Press Conference: Building Better Regions Fund grant: Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre Ltd

Michael McCormack: It's a delightful day and I'm really pleased to be here with Bob Griffiths who is the chairman of the board of the Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre Ltd, and with Cowra's Mayor, Bill West, for this announcement of $307,442 to fix the roof, to replace the roof—these shingles have been on the roof of this wonderful centre for too long. They are past their use-by date, and under The Nationals' Building Better Regions Fund they are going to be replaced, on the pergola, on the cultural centre. This centre opened in 1979 and it commemorated the four Australians and 231 Japanese who died during the 1944 breakout at Cowra, of course a famous event during World War Two. It was a tragic event. With the Festival of International Understanding not long around the corner, starting March 15, this is an appropriate time to announce this funding. This funding will be a game-changer for the cultural centre, a game-changer for Cowra. We need this funding because we need more tourists for this wonderful iconic facility. This is going to make such a difference for locals, indeed for visitors. It's going to replace the roof, the wooden shingles, with terracotta tiles. It's going to have a 100 years lifespan now. Indeed, this centre will be here as long as Cowra is standing, because we always need to remember what happened in 1944, but more importantly we need to remember the friendship and the cultural exchanges that have taken place between this town in the Central West and Japan since then. There has been a wonderful recognition of friendship, of respect, of understanding built up through the festival, built up through these iconic gardens.

This is a great day: $307,442 to replace the roof. It is, as I say, going to be such a good thing for Cowra, for visitors who come to this centre and want to spend time reflecting, going through these beautiful gardens. And they are beautiful gardens, indeed they are probably the most exquisite gardens in all of Australia. People who haven't been here should put it on their bucket list. They will be able to then sit in the cultural centre, to think about the wonderful relations that exist between Japan and Australia, made possible through the friendliness, through the attitude, through the respect and understanding that Cowra people have for their history, for the past, for the now and indeed for the future.

This announcement today is indeed for the future. This roof is going to replace a roof that's badly past its use-by date. Bill West saw me about it. He said to me: We really need to do something about this for tomorrow—we really need to do this for the people of the future. And we're doing it. I listened, I've acted. It's a good announcement—the Nationals' Building Better Regions Fund is making sure that we get the right outcomes for rural and regional Australia. It's getting the right sort of delivery, the right sort of outcomes for towns such as Cowra which has played such a pivotal role in bridging the gap between Japan and Australia after those dreadful hostilities of World War Two. I might ask the Mayor Bill West to make a few comments then I'd ask Bob Griffiths on behalf of the Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre to also add to the remarks.

Bill West: Thank you Deputy Prime Minister. I acknowledge also the chairman of the Japanese Gardens board Bob Griffiths, as well as you, ladies and gentlemen. This is certainly a wonderful morning with this announcement of this funding of more than $300,000 from the Building Better Regions Fund. It is I think a wonderful tribute to the Government that they are providing this sort of funding into rural and regional communities such as this. This money, of course, will go a long way to helping to look after this wonderful infrastructure that is here.

I know of course this morning we have Don Kibbler with us who is on the board of the Japanese Garden and has been involved with this facility since its inception, and was one of the instigators if you like, involved in the creation of this beautiful edifice. I would acknowledge you, Mr Deputy Prime Minister, and say thank you very much Michael for your support. I have no hesitation in saying that we have received some wonderful guidance and support from our local Member, from Michael, and I think without his efforts we would probably have struggled to get this funding. So I publicly acknowledge him and say thank you very much.

To the board, to Bob and the board: Congratulations. I know this money is very much appreciated and will go a long way to helping to improve this facility. As the Deputy Prime Minister indicated, it is in some respects the jewel in the crown in regards to the Cowra Japan relationship and indeed the Australia Japan relationship. I pick up the point made that we have the Festival of International Understanding in Cowra next week with Japanese as the guest nation, and this year marks the 75th anniversary of the breakout. This particular garden is important because it is the link between the Prisoner of War camp, the Australian and Japanese war cemeteries, the World Peace Bell and the gardens.

