Press conference to announce Emu Swamp Dam funding - Stanthorpe Qld

David Littleproud: It’s great to be in Stanthorpe and to have the Deputy Prime Minister, my good mate Michael McCormack with me and the Number Two Senate candidate Susie McDonald, our National Party candidate for here in Queensland. We’ve been here today listening to farmers about water. Effectively the story of the Granite Belt is: Just Add Water. The agricultural production that comes out of this part of the world is significant. It produces 75% of east coast capsicum; 25% of the nation’s strawberry punnets; so it plays a very important part. But the exciting thig about this is already we are seeing young people come back to the Granite Belt because there is a future in agriculture. Agriculture is sexy again. There is a quid to be made and they are making it at the farm gate – and we are bringing our young people home. We’ve had a generation drain out of our regional areas, away from agriculture, but now it is turning. But the only way to turn that is to add water. The reality is that this community has fought long and hard around getting the Emu Swamp Dam up and going.

We’re taking a step closer today by bringing the Deputy Prime Minister here today, to be able to hear and to be able to look at investing through our National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, a fund from which we’ve already spent over $500 million around the country and now look to invest another $500 million.

The Emu Swamp Dam will create 700 jobs for the Granite Belt. That will take Stanthorpe to a new level. The reality is we now need to work with our State counterparts. We can dig as many holes as we want around this country but until we get the States to agree with us we can’t fill them. So we’ll be having constructive talks, and the Deputy Prime Minister as the Minister will have those talks with Minster Lynham. I as the local Member have already had conversations with him and let me say, they have been constructive. They have been productive. He has worked in a pragmatic and open and honest way, in a transparent way, that gives me hope and optimism that this dam which has been on the drawing board for so many years will come to fruition. It’s important it does, for the livelihoods, for the future not only of the Granite Belt but for this nation.

Michael McCormack: Thank you very much, David. It’s great to be here in Stanthorpe. It’s great to be here with Susan McDonald – what an outstanding LNP Senate candidate she is. And it’s great to be here with James Lister, the local State Member, also doing such a great job for agriculture.

But nobody does a better job for agriculture in this nation than David Littleproud. Not only is he the Agriculture Minister, he’s also the local Federal Member. He understands just how important the Emu Swamp project is. I stand ready, the Commonwealth stands ready, the Federal Liberal Nationals stand ready to build this project. We want to make sure that this Granite Belt area – which already has $300 million of agricultural output, develops on that; builds on that. This dam potentially could grow it by another $60 million a year. I think that figure is actually understated – it could be so much more. The potential here is limitless.

As David has just indicated, sadly, one of our biggest exports is not capsicum, is not strawberries from this area; often it’s our young people. I understand this. I come from a country region myself. I am a son of a generational farming family. I understand that one of our most important challenges for regional areas is to keep our young people in our local areas, to keep our young people with the idea and the opportunity that there is potential for these areas. But you can only enhance that potential by building water infrastructure.

So when the half a billion dollars for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund was put on the table just recently, I was asked for the project in Queensland that best sums up the potential that could be yielded, and I said, in a heartbeat, Emu Swamp. I have acknowledged that. David has fought for that. The farmers from here led by Ian Henderson and Brent Finlay and others – they have lobbied hard for this for far too long. It’s time to stop the talk. It’s time, as David Littleproud has said, to get the excavators on the ground. I have written to Anthony Lynham, the Water Minister in Queensland. I have spoken to him previously, and we want to work in good faith with the Queensland Government. We want to work in good faith to make sure that this dream becomes a reality. We want to make sure that this Granite Belt area – which as we all know has such agricultural potential, has such output already – only grows, only builds on what it has done for generations; what it has done for decades.

So I stand ready. David Littleproud stands ready. I know that Susan McDonald is fighting hard to make sure that this dream can become a reality. And we’ll do everything that we can, in conjunction with the Queensland State Government hopefully, to make that dream indeed a reality.

