they might say it's only to be grown privately and only smoked at home, but what message does this send to young people? What message does this send to our hardworking police officers who do a fine job policing our roads? And I have to say, when I'm driving around Canberra I don't want to be driving along one side of the road and see somebody veering along the other side of the road if they’ve been on pot, on hooch, on marijuana. I don't want to be sharing the road with a pothead. But this is the message that the ACT Government has sent to the nation. Cannabis is not legal – should not be legal – and they're sending the wrong sort of message and certainly the wrong road safety message. At a time when I would have thought that every single government is working very, very hard to minimise the risk on roads, here’s the ACT Government, probably spending too much time smoking hooch themselves, then wanting to legalize the stuff. I mean, this is madness. This is absolutely madness. They should be ashamed of themselves and they should reverse the decision they made yesterday.
Will the Federal Government be providing more funding to Dorset Council for the Northeast Rail Trail once their current funding expires?
Michael McCormack: Well, I've just had a talk to the Mayor just then about this very project, and we'll work through a suitable proposal. The National Stronger Regions Fund is a very, very good fund for promoting and funding these sorts of projects. Only the Liberals and Nationals know the full importance of funding these sorts of regional programs; these sorts of regional infrastructure initiatives. So I've had a good chat to the Mayor this morning. We'll see what we can do as far as making sure that- I appreciate they need an extension in time. I’ll go and see what I can do about that project and that funding.
Journalist: On the New South Wales South Coast, when will the promised funding of the Princes Highway be [indistinct]?
Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Well, we’re rolling out the Princes Highway, as we said we would, as per the budget. And I have to say that prior to the election, Anthony Albanese – then he was the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure – and I were as one on Princes Highway funding. But the Princes Highway of course is not just important for New South Wales, it’s also important for other states. It's a road project that, yes, requires funding, additional funding, to save lives. Our funding priority has been the Pacific Highway whilst never forgetting the Princes Highway. We're getting on with the job of finishing the Pacific, and certainly our attention will then be turned to making sure that we provide the necessary upgrades as we said we would as part of the budget process, that 2 April budget; a fine document, a document we took to the federal election and the people in Australia endorsed.
So they know the road program and funding initiatives that we outlined in the budget, they backed us by voting us in, and we'll back them in by meeting our promises and our election commitments as per what we said we would.
Journalist: Were you aware that Barnaby Joyce spent $2600 to travel to Horsham for the field days, is that good use of taxpayers’ money?
Michael McCormack: Well, it was either take a chartered flight to something that he was asked to open, the Field Days was something that was very important to the local community, they asked Barnaby to open that
particular event. So it was either a seven-hour drive, as I understand, or hire a plane. Sometimes politicians have to, for ease of convenience and from getting from point A to B, hire aeroplanes. They are allowed to do that, it is part and parcel of being a politician and being a very busy politician. And Barnaby is the Member for New England, and indeed drought envoy at the time was required all over the country. He did a very good job of being our drought envoy, and I'm pleased now that we've got David Littleproud as a dedicated minister for the drought around the Cabinet table, so drought will never be forgotten by this government. We will never drop the ball on the drought.
We've now got a dedicated minister around the Cabinet table. Of course, Barnaby did a good job and his information was valuable and certainly necessary to put in place the measures that we did leading up to the election. David Littleproud has now taken on that role as the Minister around the Cabinet table, as well as his other portfolio responsibilities in water resources and emergency management.
Journalist:The Energy Market Commission says the electricity grid should be overhauled to introduce more flexibility in pricing and take on more renewables. Is that a good idea?
Michael McCormack: Well, we've got the big stick legislation introduced to parliament, let's get that legislation through. We want reliable affordable power. That's what Australians want. That's what we've said we're going to do. I'm delighted that we've got this project right behind us which is actually also going to generate power into the future. Imagine if we can, as I said again, replicate this sort of project right around the nation. Not only will it provide irrigated agriculture, not only does it boost water security for these local communities, but there's also the potential that it could produce hydroelectricity.
We've done it before with the Snowy-Hydro scheme, of course, that magnificent engineering marvel that exists in and around Tumut near the Riverina electorate in the Eden-Monaro. And that was put there to boost irrigated agriculture, and also it obviously provides great energy supplies for the eastern states. Imagine if we can do this sort of project elsewhere around the nation; we can not only boost farming, we can also boost our power needs.
Journalist: What are your thoughts on the Bellamy's takeover by a Chinese firm?
Michael McCormack: Well of course these sorts of things have to go through the Foreign Investment Review Board. And what we have there is a situation where if it's in the national interest, according to the Foreign Investment Review Board, according to the Treasurer, then that's the process that's been put in place. What we did do as Federal Liberal and Nationals when we took back government in 2013, was that we reduced the amount that of course is the trigger for the Foreign Investment Review Board to look at these matters. And at the time it was $252 million. It's now down to $15 million for accumulated farmland, $55 million for agri-businesses. What do Labor want to do? They want to make the trigger a billion dollars, so you can buy a billion dollars’ worth of farmland- I mean, that's a lot a lot of farms. Whether it's the Riverina, whether it's north east Tasmania, wherever it is. That's the Labor way. A billion dollars before it even triggers the Foreign Investment Review Board to look at it. We've got sensible practical measures in place that the Australian Government has endorsed, and moreover the Australian people endorsed, rural and regional Australians endorsed. They’re good measures. I know the Treasurer always runs the ruler over these particular buyers, these particular merger requests, these particular acquisitions, and I'm sure he’ll do that again.
Journalist: You've previously opposed the sale of GrainCorp and Sunrice. Do you oppose this one?
Michael McCormack: Well again, it's only just cropped up just in the last few hours. So look, I'll certainly be looking at it. If I don't think it's in the national interest, well of course I'll say so. But again, I say, we've got measures in place that weren’t in place when GrainCorp and Sunrice were looking to be sold. And in those two particular cases I didn't think that was the right thing for local jobs, for local communities. And I said so, and so I always speak up. I'm never frightened to speak up, and I don't think it's in the local community’s interests. And that's the way I roll. I know that that's the way Bridget Archer too.
You know, you've got people in there, in Parliament, who are fighters. And that's what people expect. We’re not bland, boring people; we say what we think and we say it often, and that's why I'm delighted that I’ve got Bridget Archer in there as the Member for Bass, a colleague, a Liberal colleague in a very strong coalition government, Nationals backing everything all the way. We're building a better Australia; we're making sure that people pay lower taxes. We're making sure that there are more jobs, particularly for regional Australians. and we're doing it because the Australian people asked us to do it. They voted us in on 18 May, they backed us in, and we’re backing them all the way.
Thank you very much.