Interview with Leigh Ryan on Triple M Riverina

LEIGH RYAN

It's Leigh with you this morning and great to be joined this morning with a very big announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Member for the Riverina Michael McCormack. Good morning.  

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Good morning, Leigh.

LEIGH RYAN

Now, Michael, there's been a big series of funding with the Building Better Regions Fund and the Round 4 grants have just come out.  Some great news for the Riverina.  I'll let you give us the official announcement.  

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

A bit of a Triple M exclusive here, Leigh.  The Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens are going to be the recipient of $4.2 million, which is going to give renewal works to that wonderful precinct used by so many locals and so many visitors and so many wedding photographs and family functions are done up there and so the public outdoor spaces are going to get a bit of a spruce up. The exhibition hall, there is going to be a construction of a new facility there and the museum, which is, you know, it's one of Riverina's greatest little treasures and anybody who hasn't been there I'd suggest that after the refurbishment, which is going to take place as part of this funding initiative, get up there and have a look because it's got a lot of Riverina and Wagga Wagga history. The sporting history and the cultural history, the farming, agricultural background of our great area.  All the heritage is there and it's going to be preserved and protected by this wonderful $4.2 million announcement.  

It's part, of course, of the Building Better Regions Fund.  It's a drought-dedicated round.  There is $207 million across all regional Australia because they were so badly affected by drought, so badly affected by the awful dry spell which had such an effect on our communities and unfortunately still is.  Even though we've had some decent rain around here there are still a lot of communities around Australia still feeling the effects.  

LEIGH RYAN

Yeah, absolutely.  Talk to us, do you have details on the plans for the Botanic Gardens, like with the exhibition hall? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Yes, it's getting a big new hall there.  Wagga City Council have got the plans in place.  They've just still got to do some finer details about sizing and scope and locational things.  But it's going to be up in the Botanic Gardens precinct.  It's going to be an exciting facility.  

Little by little, we're getting these facilities where people can hold good functions, good conferences, good conventions and it all helps.  I know the Murrumbidgee Turf Club, they've got a great facility there.  We've got, of course, one out at the Equex with the new sports stadium, which was also built with federal money.  We've got one out at the shooting range, which is really well utilised and this one will add to those facilities.  

LEIGH RYAN

Very quickly as well, Hilltops Council also put in some funding which they've got for the Murrimboola Creek beautification project.  That's another big project around our area. 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Yes, that is and your information is very good.  They're getting $1.8 million.  I've spoken to the Mayor Brian Ingram last night, he's delighted.  That's near Harden.  You're right, Murrimboola Creek beautification project, that's going to revitalise that creek project and you know, it's a great little visitor's spot as well.  

And also Cowra Council, I know the mayor there, Bill West, a little bit away from Wagga Wagga and probably right on the fringe of your listening area, but it is in my electorate and they're getting $20,000 for some performing arts to do some mental health productions and they've got a Headspace and that's important.  It's yet to be built but I know the mayor there, Bill West, is very passionate about mental health, rural mental health and the need to make sure that everybody, you know, is feeling healthy and strong and resilient and it's going to be one way to help that.  

LEIGH RYAN

Now with this, when are the works going to get under way because obviously there's a lot of people who are crying out for jobs at the moment? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Indeed.  Well, sooner rather than later and it builds on the back, of course, of yesterday's announcement with HomeBuilder.  I know Wayne Carter stood there yesterday and espoused the value of that.  He wants to get tradies back into work as I do.  I've spoken to any number of particularly young tradies in Wagga Wagga recently and you know, they’re twiddling their thumbs.  They wanted some work.  We were worried about, indeed, the number of people who weren't actively engaged in building homes or renos.  

So it is a $25,000 grant for people who are refurbing their house or indeed building a new one and not just first homebuyers but, indeed, eligible owner-occupiers.  It's got to be their principal place of residence, of course, when they're doing their reno or they're building their new home.  So it’s $25,000. Hopefully, States will also top that up because that's going to be so important, getting tradies back into work, getting them reconnected to their business and getting them back on the tools.  

LEIGH RYAN

With this as well, there's been a bit of criticism about, particularly for the renovations side of things, with the minimum $150,000 spend and the means test for the income.  It is a large chunk of money and not a lot of people will have that sitting around to renovate their homes.  What are your thoughts on that? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

We could have just left it as the new home building, but it is a nationwide program and of course, you know, it does take in both regional and metropolitan.  So, for the modelling that we did, based on the evidence given to us by such people as the Master Builders, the housing industry, all of those people tapping in, both regional and metropolitan, this is the program we came up with and of course it's for seven months.  It's only up until December 31.  

So as Wayne Carter said, they're going to be dancing in the streets about this.  He said his phone was already ringing yesterday as was Tony Balding, who is the President of the local HIA chapter here.  If local people who have been in the industry for decades are saying this, then I back them over the critics.  And yes, there will always be critics.  No matter what you do, no matter how you do it, there will always be people who will say "Oh, yes, but why didn't you do this or that?"  But this is an overall program for both new building and for renos.  

Yes, you know, $150,000, that's a reasonable reno but there are a lot of people, let me tell you, out here, and I go to the Housing Industry Association Awards every year and a lot of people doing big renos, a lot of people building new homes and we want to stimulate that industry and that's how we're doing it.  

LEIGH RYAN

Very good.  Now very quickly, the universities around Australia have been a little bit worried about their futures with the lack of international students for COVID-19 and obviously in the Riverina, Charles Sturt University, such a big employer, but they're not eligible for the JobKeeper scheme.  Do you have plans in place to support universities through what is a really tough time? 

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, look, we do and I know Dan Tehan has been working very, very closely with the universities, of course.  I speak to Charles Sturt often. It’s a very, very great employer and yes, they're not eligible for JobKeeper, nor were local government.  There are some sectors which have had to stand on their own two feet and also use the resources that they've built up over many years and built up thanks to federal assistance and I know Charles Sturt will get through this.  I know that the University of New England and the other great regional universities, they will get through this.  It's going to be tough because they do rely heavily on overseas students.  Some of those overseas students were already here before COVID actually hit and hit hard early in February.  But we'll, of course, provide the assistance that universities need going forward in close conjunction with them.  

I know, as I say, Dan Tehan has been working very, very closely with them to look at their futures, to look at their funding models, to look at the courses they provide and to do all the right things by universities and by the students mainly who utilise them.  

LEIGH RYAN

Very good.  Well, Michael, it's been great chatting with you this morning and some great news for the Wagga Botanic Gardens, $4.2 million going –

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Looking forward to getting up there with Dallas Tout and having a bit of a look around, the Deputy Mayor, of course, the Mayor is actually away today, unfortunately, but Dallas and I will be up there today having a look around and making sure that everything's what it should be and there's also a great microgrid announcement, too.  Cowra has got more than $1 million for that.  So there's some good announcements today, bringing electricity prices down, making sure we get those tradies back into work and making sure we get that community infrastructure built right around the country to help those regions particularly hard hit by drought.  

LEIGH RYAN

Very good.  Well, Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister and Member for the Riverina, thanks for joining us this morning.  

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Thanks, Leigh.  Talk next week.  

LEIGH RYAN

Great news. Bye.

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