Susan McDonald: Thank you. Good morning. What’s also really important to remember is that while this is crucial for this community, it’s also crucial for every family across Australia. This community, the Granite Belt region, grows so much food for families across Australia, whether it be strawberries or capsicums or the small leafy greens. We care about our food being grown locally, by Australian farmers who grow the best food in the world.

So it’s very important that this project goes ahead, because it’s not just for this community, it’s for every community across the eastern seaboard of Australia and the rest of the world to which we export.

Question: We’ve seen farmers from our region trucking in water from NSW to replenish their dams. What exactly will this mean to them? Will it ensure security?

Michael McCormack: It will not only increase security but it will also ensure that farmers have the potential there to add the water when they need it. We need to drought-proof our nation. We also need to flood-mitigate our nation. That’s what we’re doing, right across our nation – this $500 million for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund has a double benefit of flood mitigation as well as droughtproofing our nation.

We’ve just put on the table $3.9 billion for a Drought Future Fund. That will increase to $5 billion in short time. We want to build on the fact that we have a very dry nation, but we have a nation of weather extremes. It’s droughts and flooding rains. We want to make sure that when it rains, we store that water. We want to make sure that when we have the available water, we store it and we use it for those dry times. This will build on that. You can’t grow agriculture unless you’ve got water, and we certainly aim to make sure that we make every available use of every available drop, to grow areas such as the Granite Belt.

David Littleproud: Can I just say, we heard before farmers telling us that they were carting a megalitre a day, costing them $40,000 (inaudible). When we put the infrastructure in, we deliver that water more efficiently and cheaper. So what that means is you the Australian consumer get cheaper produce but still of the best quality. That’s all these farmers are asking, for us to utilise natural resources better, to get it to them efficiently and that’s the role of the Government. We can’t produce it for them but we’ve got to put the infrastructure in the environment around them and that’s what this will do.

Question: It’s been on the cards for 38 years. Can we be sure it’s happening?

David Littleproud: This is the closest we’ve ever been, and I think the frustration is, people are just jack of it; they just want to see excavators digging, and the Deputy Prime Minister has put half a billion dollars on the table – I think that’s a fair commitment. We’re ready to dance. We’re waiting for a dance partner and I think the State Government is pretty happy. We hope that they can dance with us because we’re keen to see it happen. The time for talk is over as the DPM said. I think this is a game-changer for Stanthorpe.

This is an enormous opportunity for the Southern Downs and we’ve got to grasp it. People are sick of politicians talking. They want to see action. We’re ready to act. The DPM has put half a billion on the table. I don’t think we can do much more but say: Let’s dance.

Michael McCormack: It’s not a slow waltz, either.

Question: How much more support do you need from the State Government?

Michael McCormack: I stand ready to have the meeting with Anthony Lynham. I’ve written to him. I’m looking forward to having that meeting in coming weeks. Let’s see where it takes us.

Question: And do you know how much money they need to commit as well?

Michael McCormack: The potential project is $84 million. We’re looking to partner up with the Queensland Government.The fact is private farmers, private developers – people have dug deep into their own pockets and provided 29% of the capital works already for this project. That’s unheard of across Australia.

What the cameras can’t see right here is the number of farmers around us here now. We’ve just had a breakfast with them. They have put on the table 29% of the capital works. They have put their hard-earned up to make sure that the water security of their area is there not for them but for their community. They want to grow Stanthorpe just like we want to grow Stanthorpe. I know the Queensland Government also want to grow Stanthorpe.

This is really important. It’s important for the local community, for the local region. It’s not just about the farmers. It’s not just about their ability to grow the very best food in Australia, indeed in the world. It’s also about the fact that if we grow this community we provide more teachers for the school because the school community grows; the small business community grows.

Yesterday you heard from Prime Minister Scott Morrison upping the instant asset write-off to $25,000. We want to grow small business, and with projects such as this we’ll not only grow farms, we’ll not only grow agricultural output but we’ll also grow the entire small business community, indeed the entire community. That’s what we’re about. As Liberals and Nationals we are builders, we are doers, and so are the farmers around this area. So we stand ready to put that money on the table. We stand ready to work in good faith with the Queensland Government. We’ll do just that.