Press Conference with The Hon Keith Pitt MP, Federal Member for Hinkler and George Seymour, Mayor of Fraser Coast

Keith Pitt: Well, today, we have fantastic news. I’m here with the Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack where we will be announcing that a Regional Deal under a pilot program will be delivered for the Hinkler electorate.

Now, this is big news for our local economy. It's big news for the people that live here. And ultimately it is big news for those who are seeking work, seeking employment, in our local region.

Question: So Keith, a Regional Deal, what does this mean?

Keith Pitt: I've been fighting for a change in policy at a Federal level now for some 18 months. Up until recently, these deals were only available to our city counterparts. We have now managed to get a shift in that policy.

We will be delivering a Regional Deal, which is an economic plan and strategy that ties all three levels of Government, Local Government, State Government and Federal Government, to absolutely real and firm commitments, an economic strategy that into the future will help sustain our local economy to make it more resilient, stronger and, of course, deliver more local employment.

Question: Keith, are there key projects you’re already looking to that you really want to launch as soon as these happens?

Keith Pitt: Well, as I said, we've been fighting for this for 18 months. I’ve been in discussions with councils and our local state members, Ted Sorensen, David Batt, and Stephen Bennett about what we can do to deliver that strong economy that we need. Now, some of the projects which are being put forward, Fraser Coast, of course, are well-advanced in terms of a town centre for Hervey Bay, functioning around the University of the Sunshine Coast. Obviously, our announcement yesterday of an additional 150 places, degree places, at the Hervey Bay University will help that along.

In the northern part of the electorate, around Bundaberg, the Local Government, of course, is looking at a number of strategies including upgrades around the Riverbank parklands, their town centre and there are some very important connecting infrastructure: in Hervey Bay, a boundary road extension, in particular; some areas around the Bruce Highway.

This is ensuring that we have a strategy into the future which is committed. These are not election commitments. This is the Coalition governing and I thank Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, for recognising that we do need to have this add-on economic strategy. We have already delivered the cashless debit card to the Hinkler electorate, trying to address some of our social challenges. We are now delivering an economic strategy to help address our shortage in jobs.

Question: So this economic partnership’s between all levels of Government, is that correct?

Keith Pitt: So, we need all three levels to be on board. I'm very pleased to be here with Mayor George Seymour. They've been very strong in terms of their planning for the Fraser Coast. I've had a discussion with the Deputy Mayor Bill Trevor, who’s aware of the announcement today. Our State Members are on board.

We obviously need the State Government to come on board. I think this is a great opportunity, a great opportunity for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to demonstrate that they are not just focused on the southeast corner. Here is an opportunity to build a region which is desperate for support and, I have to say, our local unemployment figures, our statistics, continue to be unacceptable: unacceptable to me and unacceptable to the people who represent this area.

Question: Keith, this will obviously need quite a lot of money for a lot of these projects you’re talking about. Is there an amount or a ballpark figure that we could be looking at?

Keith Pitt: So this is a substantial investment but it needs to be a substantial investment by all levels of government. This is not a wish list process for councils or State Governments. This is about all levels getting together. Now, Regional Deals around the country have had varying substance from anything above $100 million. I mean, Townsville, it is hundreds of millions for Townsville. Now, we are yet to confirm exactly what projects will be supported. Obviously, the taxpayers’ money has to be spent wisely and we need to ensure that those business cases are strong and supportive. But we are here today to announce a pilot deal, a pilot Regional Deal, for the Hinkler electorate between Bundaberg and Hervey Bay and all areas in between. This is huge news for our region.

Question: We are talking multimillion dollar though, aren’t we?

Keith Pitt: Well, my understanding is the other deals right around the country whether they be in Geelong, whether they be in Townsville, whether they be in Hobart, have had significant investments of over $100 million. Now, we are yet to confirm exactly what the quantum will be but we are doing this in consultation with Local and State Government. We need to maximise this opportunity. We need to maximise it because right now every single dollar that we can have contributed from Local Government, from State Government, from Federal Government makes this economic strategy and plan even the stronger.

Question: Keith, have you communicated with the State Government, the Palaszczuk Government, in regards to this? And what has been their response?

Keith Pitt: I’ve requested meetings with both Jackie Trad and of course the Premier. We are yet to organise that. My understanding is that Local Government reps will be in the State Parliament in the next week or the next week of sittings. Clearly, we will be contacting them to ensure that we can get their support. But this is a great opportunity for them just as it’s a great opportunity for us.