So it is more than just a beautiful garden and a beautiful part of Australia. It has a great and deeply symbolic importance as well, and I think that is something we need to continue to remember.

But again, Deputy Prime Minister, this funding is greatly appreciated. The Building Better Regions Fund is something that does provide rural and regional areas with a great boost and does provide some funding for infrastructure and assets which do require some looking after and some attention. So thank you for that. It also of course applies to a lot of other areas across our region where this funding is accessible for big councils and small councils, smaller communities. So I acknowledge the importance of that particular Fund. But I think it's appropriate that the chair of the garden board might like to say a few words and acknowledge what this work will actually do.

Bob Griffiths: Thank you very much Bill. Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Deputy Prime Minister, we are delighted to have you here today and we're particularly delighted with that wonderful news you've given us this morning. On behalf of the Manager of the Japanese Garden Shane Budge, the head gardener Matthew, all our staff and my fellow directors, we thank you and thank the Australian Government for this wonderful contribution.

We have an icon here in Cowra, there's no doubt about that. It's a very important part of Cowra, for Cowra tourism; it's a very important part of the Central West tourism and it's extremely important to Australia Japan relations.

This announcement today is going to help us considerably. We are a self-supporting organisation. We rely heavily on this type of contribution and the general public paying their way in to survive. I'd like to acknowledge however the generous support that we do get, both in kind and in assistance with promotion from Cowra Tourism, represented here today by chairman Ray Walsh and the manager Belinda Virgo; also Cowra Shire Council, Mayor Bill West and Paul Devery—we thank you very much for all your assistance to the garden over a long period of time as well.

The money that has been made available today, as the Deputy Prime Minister indicated, will enable us to replace the roof there, long overdue. As you can see those timber shingles have long passed their day. It's very important that we maintain the traditional Edo period architecture and garden design in this garden as set out by Ken Nakajima way back in 1977 and for that reason it's fairly expensive to replace this type of roof. We will be looking at importing the traditional Japanese ceramic tiles, most likely, or alternatively the copper plated shingles—either of those are suitable Edo period architecture. But of course there's a cost involved, and there's no way we would have been able to do that without your assistance.

As the Deputy Prime Minister said, we will be looking at a 100 year lifespan. So we won't have to bother you again for a little while (laughter)…

Michael McCormack: …On this one…

Bob Griffiths: …We might go back to you on something else. But once again, I thank everybody involved for their assistance. I should have also mentioned Lawrence Ryan from the Shire who has been of great assistance in helping Shane put together our grant application. We have been unsuccessful over the last few years with similar applications at both State and Federal level but we're very pleased to see that we finally got there. So Michael, thank you very much.

Michael McCormack: Thank you Bob. Good on you. (Applause). Any other questions?

Question: I was just going to ask what does it mean to be improving cultural enrichment of communities out west?

Michael McCormack: It's so important that we do these sorts of things. We want people from the city to come out to the Central West, to come out to Cowra, to visit these sorts of facilities and to get an appreciation and understanding of exactly what went on here in 1944 but to also recognise the importance of the fact that those sorts of hostilities have been put to the side. Cowra has built up a wonderful relationship with Japan. That has been forged through their Festival of International Understanding, a festival that this year commemorates the 75 years since the breakout, commemorates the wonderful relationship that Cowra has through the peace bell, through its people, with those in Japan. Of course, many Japanese warriors lie not too far from here in the Japanese War Cemetery. Those graves are well cared for, well tended by Cowra, by the Shire, and certainly there's that level of mutual respect that exists between the two countries and forged nowhere better than right here at Cowra in the Central West of NSW.

Question: Can I ask when we will see something happening as well?

Michael McCormack: Work will begin very soon, understanding that it's going to create four jobs during the construction phase and it's going to create hopefully many more jobs after it's completed, because many more people will come to these gardens. Word will spread about what a fabulous cultural centre, about what beautiful gardens these are. But during the construction phase which hopefully will start very very soon, as soon as contracts can be exchanged, work will begin and it's going to make such a difference to this beautiful spot.

