Interview with Jo Laverty and Conor Byrne, ABC Radio Darwin

Jo Laverty: It’s also been a very big week for cattle themselves in the Territory. Of course starting with rain from Cyclone Trevor hitting stations across northern and central Australia, and if you think it’s difficult to try and look after your dog or cat when you’re in a cyclone situation, imagine trying to do it with several hundred head of cattle. Then of course, the news this week, big news, that the Batchelor abattoir is set to reopen and the Territory can once again process its own meat. But cattle’s not out of the woods yet. Drought, live animal trade, and animal rights activists are still front of mind for those in the cattle industry.

This week, the Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association are gathering for their annual conference, and in town today to talk all things cattle is Michael McCormack, who is the Leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister. Good morning, Mr McCormack.

Michael McCormack: Good morning.

Jo Laverty: So despite the rain, there’s still heaps to talk about in the Territory, including the drought. What can we talk about, about drought policy at the national level?

Michael McCormack: Certainly, we’ve already put on the table $7.2 billion for drought assistance and we can, and we must, and we will put more as we continue to monitor the drought as we continue to get out and about in our regional communities. I come from a drought-stricken regional community in southwest New South Wales, but wherever you go, whether it’s in northern Queensland or indeed across here, it’s dry. There is no question, it’s dry. Despite that our farmers are a very resilient bunch. Despite that our farmers still last year managed nearly $60 billion of exports. So it’s still a vibrant industry, but they just need water. They just need water to help fill out stock; they need water obviously to grow crops and to get confidence back into the economy.

Jo Laverty: Yes and coming from a drought-stricken area yourself, you know that assistance is very gratefully received. But what's better is to manage it in the first place. And I have heard from people in rural areas of the Northern Territory saying - look Federal Government, how about, instead of funding something like the Barneson Boulevard, you put more money into things like the bores, which we really need to catch that water when we are in dry times, as we always are in Australia.

Michael McCormack: Oh look, no question, I absolutely agree with you and that's why late last year I’ve put on the table $500 million - half a billion dollars - for more water infrastructure. It’s so vital. I'm looking forward to making an announcement today, as far as the Northern Territory is concerned, about a project that I would like to see investigated fully up here. But more to the point, I want to see weirs lengthened, heightened and strengthened. I want to see dams being built. I want to see pipelines being constructed. This National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is going to do just that, of course, working in conjunction with the willing States and Territories. We can put down the water infrastructure that can really drought-proof this nation.

Jo Laverty: Alright, so you're currently on ABC Breakfast, and you've got a big announcement to make later in the day. Can we get just a little sneak peek of what that is, Deputy PM?

Michael McCormack: Well I'm looking forward to working with a very, very large Australian organisation to investigate the possibility of putting more water infrastructure in place to grow irrigation here in the Northern Territory. That's about as much as I'm going to give away. But [indistinct] this part of an overall program, and not just in this particular area of the north at the Top End as well, but I want to hear from the Territory about other potential sites where we could potentially build dams; where we could put weirs down; where we could build pipelines. That's what the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is all about: $1.3 billion of money already either invested or on the table to make sure that we get the right drought-proofing infrastructure for our nation. That's what it's all about. But I'm also looking forward today - and I know that the cattlemen will be absolutely delighted—to talking about the Roads of Strategic Importance: nearly half a billion dollars there too, $492.3 million, to upgrade priority freight routes in the Northern Territory. That is going to maximise benefits for industry and communities right throughout the Top End.

Jo Laverty: I won't press you too much on your big announcement, but the other thing of course in the Northern Territory that we desperately need are more people, more jobs. So does this big plan that you've got involve a way to make sure that Territorians get the jobs, not just a big national company?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely. And when you build irrigation districts you build agriculture; when you build agriculture you enhance these communities, you build community capacity and it does lead to jobs. It leads to jobs in the construction phase; it leads to jobs further down the track, ongoing jobs, real jobs, full time jobs, well paying jobs. Agriculture does that but so does building infrastructure and I'm really looking forward to working with the Northern Territory stakeholders. I know it's an exciting project and I know that it's going to be welcomed up here.