Question:You’ve been fighting for 18 months, why are you so passionate about getting this money here?

Keith Pitt: I’m a Federal Member. This is my job. My job is to help deliver a stronger economy for us to ensure that we can address some of our challenges, and right now one of the biggest is youth unemployment. Everything we can do to strengthen our local economy, to provide more local jobs, is a benefit to the people I represent.

Question: Is Hervey Bay and the Hinkler electorate really becoming an economic hub, or …?

Keith Pitt: Look, I think in the next 12 months we will see a boom in our local region once we tie in what deals we do inside this strategy in terms of a Regional Deal. We already have significant investments.

Just up the road in Maryborough, you will get a munitions factory in the near future. In the Bundaberg region, we have tens of millions of dollars already committed. Whether that is at Bundaberg Macadamias or AustChilli or the Isis Mill, there is about $40 million in construction just there; another $30 million down at the local port with Pacific Tug; and the announcement in the last couple of weeks by Bundaberg Brewed Drinks where they will build a super factory in the region: $160 million with a $19 million contribution from the Federal Government. That is huge news. It is the biggest manufacturing plant ever constructed in this region.

Question: Do you have a timeline on the events that are going to happen in this Regional City Deal, of what’s going to happen next?

Keith Pitt: So the Department of Infrastructure will commence that planning in the very near future. My expectations, I've got to say, are very high for that to happen very, very quickly. But as the head of the Department of Infrastructure, as the Minister in charge, I might hand over to Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Michael McCormack:Thank you very much, Keith, and congratulations for your advocacy, for your hard work, your determination to see this delivered.

This is a very special day, a very historic day, for Hervey Bay.

I'm delighted that the Mayor George Seymour is with us from Fraser Coast Regional Council to share the good news and it is good news, and it’s good news because Keith Pitt has delivered. The Member for Hinkler has once again stumped up to make sure that jobs are being talked about, not only are talked about, but they're going to be achieved in the very near future with these Regional Deal.

This is really important. This is really significant for this region. We will be discussing with Local Governments like George Seymour and his team at Fraser Coast, but we will also be discussing with the Queensland State Government and I certainly welcome them coming on board.

I know that there has been some optimism about these Regional Deals from the Queensland Government, so that is good. This is on the back of the Barkly Regional Deal in the Northern Territory, but it's my first visit as the Acting Prime Minister, in this particular phase as Acting Prime Minister as the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is overseas. So, my first visit was to Hervey Bay, was to Keith Pitt’s electorate, to announce this Regional Deal. A very special day.

Now, we'll be looking forward to getting on in a whole-of-Government approach to see what projects that we can bring forward. Hopefully there will be some really good news early next year so that we've sealed away, signed off on some of those projects that we can get started on, and we'll see shovels in the ground early next year.

Question: Why was Hinkler chosen for this money?

Michael McCormack: Well, because Hinkler has a youth unemployment issue, but not just the issues of the jobless but also the issues of potential. This is a great area: it’s a great area for industry, it’s a great area for commerce, great area for agriculture. Small businesses here have a can-do attitude. So we want to build on that.

We want to make sure that these small businesses, that these people who decide to invest and work here and live their lives here have that ability to be their best selves in the future, and that's what these regional deals are going to do. They’re going to see that opportunity, see that optimism and build on it.

Question: What part of success of the other Regional City Deals launched [indistinct]?

Michael McCormack: They brought a lot of confidence and hope to start with. But they've also built certain things such as outdoor centres. They've developed civic precincts in central business districts, and that's the sort of thing that we'll be looking at; whether it's Harvey Bay, whether it's Bundaberg, we’re seeing what projects can be brought forward, what are job creating in the construction phase and what will create jobs and establish jobs in the long term.

Question: Why hasn’t this been extended to a regional area prior to this?

Michael McCormack: Because we've discussed it for regional capitals. So, you've heard Keith Pitt talk about Townsville, you've heard him talk about Geelong. We wanted to make sure that a couple of smaller centres, populations of around 50,000, were part of the action. And that's why we've chosen Bundaberg, that's why we've chosen Hervey Bay.

This is a pilot program, as you've heard Keith Pitt say. So, we'll see how this goes. We'll see how the Barkly Regional Deal goes in the Northern Territory.

That, of course, has a lot different issues here. There's Aboriginal housing and there's the remoteness and there's other issues there. But we'll see how these two pilot programs work.