Question: Cathy McGowan has made an official complaint against the National Party to the audit office following $3m of grants for the seat of Indi which she did not know about. Can you explain why this has happened?

Michael McCormack: The fact is Cathy McGowan should be happy that some of those programs and projects are actually being funded in Indi. It's not about the particular Members, it's about the organisations getting the funding. That's what the important thing is. The fact is, I'm here at Cowra announcing $307,000 funding for the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre. This is the important thing—it's about the actual projects and the organisations who work hard. The particular organisations in Indi worked very hard to get those projects up. The fact is, who announces them—well does it really matter? The fact is the projects are getting funded and they're getting funded by the Liberal and Nationals' Government because we care about the regions.

These sorts of programs will all go under a Bill Shorten Labor-led Government. Make no mistake. Building Better Regions Fund; Future Drought Fund—they've already voted against that. How disgraceful is that. These sorts of regional funding programs will go if Labor gets in Government.

The Liberals and Nationals—we care about the regions. We live here. We understand how important these programs and these projects are. I get it. The fact is, it's not about me. It's not about the Members—it's actually about the organisations getting the funding. They work hard. They have volunteers who put in many many hours and a lot of money besides to get these sorts of things happening, to get their sorts of organisations thriving in their communities. They are community-driven projects and the fact is she should be happy that we've actually funded them. She should be happy that her organisations in her community put in good submissions and they were acknowledged by the Federal Liberal and Nationals Government.

Question: Is it fair for Nationals candidate Mark Byatt to claim credit for these grants when a he's not elected and he's only been a member of the party for a few months?

Michael McCormack: Well Senator Bridget McKenzie is the Senator for Victoria and she has been announcing these projects and that's entirely appropriate. Mark Byatt, by the way, is going to be a very good Member for Indi. Mark Byatt is a former Mayor of Wodonga. He's had a lot to do with regional development. He has spent decades promoting regional development. He is going to be an outstanding Member for Indi. I have already been on the campaign trail with him. People like him. They like the sorts of outcomes that he's talking about. They like the fact that he has been delivering for that area of north-east Victoria for many years and he's going to be delivering for them, for The Nationals, for many years to come.

Question: One last one—why would the actual recipients of the grants sworn to secrecy, to not even tell the sitting Member they have been successful?

Michael McCormack: I'm not quite sure about whether they were sworn to secrecy but the fact is, they are all being announced publicly on the Infrastructure website this Friday. I've just arrived here at Cowra to announce this wonderful roofing replacement, $307,000. The proponents of this, the people who have put the submission in, they didn't know until I arrived here. It's wonderful news for them. They're delighted. I'm sure that those people, those proponents who put submissions forward for the seat of Indi will also be delighted at the fact that they are getting funding from the Federal Liberal and Nationals Government. It's not a federal Independents' Government, I have to say; it's a Federal Liberal and Nationals Government and these programs, this Building Better Regions funding has been put forward thanks to strong Nationals in Government. This is what the Nationals do when we're in Government, and Labor Members and Independent Members who hold regional seats should be mighty thankful that The Nationals are fighting hard to get these sorts of funding projects up, to get these sorts of funding programs in the mix, in the Budget. We will work hard to make sure that these funding programs continue to be in the Budget—a Budget which I might add is going to be in surplus on April 2. Labor wouldn't know what the definition of the word ‘surplus' was. They haven't produced a surplus since the 1980s. We know what it's like to run a strong economy. When you've got a strong economy you can run rural and regional programs, funding programs for good volunteer organisations . You can run them out. You can fund Shire Councils. You can fund volunteer organisations.

You can't do it if you're not running a strong economy. Independents—well they can throw rocks at the tent. They're not in the tent making the decisions. They're not in the tent making sure that Government funds these programs. I have to say that: Get a Bill Shorten-led Labor Government, you won't see these sorts of funding programs in the future, rest assured.

Great, thanks for that.