And they will work, trust me, they will work. With the confidence of council, with the optimism of the Queensland State Government, I’m sure they're going to get on board, and with Keith Pitt’s attitude to make sure that things just happen and get achieved, I'm sure this is going to be an exciting and innovative project for Hervey Bay, for Bundaberg and for the wider Hinkler electorate.

Question: Are you willing to commit quite a lot of money or a ball park figure to this project?

Michael McCormack: In the initial phase we'll be stumping up $50 million to see just what we can get off the ground. But we will build on that. We want to make sure that this works. We want to make sure it just doesn't work for Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, but this pilot program is a model, is an exemplar for other regional areas right throughout Australia.

I come from a regional area myself; they’d love it, a Regional Deal like this, trust me. So, Keith’s fought hard for it. You heard him say: 18 months he's been wearing out the carpet to Ministers’ offices to make sure this happens. He's made it possible and I know that he's going to take the Local and State Governments on board with him.

Question: And when should we start seeing something in action?

Michael McCormack: We’re announcing it today. We'll be certainly having those discussions with the Department of Infrastructure, with Local Government. I know George is delighted at the prospect that this brings. We’ll be also discussing it obviously with the Queensland Government to see how soon we can bring it about, get some of those projects, tick them off and then as a whole of Government, three tiers of Government working together, we'll get it happening early in the New Year.

I might get George to make a few comments.

George Seymour: Thank you. First of all, I want to welcome the Acting Prime Minister of Australia here to Hervey Bay and Hinkler. I’ve only been Mayor for about six months now and this is the third occasion that Keith Pitt has arranged meetings with him. So, I really want to thank him for his interest and dedication to our region.

Michael McCormack: I kind of like you, George!

George Seymour: Yes. [Laughter]

He’s becoming a local.

So, we’re really excited about this. This is about three levels of Government working in the 21st century together. This is about Federal, Local, and State Governments committing to the regions, because it’s the regions that built Australia. So, I'm very pleased at this progression of this initiative to Regional Deals. Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey and I are in Parliament this week; in State Parliament. So, we’ll certainly be raising this. We want to maximise what we get out of this for our region and for our communities.

Question: George, are you willing to commit quite a lot money to this?

George Seymour: Yes.

Question: How much?

George Seymour: I'm part of the team and I have learned not to go beyond the other 10.

Question: What do you envision as Mayor of the Fraser Coast that this city deal of going to look like?

George Seymour: I think we’ll see this as transformative. We're not going to waste this. I can't commit, and I can't in any way commit to exactly what it’s going to be used for, but I'm telling, it won’t you it won't be wasted. This will be an initiative, this will be what people will point to as our three levels of government work together for their communities.

Question: What does this mean; transformation to Hervey Bay and the wider Fraser Coast?

George Seymour: This means transformation. This building into the future, recognising our strengths and delivering employment. This is about recognising what we can achieve together.

Question: To fund this, George, will our rates go up in our region?

George Seymour: I can’t go into that. This is about infrastructure for the future; this won’t be wasted.

This is about us working together for projects that we need, projects that we’ve recognised will deliver benefits going into the future for today’s community and for the future. All this week, I’ve been at school awards nights. I’ve been meeting with students and I ask them first: what are you doing next year? After you graduate, what are you doing? And you know, I love to hear them say they’re going to go to university in Brisbane, but also I think: what a waste.

You know, I want young people to stay here on the Fraser Coast; to study here, to work here, and to develop families here. That’s what this is about. This is about us ensuring that we have the best region in Australia. I mean, look at the climate around us; we are blessed to live here on the Fraser Coast and this is about how the three levels of Government can invest into the Fraser Coast, invest into Hervey Bay and across the region, across Hinkler. I know Jack Dempsey will be really excited about this too.

Question: We do have some of the highest unemployment rates in Australia right here in the Fraser Coast. Is this going to make sure that those rates come back up?

George Seymour: We're not going to waste this. This is about investing in ways we can bring down unemployment. Our youth unemployment rate right now has a 2 in front of it, which is not okay. We know that unemployment is one of the single biggest issues that we need to address and this is about three levels of Government doing that.

And I want to thank the Australian Government for their commitment to regions, for their commitment to our region; to Hinkler, to Hervey Bay, to Bundaberg. And I want to say that we're grateful and we'll be working with them. This week, Jack Dempsey and I will be speaking to the State Government about maximising this.

Question: Anything else anyone wants to add?

Michael McCormack: No. Thanks guys.